Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Twisted information in #PresidentialElections2017 in France - will the truth prevail?


Photo: Twitter/L'important

Political campaigns are not fair play. As the presidential office has a lot of power in France, the competition is fierce and it is not unusual to have surprises along the way. It would be business as usual, except the fact that this year the French campaign is like no other. Why is that?

First, its results will have consequences beyond its borders. If Marine Le Pen, the populist leader wins, she will probably withdraw France from the EU and the eurozone. This would shake the European integration project and could trigger a financial crisis. Second, there is a tangible possibility of elections being manipulated by special interests or foreign powers. “I think that without doubt there is concern here (in France) of outside “influences” manipulating the electorate” says Lisa Regan, a Parisian working in the financial sector.

Recent history shows that there are two ways of manipulating the public opinion during the election period. First, cyberattacks. Second, dis- or misinformation campaign (disinformation is intentional while misinformation implies an error). In France, these patterns prevail.

Emmanuel Macron’s movement En Marche! has already suffered more than 4,000 hacking attacks. Sputnik News reported that Macron was backed by a “gay lobby” and was a “US agent” for banks. In March, webpage lesoir.info (do not confuse it with the Belgian outlet lesoir.be) announced that Saudi Arabia is financing Macron’s campaign up to 30%. None of this is fair or true, but news manipulation is not always about fabricating stories but about confusing people who cannot tell the difference. On 1 March, a false twitter account of the journal Le Parisien was spreading the news that the conservative candidate François Fillon has stepped down from the presidential race, which again was not correct. Faced with charges that he gave his wife and children fake jobs, François Fillon should quit but in fact, he has just confirmed that he would fight until the end. To sum up, while Marine Le Pen, Russia’s front runner, gets neutral or positive headlines in above-mentioned outlets, Mr. Macron has experienced an increased number of disinformation. It shows that he is among the most prominent targets of the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign in Europe these days.

Is the French electorate vulnerable to manipulation of news and election results? Yes and No. Let’s start with the positive scenario that the French are resistant to those tricks. Why is that?

First, the government has started to act. As opposed to the US, where the administration did not admit for a long time of foreign interference, the French officials have already publicly stated that this threat exists and blamed Russia for attacking Macron. Today, not only the country's anti-cyberattacks agency, ANSSI, is on high alert but on 7 March, the government disallowed French citizens living abroad (around 1,8 million people) from voting electronically in the legislative elections, which is a clear demonstration that the government is worried that the vote can be hacked.

Second, France has a strong preference for traditional outlets: TV, radio, print and the Russian outlets are not very popular. Alternative media such as Sputnik’s French site or Russia Today France are not frequented so much. According to Digital News Report 2016 by the Reuters Institute, the research centre at Oxford University, they are not among the 16 most popular hits. If you google “election presidentielle 2017 France sondage” or “cyberattaque Macron”, the above-mentioned outlets do no appear in the first ten search pages.

Third, media and the NGOs have already taken measures to counter “fake news” through educational and fact-checking tools (similar to Globsec Information war monitor for Central Europe in Slovakia). Those are for example CrossCheck, or Le Monde’s Le Décodex. CrossCheck brings together journalists from 17 newsrooms who find and verify content circulating online, whether it is photographs, videos, memes, comments or news sites. Le Décodex is a growing database of sites that were spotted as “real,” or “fake”. Everyone can go and check if the webpage is reliable. Le Monde is active on Twitter with @crosscheck and publishes “disinformation review” where it corrects the facts. 

Negative scenario 
Yes, the French just like the Americans and the Brits can be played upon. There are unfortunately several reasons to believe it too.

First, a struggle for the truth could be lost. Only 32% of French still trust in the news, which again following the Reuters Institute, is one of the lowest in Europe (to compare with 72% of Slovaks following the Globsec Trends 2016). Only 25% of people agree that the news is free from political (25%) or commercial (22%) influence. Additionally, the preference for traditional media is now dipping, especially with the young. Thus, more and more people turn to social media for finding, reading/watching, and sharing news. Facebook is the most important network (42%; under 35 – 52%), followed by YouTube (21%), and Twitter (8%, and under 35 – 12%). This of course creates the threats that due to algorithmic selection of news introduced by Facebook or Google, the biased information can by spread or special interests reinforced. Marine Le Pen’s National Front has already for some time coordinated hashtags, memes and animated videos across social-media platforms. According to BuzzFeed, a news website, Le Pen’s backers helped also Trump to post comments on the French news sites, which created an unrealistic picture of the discussion and support.

