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Russians are Trying to Sway Trusted Institutions, Says Center for Strategic and International Studies

Elijah Labby



Photo of Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center, by the U.S. Embassy Vienna used with permission

July 14, 2020 — Russia is actively attempting to shift trusted institutions both in the United States and abroad, said participants in a Center for Strategic and International Studies webinar Tuesday.

Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center, said that when institutions are swayed or dismantled, it allows countries like Russia to get away with human rights abuses. When bad actors are injecting Russian talking points into US politics, she continued, they attempt to distance themselves.

“The more plausible deniability Russia can get… that makes Russia’s job easier because we’re not going to silence authentic American voices because of the First Amendment,” she said.

Screenshot of Nina Jankowicz from the Center for Strategic and International Studies webinar

Getting such talking points into American institutions can move conversations in ways that are beneficial to Russia, Jankowicz said.

“So, we’ll see Russia, for instance, use the International Court of Human Rights or various different court systems across Europe to get its viewpoint in there,” she said. “And because it was heard in a court there, it is legitimized.”

Countries like Russia share viral misinformation or disinformation on social media that can be difficult to trace, Jankowicz said. It is difficult to convince those who were misled that they were in fact misled, and in addition that fact-checking activities are not partisan.

However, she said that disinformation broadly is not aimed at any particular party and is merely intent on sowing division.

“There is no current throughout these Russian operations as there was in the Soviet period,” she said. “It’s really just about political ingenuity and whatever is going to cause the most chaos and keep us distracted from Russia and its adventurism abroad.”

Jankowicz suggested passing the Honest Ads Act, which would force social media companies to be more transparent about reporting the origins of ad placements on their platforms.

“We still don’t have the honest ads act that would create that transparency around online advertising,” she said. “Bad actors, whether they’re foreign or domestic are going to keep exploiting those loopholes because it’s just too cheap and too easy to be able to get the desired effect.”


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