US vs. Russia Information War: Which Side Are You On?

US vs. Russia Information War: Which Side Are You On?
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As Russia bombs U.S.-trained rebels in Syria, the West accuses Russia for ramping up its information war, while the Kremlin claims that there is an ongoing information war against Russia.

Who do you believe and how do you not get sucked into the information war, which is clearly waged by both the West and Russia?

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Russia has ramped up its ongoing information war against the West, and the U.S. in particular, ever since it annexed Crimea in 2014, according to Doctor of Military Science and infowar expert Saara Jantunen.

The information campaign is never reduced to a few media guys blowing off their steam, because information war efforts are always aimed to encourage public mayhem by providing false facts.

Besides, the information war machine can also be used directly against those who attempt to oppose it. Finnish people who call attention to the growing threat of Russian aggressive infowar are being silenced, according to Jantunen.

In her book titled ‘Infosota’, Jantunen explores the ruthless reality of the Russian infowar machine, including its troll houses, where thousands of Russian commenters are paid to post anti-Western, pro-Russian comments on social media and in comment sections.

Alarming spread of Russian trolls in Western media

The so-called ‘trolls’ spread hatred toward the West and praise Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy. These kinds of trolls are being paid by the Russian government, according to Lyudmila Savchuk, who exposed a factory of trolls based in Russia’s Saint Petersburg, as reported by ValueWalk in September.

It was also revealed that every time a Westerner replies to a troll’s comment, the troll commenter receives a bonus from the agency. Thus, the “extra salary” of such trolls is formed by the number of likes and replies he/she gets.

Moscow has been extending its reach with information war efforts and propaganda through its international broadcaster RT, aka Russia Today, for nearly a decade now. Russia is looking to ramp up its propaganda efforts in the West, since it increased its spending on RT by more than 50 percent to over 260 million euros this year.

How does Russian information war work in action? According to Jantunen, her book will most likely attract attention of Russian trolls on the social media platform.

How does Russian infowar machine target Westerners?

Jantunen is already used to Russian-propaganda trolls targeting her with defamation and belittling, since she works as a researcher for Finland’s Defense Forces. However, in the case with the book, the author expects something larger than a mere Internet defamation campaign – a sophisticated botnet attack, short for robot network attack.

“Every now and then I noticed that a troll harassing me would forward a nameless message,” Jantunen told Yle.

According to Yle, investigation concluded that the same message was divided among several hundreds of different user IDs. Such a botnet attack is comprised of a number of PCs connected to the Internet and communicating with a number of other similar machines in order to perform repetitive tasks, and as a result, target someone with negative or malicious attacks.

When Jantunen looked into one of the messages sent to her, the trail eventually led to an online news service spreading rumors and false information. However, Yle did not specify whether it was a Russian online news service or not.

A large number of Finnish journalists examining the information war against Russia have been repeatedly targeted with similar defamation attacks, according to Jantunen. Russian infowar ‘soldiers’ even went as far as registering complaints with the Finnish authorities for the media’s attempts to influence public opinion.

West lost information war against Russia – Russian researcher

However, the Kremlin believes that it is the West who is conducting an orchestrated information war campaign to undermine Russia’s efforts in the Syrian conflict.

“Biased and false reports have flooded Western and regional media claiming the Russian military operation is causing civilian deaths or even is aimed against pro-democratic forces and the peaceful population. That is an information attack, the information warfare that we all have heard so much about. Apparently someone came well-prepared for it,” Mariya Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, told RT, the Russian news service we mentioned earlier in the article.

According to the Russian media, the West has commanders of the information war, who plan, arrange and organize large-scale strategic campaigns that put national interests on the line. But Western authorities do not care about national security most of the times; all they care about is to hold down their power, according to Igor Nikolaychuk, an expert at Russian Institute of Strategic Research.

Westerners are sick of propaganda against Russia – researcher

In his article published on RIA Novosti, Nikolaychuk argues that Russia’s “enemies” have bet on neither truth nor lies, but rather on large-scale biased and pre-prepared negative content against Russia. “Lies are cheap, but this approach requires large, crazy spending,” Nikolaychuk wrote. “They spent the money, and they lost the war.”

However, Nikolaychuk noted that the West achieved one thing: it encouraged Westerners to be afraid of Russia and Vladimir Putin, which is indicated in numerous polls.

The Russian researcher also noted that the Western media positions itself in the role of the watchdog, which was a common thing in the Cold War era. However, Westerners are sick of the propaganda against Russia, according to the expert, who backs his point by reminding about recent protests in Germany against German media.

Nikolaychuk also notes that we see the development of a new information war regarding the Syrian conflict. According to the expert, before the beginning of Russian military operation in Syria earlier this month, it used to be Western outrage about Russia’s support for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime, while today the Western propaganda targets Russian warplanes, bombs, guns and the casualties of Russian airstrikes in Syria.

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Polina Tikhonova is a writer, journalist and a certified translator. Over the past 7 years, she has worked for a wide variety of top European, American, Russian, and Ukrainian media outlets. Polina holds a Master's Degree in English Philology from the University of Oxford and a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from the Saint Petersburg State University. Her articles and news reports have been published by many newspapers, magazines, journals, blogs and online media sources across the globe. Polina is fluent in English, German, Ukrainian and Russian.
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