Second, a battle for the credible source is a no-win game. It’s true that American tech giants like Facebook and Google have stepped in to counter false reports on their platforms. They enable to flag fake news online and remove posts if they are found to violate companies’ terms of use or local laws. The general idea is brilliant but the implementation can be poor. First of all, despite the declarations, both companies do not want to compromise their business model (read as they actually do not want to get involved in providing the information integrity). Second, people start to rebel against any restrictions on freedom on the Internet. WikiStrike, the alternative outlet has already announced the the demonstration against any changes of algorithms or any cross-checking initiatives on 25 March.

Will the truth prevail? 
“In the first round, you vote with your heart, in the second round, you vote with head,” says one French expression. I hope this is the case also this year. It is hardly possible now to assess how the new cyberattacks or disinformation campaign will look like in April, and if it can be prevented. The preference (still) for the traditional outlets and the cross-checking webpages and education on information may prevent French from selecting a wrong candidate. Even if they follow their heart (often full of passion and pessimism) in the first round, I hope they vote with the head in the second round. This was the case in 2002 when "le Pacte Républicain", where the right and the left joined their forces for the good of the country, worked just perfectly. The left-wing voters followed Jacques Chirac, thanks to which he won with over 82% against Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Kinga Brudzinska
Senior Researcher
GLOBSEC Policy Institute

