Combating Foreign Disinformation on Social Media
Jul 19, 2021
Russia is conducting wide-reaching information warfare with the West. This report describes Russia's information warfare waged via social media and provides recommendations to better counter this threat. Although popular portrayals of the Russian disinformation machine imply an organized and well-resourced operation, evidence suggests that it is neither. Nonetheless, Russian activity can be harmful to U.S. interests and is likely to evolve.
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Russia is waging wide-reaching information warfare with the West. A significant part of this war takes place on social media, which Russia employs to spread disinformation and to interfere with the internal politics of other countries. Drawing on a variety of primary and secondary sources, expert interviews, and fieldwork in Ukraine, the report describes Russia's information warfare in the social media sphere (as of 2019) and provides recommendations to better counter this evolving threat. Moscow views social media as a double-edged sword — anxious about its potential to undermine Russia's security but aware of its advantages as a weapon of asymmetric warfare. Russia's use of this weapon picked up most markedly in 2014, suggesting a reaction to the West's response to the Ukraine conflict. Although popular portrayals of the Russian disinformation machine at times imply an organized and well-resourced operation, evidence suggests that it is neither. However, even with relatively modest investments, Russian social media activity has been wide-reaching. The impacts of Russia's efforts on the West — and of Western countermeasures on Russia — are difficult to assess. However, this threat can cause a variety of harms and is likely to evolve. Thus, the authors recommend that the U.S. Air Force and the joint force improve defensive measures aimed at raising awareness and lowering the susceptibility of the military and their families to Russian disinformation and propaganda campaigns. This research was completed in September 2019, before the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has not been subsequently revised.
Russian Approach to Social Media-Based Information Warfare in Theory
Russian Social Media–Based Information Warfare in Practice
Regional Experiences and Responses to Russian Disinformation
Case Study: Ukraine
Conclusion and Recommendations
Russian Vulnerabilities to Social Media–Based Information Operations
The research reported here was commissioned by the Air Force Special Operations Command and conducted within the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.
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