ABOUT THE TALK (more info & recommended reading list available on the PCMLP website)

Presentation by Antonina Cherevko, Adviser, International Media Support (mediasupport.org): Weaponization of information and attacks on “information sovereignty” – would freedom of expression standards suffice to tame the “information wars”? 

A liberal stance, traditionally supported by the intergovernmental and non-governmental actors and confirmed by the international courts,[1] suggests that insulting, offensive and shocking speech should also be protected, especially as in line with the theory of the ‘free marketplace of ideas’, we are accustomed to believe that truth and reason are destined to win over harmful and/or false speech.  This is, however, not exactly what has been happening at least since the end of 2013, when both traditional media, online outlets and social media networks started to be actively used for the purposeful, well-organized and coordinated disinformation campaigns. For instance, the massive research of Twitter posts proves that disinformation largely outplays true messages,[2] which makes it an easy and attractive method for pursuing various political purposes via dissemination of ‘weaponised’ narratives.

The term ‘weaponization of information’ was coined to define the use of information (and free speech rights) as a weapon in the framework of Russia’s aggressive foreign policy:[3] first, as a response to the EuroMaidan protests in Ukraine in late 2013, then in the course of the illegal annexation of Crimea and subsequent conflict in the east of Ukraine, and finally as a means of meddling in Brexit, the US presidential elections of 2016 as well as various elections and political processes in Europe (French and German elections, Catalonia unrest etc.). While the term originated in the European region and is currently closely associated with Russia’s state backed media and foreign policy, it has been gaining global popularity during the past several years, and can be easily replicated by other authoritarian regimes with international ambitions (like, for example, Iran and its recent disinformation campaigns)[4] because it allows for a great deal of asymmetrical influence and is heavily enhanced by the mere nature of modern instant communications.
 
There has been little attempt to explore the phenomenon of weaponization of information in the context of human rights and the concepts of freedom of expression, legitimate limitations of it, and abuse of rights. Whether the existent international legal framework is able to protect the very essence of freedom of expression from abuse by ill-intentioned actors in times when ‘theories of speech and society are under intense examination’[5] is not merely a theoretical question, it may well become the question of further preservation and survival of the value-based system that we currently rely upon.

[1] Handyside v. the United Kingdom, Application No.5493/72 (ECtHR, judgment of 07 December 1976), para 49

[2] Robinson Meyer, ‘The Grim Conclusions of the Largest-Ever Study of Fake News’ (The Atlantic, 8 March 2018) <https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/03/largest-study-ever-fake-news-mit-twitter/555104/> accessed 19 March 2018.

[3] P Pomerantsev, M Weiss, The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture and Money (The Institute of Modern Russia 2014) p.14.

[4] Gabrielle Lim, Etienne Maynier, John Scott-Railton, Alberto Fittarelli, Ned Moran, and Ron Deibert, ‘Burned After Reading. Endless Mayfly’s Ephemeral Disinformation Campaign’ (THECITIZENLAB, 14 May 2019) <https://citizenlab.ca/2019/05/burned-after-reading-endless-mayflys-ephemeral-disinformation-campaign/?fbclid=IwAR2mWzf91EYhckgjwbHP9ARiX-RQSRnaYlW3qWeDzOBWPdYMtE_r7XtzP-c&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=kremlin_watch_briefing_major_iranian_disinformation_campaign_exposed&utm_term=2019-06-30> accessed 29 June 2019

[5] Monroe Price, Nicole Stremlau, Speech and Society in Turbulent Times: Freedom of Expression in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge University Press 2018) p.317.

 

ZOOM WEBINAR INFO

When: May 14, 2020 14:00 London
Topic: PCMLP Global Seminar Series: “Freedom of Expression & the Weaponization of Information” (with Antonina Cherevko, Adviser, International Media Support)

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