Latvia Warns of Growing Russian Fake News Challenge

The Latvian foreign minister has warned the US and its allies that they’re losing the online battle against Russian-sponsored fake news.

Speaking at the first meeting of Nordic, Baltic and UK foreign ministers in London organized by UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, Edgars Rinkevics claimed that Russian efforts to spread disinformation are ramping up.

He cited Nato research revealing that five times more Russian language tweets about Nato in Latvia come from automated bots rather than real users.

In Estonia the figure is nine times, as the Kremlin uses increasingly large-scale automated means to spread propaganda in an effort to influence young people, he claimed, according to the Guardian.

Rinkevics argued that a US investigation into Russian election meddling in the country in 2016 is vital.

“It is essential for all US allies to understand the mechanics of how you combine cyber-attack and then use it as [an] information weapon to influence people’s opinions,” he is reported to have said.

“If you have hacking, fake news with a purpose, it is very difficult to react. We can find out what happened, but it is very difficult to prove. The whole law in this area needs addressing.”

Nato is particularly fearful of Russian aggression on Europe’s doorstep following its annexation of Ukrainian Crimea, with the Baltic nations on high alert ahead of major Kremlin military exercises in the region.

It’s long been thought that the dissemination of fake news is one of the key pillars of the Putin administration’s foreign policy, helping to undermine public confidence in the democratic process and advance Russian interests.

A major report by Trend Micro in June lifted the lid on a huge online “fake-news-as-a-service” market where a 12-month campaign to manipulate an election outcome can cost as little as $400,000.

However, the use of such underground forums allows nation states to maintain anonymity and plausible deniability, the report suggested.

In a rare moment of transparency in February, defense minister, Sergey Shoigu, revealed just how significant Russian online propaganda efforts are.

"The information operations forces have been established, that are expected to be a far more effective tool than all we used before for counter-propaganda purposes," he told the lower house. "Propaganda should be smart, competent and effective.”

Back in April, Nato assistant secretary general for public diplomacy, ambassador Tacan Ildem, told a Public Diplomacy Forum in Tbilisi that Nato and its allies are “targets of an information war waged by Russia”.

“We have to respond, but certainly not with the same tools. Nato does not counter propaganda with propaganda. We do so with facts and confidence in our values,” he added. “We actively counter fake news on social media, engage with media to correct false news stories, and work to ensure that all of our activities, exercises, and operations are conducted in an open and transparent manner."

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