Monday, March 20, 2017

Macedonia: Light at the End of a Tunnel Too Far

Photo: Twitter/United For Macedonia

At the latest European Council meeting, the leaders of the EU member countries felt the need to reiterate the EU’s commitment for countries of the Western Balkans with integration ambitions due to the recent development in the region. One of the reasons why the Western Balkans was again on the “menu” was the situation in Macedonia.   
How it all began, anyway?
Macedonia has been experiencing deep internal political crisis since parliamentary and presidential elections in April 2014. The opposition accused then government parties, that they consolidated power through mass election frauds. In response, the opposition boycotted the Parliament sessions. The crisis significantly deepened in February 2015, when the opposition started to publish wire-tapping records, provided them by an anonymous leaker(s), originating from the Macedonian secret police UBK, collected over years during tenures of the Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s party VMRO-DPMNE (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity) Governments (2006 – 2016). They included phone-discussions among highest state representatives discussing highly politically sensitive matters, own involvement in criminal cases as well as outright corruption.
The revelation of high-level corruption led to anti-government protests under the leadership of – then - strongest opposition party SDSM (Social-Democratic Union of Macedonia) requesting the Gruevski’s Government to step down, declare snap elections and secure proper investigation of numerous criminal and corruption cases revealed in the wire-taps. The Government resisted and the protests escalated with thousands of people from both camps protesting against or in support of the Government. Opposition staged the occupation protest lasting for weeks in front of the Government building in Skopje. The response to the internal crisis in Macedonia from the international community including the EU was at this point weak.
Then in May 2015, special police raid in Kumanovo – ethnically mixed city – against group of Albanian suspects got wrong, turned into blood-shed that cost lives of at least 10 persons and dozens of wounded. This was probably the wake-up call for the international community, that became concerned that blood could be again spilled in the Balkans and that the inter-ethnic tensions, that are still subliminally present in Macedonia, could flame up. The EU and the U.S. diplomacies have put themselves into mediating the agreement between the Government and the Opposition. The result of lengthy negotiations was a compromise called “Pržino Agreement” concluded in July 2015.
The Agreement envisaged: return of the opposition to the Parliament; early elections to take place in April 2016, before that Prime Minister Gruevski will step down in January 2016 and the mixed care-taker Government consisting of representatives from both camps will lead the country towards the early elections. Apart from that the Special Prosecutor’s Office was established, whose main role is the investigation of criminal cases, that were mentioned in leaked wire-taps.
The implementation of the Agreement was protracted, with opposition blaming the VMRO-DPMNE for delays and obstructions. Subsequently the early elections were postponed first for June 5 and finally took place on December 11, 2016. The time between April and December 2016 was filled with mass protests, organized by the Macedonian civil society and supported by the political opposition, requesting the VMRO-DPMNE to live up to terms of the Pržino agreement.
Not quite “early” elections
After heated and polarised pre-election campaign, the votes were organised on 11 December. The elections ended up with a tie – opposition SDSM earned just two seats less than the winning VMRO-DPMNE (51 seats) out of 120 seats total in the Parliament. Four more parties passed the threshold – all of them smaller ethnic Albanian parties: Democratic Union for Integration (DUI, former junior coalition partner of VMRO-DPMNE in previous government coalition); newly founded conservative “Besa Movement”; coalition “Alliance for Albanians” and the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA). Right after the elections, it became clear that the key to any post-election government coalition have Albanian ethnic political parties. This situation favoured the SDSM, who went to the elections as universal social-democratic party, not restricted to the ethnicity and actually lots of Albanians voted for them. On the other hand, VMRO-DPMNE ran the campaign on Macedonian nationalistic sentiments and that alienated some of their potential coalition partners.
Nikola Gruevski as the leader of winning party was given the mandate to form the government, however, failed to secure majority within the 20 days’ deadline, because they didn’t find agreement with the former coalition partner DUI. He returned the mandate, but President Gjorge Ivanov in a surprising turn of events did not give mandate to the leader of the second strongest party - Zoran Zaev of the SDSM. Rather he declared that for the sake of stability and unity of Macedonia, he will give mandate only to that political leader who will bring him signatures of at least 61 MPs. Zaev entered into lengthy negotiations with Albanian parties represented in the Parliament, now united as the “Albanian Platform” around joint goal to improve status of Albanians in Macedonia.
They found common grounds and so Zaev headed to the Presidential Palace with signatures of 67 MPs from SDSM, DUI, BESA and the Alliance of Albanians. Two days later, President Ivanov in another change of mind announced, that he still cannot grant the mandate to Zaev, because part of his government would be “foreign country’s platform”, apparently in reference to the “Albanian platform”. Parallel with that the VMRO-DPMNE supporters launched series of country-wide protests against potential SDSM – Albanian platform” government coalition, saying it would lead to “con-federalisation” and subsequently “dissipation of Macedonia” along the ethnic lines. Instead, VMRO-DPMNE calls for another early election to take place in May 2017 along with the planned municipal elections in order citizens distribute votes anew. SDSM and Albanian parties oppose, quoting the Constitution they were supposed to get the mandate from the President to form the Government as they declared clear majority.
Therefore, the country is currently in a stalemate and the crisis is just deepening. There is still the interim Government, the Parliament has not yet met though it is already over 3 months after the elections, legislative process is stopped, protests in streets continue and the inter-ethnic tension is growing. All representatives of the EU and the U.S. called upon the President Ivanov repeatedly to give the mandate to the party that obtained the support of majority in the elections.
The VMRO-DPMNE called it “mingling into the internal affairs of a sovereign state”. This narrative was quickly picked up by Russia, warning against “Western interference into domestic affairs of Macedonia” and declaring support to the VMRO-DPMNE and the President Ivanov. From Russian side, it was yet another cold calculus – on one hand could poke the EU and the West over their efforts in the Western Balkans, and on the other hand, it sowed discontent among segments of Macedonian society as well as other countries in the region.
What could be the way out of the crisis?
The SDSM and its allies are trying to by-pass Presidential de-facto veto on government forming, through the Parliament. For that, they would need to convene the Parliament and elect the Speaker. After that, they might try to initiate the vote of confidence for the proposed cabinet consisting of SDSM and Albanian parties’ representatives. However, the SDSM speaks about this scenario just as the “Plan B”. They still hope President Ivanov will change his mind, honour the Constitution and grant the mandate to form the Government to Zaev.
Conclusions
There are number of root causes of the current political crisis in Macedonia. First and foremost, strong political polarisation and deep distrust between the SDSM and the VMRO-DPMNE. SDSM gained in the early elections quite decent support and above expectations also Albanian votes. On the other hand, VMRO-DPMNE and its former coalition partner DUI – experienced significant loss in support. For the SDSM, it is “now or never” opportunity to form and lead the Government of Macedonia. For VMRO-DPMNE, it would mean straight way to opposition and for many of its representatives possibly to jail, if corruption and criminal cases that were leaked in wire-taps’ recordings would be properly investigated and prosecuted. That is a pretty good motivation to try to stay in power at all costs.

