Manipulations move from social media platforms to physical space, according to the Strategic Communication Department

Manipulations move from social media platforms to physical space, according to the Strategic...

According to analysts of the Strategic Communication Department of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, the main targets of disinformation and information attacks remain the same: European Union, NATO, and efforts of Lithuanian state institutions to manage COVID-19 consequences. Lithuanian Armed Forces experts tasked with standing monitoring of information space note that for the second week in a row the deliberate opinion shaping through the spread of misleading information is moving from digital space and social media to physical space. Examples of such activities are fomentation of protest against the quarantine requirements, encouragement not to wear masks, not to observe health protection requirements, and not to practise social distancing.

From April 24 through 30 88 information incidents were identified, over 50% of them were carried out in the Russian language. Over the period from February 1 to April 30 the total of nearly 1.000 information incidents of different types on the topic of COVID-19 were identified in digital space in Lithuanian, Russian, and English.

Strategic Communication Department experts distinguish several main groups of disinformation narratives, the most pervasive of which probably is conspiracy theories that are not based on any real facts, for instance, assertions that COVID-19 is a man-made biological weapon developed in secret laboratories, purportedly paid for by pharmaceutical companies, and former Microsoft head Bill Gates seeking to profit from mass vaccination is behind it. Other examples are the conspiracy theories saying that COVID-19 is only an excuse for state institutions to introduce 5G networks infrastructure without any obstacles, or that the novel coronavirus does not exist at all and it was only made up by Government institutions to intimidate people for their own purposes.

Disinformation is also spread that Lithuanian doctors are forced to counterfeit the coronavirus death toll, families of the deceased are purportedly made to sign a document stating the death had been caused by COVID-19. Also, that the quarantine introduced in the country by the Government is simply an exercise carried out on the basis of the influenza pandemic preparedness programme for 2019-2023 approved by the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania in July 2019.

Disinformation promulgators also target unity of the European Union and NATO. For instance, they say that the Union loses its purpose and is unable to respond to the coronavirus-caused challenges properly because there is not consensus among its members, and the alleged lack of European support to Italy is presented as a major EU betrayal. Another theme is the pointlessness of NATO existence that endangers NATO allies themselves. Residents of the Baltic states are purportedly dissatisfied with NATO military presence in their countries which serves the only purpose of provoking Russia and possibly spreads the coronavirus. U.S. interests are falsely claimed to harm EU and NATO allies' citizens and pressure to be put on some of the European and NATO members to reject humanitarian aid from Russia.

Lithuanian Armed Forces analysts point out that disinformation is used to mislead the public, manipulate public sentiment and undercut critical thinking, increase the divide between the state and the society, decrease confidence in the EU and NATO and fellow members of the said international organisations, and obstruct the development of communications infrastructure.

Information by the Lithuanian Armed Forces Strategic Communication Department