Foreign disinformation aims at weakening democratic institutions

Selim Ibraimi- In a global environment of uncontrolled information flow, manipulating public opinion is unstoppable, starting with the US, the EU, and the Western Balkans. All foreign manipulation is focused on weakening democratic institutions, but some solutions that states can offer can reduce the negative effects. As the US, the EU, and some of the Western Balkan states are in different stages of the electoral process, disinformation and manipulation will play a decisive role in shaping domestic and foreign policies. All these external activities will require a good response and be supported by concrete actions from governments. In this regard, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Finland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Elina Valtonen, signed a memorandum of understanding on Thursday to strengthen cooperation between the US and Finland to combat information manipulation.
“Foreign manipulation of information, including disinformation and propaganda, is a transnational security threat that can create or exploit divisions within and between countries, jeopardize the integrity of elections, and undermine public confidence in government.” “Recognizing the threat to all democratic societies, the US and Finland will expand information sharing about foreign disinformation, share best practices to combat it, and align policies along the five key areas of action set out in The US State Department’s Framework for Countering Information Manipulation” – the statement of the State Department says. In the war on the misuse of information that is believed to date back to 1945, a country’s security services can also play a critical role. The role of security information services in the fight against foreign actors is crucial in maintaining the security and integrity of a state or a coalition of states. Based on the mission, the security services are responsible for gathering information, processing, analyzing, and compiling measures to find and combat foreign actors. In the Western Balkans, mainly the security services are using some old methods in the fight against disinformation. It should be underlined that regardless of the policies and methods used, the security services have been partially successful in their mission against external actors. In democratic societies, security services overseen by democratic institutions should have a greater role before and during election campaigns. Although security services and certain groups within a system tend to deviate from the mission of a security agency, again their role should be seen in the service of the national interest. Usually, the security services, together with the counterintelligence and law enforcement services, through cooperation among themselves, have greater research opportunities, to observe foreign actors involved in various activities such as terrorism, disinformation, attacks on critical infrastructure, etc., etc. An interesting development that has increased concerns in recent years in the context of foreign disinformation against democratic institutions has been political advertisements and the publication of fake materials (videos). For example, in the US, intelligence agencies have proven that Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election was present in several forms. The federal government and some states in the US took some concrete actions such as: mandating media literacy in public schools, and the US Congress in October 2017 asked online platforms like Google and Facebook to register their ad copy, so that they would make them public and show who their sponsor. Similar actions have been taken in Europe, Australia, and even Japan. In the Western Balkans, in addition to international projects to combat disinformation, workshops on media literacy have been organized in recent years as one of the ways to understand more about propaganda and disinformation. The war in the field of foreign propaganda during election campaigns, and against democratic institutions is difficult to win on all sides. Even the issuance of laws and regulations including penalties cannot prevent disinformation and manipulation. Days ago, NATO Secretary Jenes Stotelnberg said that Russia had been trying to infiltrate spies among the members of the alliance for years. In some cases, Moscow has been successful in posing a high risk to NATO members by penetrating security systems. However, in the interventions during the elections, the influence should be seen in the manipulation of political figures by offering you financial aid or other rewards. Therefore, the security agencies of the coalition states should do more in the distribution of information among members, and at the same time have the opportunity to anticipate events and manipulations. Will the US, EU, and other coalition countries be able to do more? This remains to be seen during this year when consolidated and fragile democracies will be tested. This also includes North Macedonia, where the number of misinformation is high for historical, religious, and political reasons, but without high influence during the elections. Senior Western diplomats have vowed to monitor the process of foreign interference during the elections in North Macedonia and in the region. The fight against disinformation and manipulation will be present in our time. Regardless of the outcome, global and regional actors are interested in this type of informational war in the age of digitalization.

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