Secondly, there is still potential inter-ethnic tension and this could deepen with protests and activities of Macedonian nationalists against representation of Albanians in the Government. It is worth noting, that when VMRO-DPMNE was negotiating with DUI about creation of the coalition, there were no protests against that, though DUI voiced the same requirements as it tabled later for talks with the SDSM in regard to strengthening the position of Albanians in Macedonia.
Thirdly, the international context has also significant impact on development of the crisis. The EU and the U.S. actively engaged to find the solution out of the crisis already back in 2015. But their influence weakened over time. The Presidential elections in the U.S. brought the new Administration, that has not showed too much of interest in the Western Balkans or Macedonia. The EU’s position has been weakened as well – with Brexit and migration crisis. Apart from that, there is the ongoing dispute between Macedonia and Greece over the so-called “name issue“, due to which Greece has been blocking the integration process of Macedonia both to the EU and the NATO. Protracted disagreement on how should the country be called, caused significant delays in country’s European integration. Coupled with above-mentioned crisis, caused that EU lost much of its leverage, it possesses in form of the integration perspective and transformation. Now it seems that the carrot is too far and the stick too small for the VMRO-DPMNE or the President Ivanov to honour the Constitution and the will of the democratically elected majority. With the lack (or not enough) of pressure from abroad to help to solve the political crisis in Macedonia – it seems that the light at the end of the tunnel is still too far.

Ján Cingel
Acting Head of the European Neighbourhood Programme
GLOBSEC Policy Institute

Thursday, March 16, 2017

EU disturbed by new Balkan instability and geopolitics: hidden contradictions

(Photo: European Commission)
After an extended absence, the EU summit on 9 March 2017 finally included the current state of the Western Balkans in its agenda. The common point of reference for this ‘inner courtyard’ of Europe has been its slow-moving progress towards the EU accession. However, now for the first time in many years, geopolitical and security threats facing this fragile region have risen to the top of the agenda.

The EU summit conclusions expressed concern on both external and internal factors, referring to a recent flare-up in nationalist rhetoric and ethnic tensions in this post-conflict region. European Council President Donald Tusk was quoted as saying some of the ethnic divisions that have existed in several countries for some time have spiked due to destabilizing external influences. This was a veiled reference to Russia, which has been waging wider disinformation campaigns in Serbia and elsewhere in the region. Tusk also called for EU institutions to take more action, including in the area of strategic communications.

The reasons are simple: an erosion of strategic engagement, attention and political will in key EU capitals. While Europe neglects the Balkans, and the new U. S. Administration reorients foreign policy, other powers moved in to fill the vacuum. This post-conflict corner in south eastern Europe has again become a zone for competing geopolitical struggles.

The EU Observer correctly noted that the EU capitals are also wary of Turkey and Gulf Arab states’ efforts to increase political influence in the region, but Russia’s behaviour is seen as more destabilising and dangerous. The Kremlin’s assertive presence in the Balkans presents a low-risk option for an early test of transatlantic relations under the new American President Donald Trump.

Multiple alarm bells

Multiple alarm bells have sounded in recent weeks and months. The real game changer in the outside perception of Moscow’s meddling in the region was an attempted coup in Montenegro during parliamentary elections in October 2016. Many observers were initially sceptical about the official claims from Podgorica that local security service narrowly prevented a group of Serbian ultranationalists and paramilitary fighters (with recent experience from the Donbass) organized from Russia from storming the parliament and helping to disrupt the elections, and thus discredit the ratification process of Montenegro’s membership in NATO. Then Montenegro presented evidence, which was partly gathered thanks to cooperation with Serbian authorities (the perpetrators initially operated from Serbian territory). Pro-Russian opposition parties still bitterly contest the claim. Nevertheless, presented evidence confirms the long-term trend. This was also pointed out by British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson who only a few days ago openly called on the Kremlin to stop undermining pro-Western leaders and governments in the Balkans.

Of more immediate concern is the deep, prolonged crisis gripping Macedonia. With street protests in Skopje and a constitutional crisis over the results of the December election, Russian government and media have claimed that the EU is trying to create a Greater Albania – a clear attempt to aggravate ethnic tension in this fragile country with a 25% ethnic Albanian minority, playing into the hands of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski who is trying to remain in power. Russia is also backing another controversial strongman, the nationalist president of Republika Srpska (RS), the Bosnian Serb entity, who is pushing for a referendum on RS independence from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Return of geopolitics benefited Balkan strongmen

This return of geopolitics, however, has also benefited Balkan leaders, allowing them to pander to various geopolitical players or investors, and play this ‘chess game’ as a cover for expanding their own power and patronage networks. They can more easily disregard democratic standards and politically conditionality, which has always been part of the EU’s enlargement process (when it still had more credibility).

