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New Research Shows How Disinformation is Becoming Normalised and Domesticated in Europe

15 June 2020

Researchers trace the influence of innovations in digital influence engineering pioneered by far-right groups and agencies linked to the Kremlin.

A new paper by the Crime and Security Research Institute (CSRI) marshals a range of conceptual and empirical resources to show the alignments and differentiation in the agendas and interests of organisations associated to the Russian state as well as European far-right groups.

The study, published in the French language Hérodote journal, shows how the respective interests of these two groups heavily overlap within the information environment, despite notable differences elsewhere. Both sets of actors are shown to have been key influencers in inducing the conditions associated with a ‘post-truth’ social order.

Focusing on Europe, the paper highlights the innovative techniques pioneered by these actors throughout a number of influential disinformation campaigns and Information, Influence and Interference Operations (IIIOs).

Disinformation is understood as messages designed and delivered to deliberately mislead, whereas its conceptual cousin misinformation relates to content that is unwittingly misleading.

Highlighting examples such as the activities of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia, commonly known as EKRE, the analysis shows how disinformation techniques made popular by state actors, such as the Kremlin aligned Internet Research Agency, are now being employed and adapted by non-state actors.

Professor Martin Innes notes “Whilst there has been much public debate surrounding information operations by malign state actors, the domestication and normalisation of disinformation tactics is arguably more profound.”

Our work shows how domestic actors are helping to recast deceptive and distortive techniques, previously seen as anomalies, as unexceptional features of modern society. Methods that had been largely confined to the geopolitical realm, are becoming part of the rhythms and routines of domestic politics and in the process ‘normalised’.
Professor Martin Innes Co-Director (Lead) of the Security, Crime and Intelligence Innovation Institute

“Although these tactics are not wholly new, our research shows how they have become routinely utilised through the co-optation and control of the key affordances of social media technologies.”

“This poses a new challenge for governments in terms of framing policy and practice responses, on the grounds that liberal democratic governments have traditionally separated foreign from domestic policy issues.”

The data underpinning the article was derived from a large-scale research programme designed to understand the causes and consequences of disinformation across a range of situations, settings and social media platforms.

The full article, The Normalisation and Domestication of Digital Disinformation:  Far Right and Russian State Information, Interference and Influence Operations in Europe and Their Consequences, was published by the journal Hérodote and can be accessed here. Established in 1976, Hérodote is a renowned French language quarterly journal specialising in geography and geopolitics.

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