The second day of the conference was opened by the Mgr. et Mgr. Ondřej Filipec, Ph.D., from the Department of Politics and Social Sciences, Faculty of Law, Palacky University who greeted guests and fellow lecturers.
The first speaker was Assoc. Prof. Ladislav Cabada, PhD., Assoc. Prof., Metropolitan University Prague, who dedicated his contribution to the “Russian Aggression against Ukraine as the Accelerator of the Systemic Struggle against Disinformation in the Czech Republic”. Prof. Cabada opened his presentation with a focus on the geo-political reality of the Central and Eastern European region and talked about reasons why this region is more vulnerable to disinformation campaigns due to narratives of the Russian World, Slavic Unity or Ostalgia. He stressed also supportive factors such as the decline of trust in public media. Then he focused on the reality of the Czech Republic mentioning agents of Russian influence in the Czech Republic, including the oversized Russian embassy or ex-president Miloš Zeman. However, as a result of the Vrbětice case, the influence partially decreased. Other persons having moderate positions towards Russia are Andrej Babiš or the leader of the radical party Freedom and Direct Democracy Tomio Okamura, who is using “politics of fear” in his campaigns. Due to the critical situation, civic society was activated and new citizen initiatives emerged, including Prague Security Studies Institute, Czech elves, Manipulátoři.cz, demagog, and many others. The new government of Petr Fiala targeted several issues in its program, including the establishment of “National Security Advisor”, new rules for transparent financing of media, and elevating the role of the Government Office in the fight against disinformation. After 24th of February 2022, the processes accelerated. Various important people like Michal Klíma, Tomáš Pojar or Petr Matouš were placed in relevant positions to improve the situation in the country and ensure the implementation of the strategic documents. Following the invasion, seven Czech disinformation webs were blocked. Several disinformers are facing the trial, including Tomáš Čermák and Petr Tušl.
Another speaker was JUDr. Soňa Matochová, Ph.D., Head of the Analysis Department, Czech Data Protection Office was talking about the “Fight against Disinformation – Lesson from Cambridge Analytica”. She stressed that disinformation is an important problem in Europe and USA and we are just at the beginning to address the issue. After the introduction to communication ways in which disinformation and propaganda spread, she focused on the case of Cambridge Analytica in the terms of data protection and GDPR. Cambridge Analytica was one of the biggest investigations involving approx. 70 companies in the case. In the end, there were 40 people from the British data protection office working on this case and it was a very long process as Cambridge Analytica ended its activities one year ago. The effects of activities were of important impact: influencing elections worldwide, or even Brexit. However, it is hard to quantify the influence. As a result of Cambridge Analytica, the EU is thinking about new approaches to regulation. What we can do, in the terms of transparency and rules, is a very active role of data protection authorities. In the end, she recommended Christopher Wylie’s book dedicated to the case.
Assoc. Prof. PhDr. Přemysl Rosůlek, PhD., from the University of West Bohemia, Pilsen, Czech Republic, presented the issue of “Disinformation in Negative Campaigning by Andrej Babiš and Response Ex-Czech General Petr Pavel on Twitter during 2023 Presidential Race”. In his presentation, he stressed, that we live in a post-truth world where truth becomes somehow only contextual. While Barrack Obama was the first Facebook president, it was Donald Trump who is associated with social networks and succeeded in bypassing traditional mainstream media to win the election. In the Czech case, you can also see the shift from a TV focus in 2013 to a hybrid media system in later years. For example, Andrej Babiš was very active in retweets which dominated original tweets during the run for presidential elections. Surprisingly, disinformation was one of the main parts of the campaign from various angles. This was the case of changing the context of the expressions made by the counter-candidate, promoting himself as a “peacemaker” in the pictures with Emanuel Macron etc. Prof. Rosůlek succeeded in providing an in-depth comparison of the different communication styles of Petr Pavel and Andrej Babiš and provided an interesting framework for analysis.
The afternoon session was chaired by the Assoc. Prof. Alla Fedorova, Ph.D., Institute of International Relations, Taras Shevchenko the National University of Kyiv, welcomed the speakers. The first one was Kateryna Levchenko, Government Commissioner on gender equality who spoke about “Russian manipulation of gender issues as an integral part of hybrid war”. She highlighted that the topic is under-researched in the discourse and highlighted the role of many activists in Ukraine who are writing about the manipulation of gender issues. Anti-gender ideology, which began to spread in Ukraine in 2010, is threatening the rights of women. Since then, family issues were put at the heart of the Russian propaganda effort. It is because the family is linked to natural human emotion. Nobody defined exactly what does it mean “traditional family values”. Putin made a statement on gender issues as a main driver of war and gender issues of the operation. According to madam Levchenko, we can expect global Russian propaganda efforts to misuse gender issues for social transformation. Based on the experience from Ukraine, there are early-stage indicators that took place in Ukraine between 2010-2013. The following debate covered the issue of the Istanbul convention, which was misused by Russian propaganda and presented as an evil stimulating violence.
The next speaker was Ievgeniia Lukianchenko, visiting researcher at the University of Copenhagen, and a Ph.D. student at the Institute of International Relations Taras Schevchenka National University of Kyiv who talked about the “Russian Disinformation after 24 February”. Full-scale invasion increased the outbreak of disinformation: Ukraine is a failed state, Ukraine is ruled from outside, Ukraine can not survive without Russian resources etc. Propaganda followed also important events. For example, when Ukraine received candidate statutes Russia claimed it does not matter and that Europe is a battlefield of US interests. These lies were reflected in the official response of state authorities and international partners, including the EU. A special committee to investigate foreign interference in Ukraine. In the final part of her contribution, she was talking about possible countermeasures to limit Russian digital influence.