Nowhere else is this contradiction more clearly displayed than in Serbia - the largest Balkan country, which is now the lynchpin of stability for the whole region. The pro-EU course, which has long dominated Belgrade’s geostrategic orientation, has recently been confronted with a growing Russian influence in domestic politics, business and public opinion. However, events in Montenegro seemed to reach a tipping point: Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who has evolved from a former hard-line nationalist into a pro-EU leader and pragmatist, took it as a warning.

Serbia as trendsetter?

After period characterized by rumours and speculation, 47-year old Vucic decided to run in Presidential elections in April 2017. He thus outmanoeuvred the current president Tomislav Nikolic, a key ally of Moscow. 65-years old Nikolic was former political mentor of Vucic, and a founder of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). At the same time, he has remained a traditional hard-line nationalist with strong ties to Russia. He once famously said that the only thing he loves more than Russia, is Serbia.

Vucic knows that trading the top government job for a mostly ceremonial position of President with few constitutional powers does not matter. If he finds a suitable replacement as Prime Minister, even as President he will remain the country’s strongman. It is in line with Serbian political tradition inherited from the era of Tito and Milosevic (when informal power mattered much more than formal competences and institutions).

Meanwhile, the fragmented Serbian democratic camp has failed to present a single candidate: three contenders are now competing for similar voters in what is more a side-show beauty pageant for the leader of the opposition and chief opponent to Vucic. His election for Serbian President is already taken as a foregone conclusion. There are two open questions: whether Prime Minister Vucic will win a straight majority already in the first round, and if not, who would be his contender in a run-off. A second round of elections would be somewhat humiliating for Vucic. The effect of a split vote among the mainstream opposition might help the notorious extreme nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj. In a way, he would be the ideal opponent for both Prime Minister Vucic and Russia. Moscow initially preferred the status quo (new mandate for President Nikolic) but now would be satisfied with boosting their preferred narrative (e.g. Serbia betrayed by the West should turn to Russia) during the election campaign using the platform of hardline nationalists.

Business as usual won’t work

As much as the EU (as well as the new U. S. Administration) now rely on Vucic, they can’t ignore his increasingly undemocratic track record, especially when global and regional influences encourage him to tighten his trip. At the same time, the EU’s leverage is not something to be ignored. While Brussels and Berlin need him as partner on strategic regional issues, migration, and Kosovo, it also goes the other way around: Serbia’s evasive strongman also needs the EU, and Berlin and Washington in particular, to calm the waters, keep Russia at bay and credibly reengage the whole region.

To sum up: the latest EU summit was a step in the right direction if it is not followed by complacency. Continuing with a ‘business as usual’ approach to the Balkans will not work anymore as competing geopolitical struggles take the main stage.



Milan Nič
Head of Future of Europe Programme
GLOBSEC Policy Institute

Monday, March 13, 2017

Four factors threatening our freedom and democracy

(Photo: VOA)

The world is at the crossroads of history and the effects of events that are now happening in Europe and across the Atlantic affect everyone, whether they realize it or not.
 Series of events that dominated the headlines and public debate in the past year - the migration crisis, Brexit or election of Donald Trump for president of the USA shook the foundations of mechanisms and institutions maintaining stability and security of Europe and the world as we know it. What future lies ahead of the liberal democracy and its institutions? The causes, impacts and possibilities of future development of the current situation have been covered in hundreds of analyses, but it seems that the “wind of change” is blowing in the entire western hemisphere. What kind of change it will be and what will follow next, when the pillars of stability and security would fall, we know very little of.
In the information noise and the small details flooding our daily newsfeeds, some very important facts and trends are lost. What might look from the outside as a spontaneous and natural mood change throughout the western societies is actually happening due to several driving factors. I would like to highlight four specific factors: the technological change, return of Russian superpower ambitions, use of big data for individualised political marketing and the crisis of traditional media. 
Technological change
The first driving factor is the technology revolution related to the massive spread of internet access. Expansion of the Internet coverage combined with availability of devices (low-cost smartphones) and social networking has radically changed the way of communication between political leaders and their voters. It also fundamentally altered the possibilities for mobilizing and connecting people around themes or interests. When this process began, everyone hoped that immediate mass access to knowledge accumulated by generations of mankind will lead to more informed citizens and better decisions of all. Today we are talking of post-factual reality, fake news and relativisation or even denial of the existence of objective reality.
Gerasimov's doctrine and hybrid threats
"Russia is waging the most amazing information war blitzkrieg, we have ever seen in the history of information warfare" Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO Wales Summit, September 2014.
The second factor, until the presidential elections in the US almost neglected, was a gradual return of superpower ambitions of the Russian Federation and the related systematic measures by Kremlin aimed at weakening and disruption of key institutions of the West. When Valery Gerasimov, Chief of General Staff of the Russian Army published an article on non-linear war in 2013, later called the Gerasimov's doctrine, it was the only official recognition of what we call hybrid threats today. 
According to official estimates, the Russian Federation is spending on such activities 1 billion Euro a year. By comparison, the EEAS (European External activities) which is the only department established to monitor and balance such activities within the EU has not received the promised increase in the budget to 800 thousand Euro. For every € 1,000 spent on Russia as its propaganda effect, the EU spends 0.8 Euro. With few exceptions, there are no capacities at national level dealing with hybrid threats.
Psychometrics and individualised political marketing
The third factor, which only gradually becomes apparent is the use of big data and online profiles for political marketing, customized according to personal characteristics of individuals. “Until the 2016 US presidential elections, political campaigns were based on demographic concepts and candidates attempted to reach a comprehensive electoral groups defined by gender, ethnicity, religion, or region,”  said Alexander Nix, a man with huge influence, yet almost unknown to the public. He is a man who is the architect behind the success of Brexit, as well as victory of Donald Trump. His company developed a unique technology that combines personality analysis (Psychometrics) with the individualization of political messages on social networks.
What seemed a few years ago as a science fiction, became reality in Brexit and the US presidential elections. Cambridge Analytica have developed and successfully tested in practice a method that allows to predict the personality of each and every individual in the United States. This is possible, since many of our personal data are available for sale and are used to establish a basic personality profile. This is then linked to data on voters lists for the Republican or the Democratic Party and those from Facebook and other social networks. The resulting profile is incredibly detailed and precise to permit precisely targeted advertising, including political messages.  Cambridge Analytica became famous after supporting campaign to promote Brexit and later that year was hired by Donald Trump. Among its clients are Eurosceptic political forces in Italy or the National Front in France.
The crisis of the media and the emergence of alternative media
The fourth factor which led us to the current crisis (although, of course, the list is much longer) is the massive change in the way people receive information. Hierarchical model – we (media professionals) create the content, and you (the public) consume it - is increasingly being challenged and replaced by online media. According to the survey by the Pew Research Center 44% of Americans access the news through Facebook. Facebook thus became the de-facto media with a market share of 44 percent. According to GLOBSEC Trends opinion poll data, 26% of Czechs, 17% of Slovaks and 16% of Hungarians use so-called alternative media as their primary source of information.
Content of what everybody sees on his Facebook is different and consists of complex algorithms that support our existing opinions (based on past preferences) to display content that is consistent with them. The result is the so-called "filter bubbles" that enclosed us in a virtual bubble into which penetrate only messages, comments, statuses that are largely consistent with how we perceive the world. In practice, this leads to the situation that we are less exposed to different ideas, if we do not deliberately seek them. At the same time, discussions in cyberspace degenerated into personal attacks where online lynch squads are mobilised to attack their ideological opponents.
If we add the decline of the traditional media, which are struggling to survive and the boom in so-called fake news content based on lies and misrepresentation of reality, the outcome is polarization of society never seen in a modern history. In the world of social media, where people like and share the headlines and do not read long texts, where emotional video wins over an evidence-based analysis, it is the populists and extremists who thrive. They seized all the opportunities of this new reality and used the social media and fake news to make their case for a rearrangement of the society according to their perverted ideas.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
All these factors are also causing the counteraction - people who were previously apathetic are starting to realize what is at stake, create online communities of active citizens, committees to save the Democracy ( KOD in Poland ) and progressive movements of young people. The Russian propaganda and the threat of domestic extremists have awakened the sleeping politicians. At the same time, IT companies are starting to realize their power, position and responsibility they have and slowly fix the holes in their platforms that are being exploited by the enemies of democracy.
The question is who will win this race - forces of progressive change or those who seek to destroy the existing order. It is the role and responsibility of each of us, in our neighbourhood, on our Facebook walls, within our own capacities to contribute to a change that would not lead us to totalitarianism, injustice and conflict.
Daniel Milo
Head of Strategic Communication Programme
GLOBSEC Policy Institute