Another speaker was Bohdan Pshenichnyi, a Ph. D student, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv dedicated his presentation to “The Right to Freedom of Expression and the Fight against Disinformation in the Context of Armed Conflict”. Freedom of expression is not an absolute right and might be limited due to some legitimate reasons, especially in the terms of armed conflict to protect national security, public order, or protecting the rights of others. His presentation covered also cover measures such as increased cooperation of state authorities or mobilization of civil society to monitor and evaluate the content on the internet. On the other side, it is necessary to note, that information shall not be restricted only because they are not being inconvenient.
A sinologist, Oksana Osmachko, who works as a guest researcher at the SCRIPTS research project, Free University of Berlin was talking about “China’s Domestic Propaganda and State Media Narratives Analysis in the Context of the War in Ukraine”. Propaganda in China is having a long and complicated history and was cultivated by the Communist movement since its founding in 1921. Regarding the Russian invasion, Chinese propaganda started to use disinformation and presented itself as “neutral”. For Russia, China is one of the most reliable partners and this perspective is shared by Beijing. This partnership is mirrored in many strategic documents and practical results regarding trade and infrastructure projects. In an attempt to create a “neutral” image, China claims to promote dialogue and peace. On the other hand, there is cooperation with the aggressor. Russian and China is a propaganda tools for persuasion with the aim to weaken the West and change the World order. Russian aims are clearly revisionist, to get rid of NATO influence in Europe and its Eastern enlargement. The current state of Russia is presented as a result of collusion under the leadership of the USA. China supported Russia with the vision to increase its status and become stronger towards the West. However, Chinese propaganda is not fully in line with Russian propaganda, for example, it is diverging in the case of Nazism in Ukraine, War crimes, coverage of the Bucha massacre, etc. Moreover, China is not presenting itself as a victim of the West. However, both states stress that the West is increasing the risk of the use of nuclear weapons, they share the view that it is a “special military operation” or that there were secret biological laboratories in Ukraine. The final words of the presentation were dedicated to shared and not shared narratives.
The final speaker of the section was Olga Dunebabina, a Ph.D. researcher at the National Academy of Security Service, who talked about the “Doctrinal foundations of Russian national security policy as a method of spreading disinformation”. She opened her presentation with examples of connections used by Russia to interpret events in Ukraine. For example, the term “colour revolution” is used in Russia as a revolution driven from the outside. Another issue presented in propaganda is Western sanctions, which are according to propaganda not working and undermining international cooperation. Similarly, Russia hijacked the concept of “traditional values” and interpretation of Ukrainian history, which is interpreted from the position of Russian power. From this wrong perspective, a historical connection justifies intervention in Ukraine, Georgia, or Moldova. She concluded, that studying Russian strategic documents can help to understand the directions of the propaganda and main narratives.
The last panel was opened by the Assoc. Prof., Olena Sviatun, Ph. D., Institute of International Relations, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv welcomed Mgr. Jana Cihanová, LL.M. from the Comenius University in Bratislava, was talking about the issue of “Website blocking as a measure to prevent the spread of misinformation on the Internet”. Invasion highlighted the need to fight disinformation and propaganda. There are several tools to suppress disinformation, however, none of them is perfect for addressing the issue. One of the ways is active regulation of the state which may involve several methods, including blocking content or the entire website. In response to the hostilities against Ukraine, the Slovak government adopted laws updating several regulations including cybersecurity when Slovak cyber authority got the power to block websites. This amendment has been criticized as not reflecting deeper discussions but rather a quick response to the situation. There are several issues, for example, the blocking authority is not obliged to publish decisions on blocking. Moreover, the rules for blocking websites were not published. To proceed, it is necessary to define “serious disinformation” in which the blocking will be enabled. Moreover, the measures might be somehow proportionate and temporary. The Institute of blocking websites is also a preventive measure, which might be beneficial for other countries as well.
Mgr. Eva Klusová, Transitions Media talked about “Assessing pro-Russian Disinformation and Propaganda in the Czech Republic: A Quantitative Analysis of the On-line Communication”. She highlighted the fact, that states are slow in collective data and that is why actors fighting disinformation have to rely on data collected by civil society, NGOs etc. Madam Klusová presented ways in which pro-Kremlin disinformation are spread. She highlighted several trends such as the use of spiritual pro-Putin movements including Creative Society or AllatRa. Czech anti-covid and anti-vaccination groups were changed overnight into groups supporting Russia. In her presentation, she analyzed how dominant pro-Russian narratives developed over time: from secret biolabs in Ukraine to attacks on the government of being too pro-Ukrainian. From comparing the environment before and after the invasion we can conclude that the invasion strengthened the focus on topics related to Ukraine and the fast change from anti-vaxxers groups into pro-Russian groups shows that campaigns are orchestrated from one point.
The last speaker of the conference was Bogdan Diachenko, a Ph.D. student, at the Institute of International Relations of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv who spoke about ‘Competition regulation on the digital platforms and international security’. He opened the presentation by reference to the Digital Market Act and the issue of gatekeeper platforms. His focus was aimed at articles 2 and article 3 under the Digital Market Act and related issues, including infringement procedures and possible sanctions.
The event was organized within the implementation of the Jean Monnet Network „European Union and the Challenges of Modern Society (Legal Issues of Digitalization, Robotization, Cyber Security and Prevention of Hybrid Threats) Project id: 611293-EPP-1-2019-1-CZ-EPPJMO-NETWORK.