Russia’s measures to confront fake news

From Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation
April 27, 2017
Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

Question: At the 6th International Security Conference, which has just ended in Moscow, one of the topics discussed at a plenary session was information aggression and what to do about this phenomenon. Practical examples of its use by Ukraine etc. were cited.  How can this latest form of information aggression be countered under the current conditions?

Maria Zakharova: Although I was out of Moscow and could not take part in the conference, I followed all the speeches and comments. I paid attention to the reaction to them and to everything connected with information, information wars and information aggression. What are we doing to counter all this?

First of all, we work directly with the audience and present timely quality information, confirmed by facts, figures and concrete examples. I think this is the main means of countering information aggression.

Second, we expose the people and agencies hiding behind the media brands who smuggle in misinformation and create fake news. The Russian Foreign Ministry website has opened a section devoted to fake news. It is functioning, publishing several items every week. Our initiative met with a very skeptical reaction from our Western colleagues. They immediately started to criticise us claiming that Russia just names the articles and brands them as fakes without giving the reason. That is untrue. We provide very detailed information, give our assessment and identify what we consider to be absolutely untrue information. This is a very effective method and an effective instrument. Today, when they ask me why Russia is spreading fake news I ask them to cite at least one example. Our examples are on the Russian Foreign Ministry website, not all of them of course, but only some of the millions of fake reports flooding the media.

Third, we use international legal institutions. It is important that not only the Russian Foreign Ministry but the media community work with the organisations concerned. The media must become aware of the danger of the very profession of journalist being undermined by the biggest and oldest media holdings. Audiences are drifting away from the traditional media outlets and turning to the internet, which is absolutely impossible to control in terms of verifying the facts. This is the job of professional communities and international institutions.

Just the other day, as part of the work of the UN GA Committee on Information, we made a proposal for the text of the resolution on which the Information Committee members will be working in the next few days on developing a strategy to combat the spread of fake news. We talked with Acting UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications and Public Information Maher Nasser on the sidelines of the session. He was totally supportive of the idea, partly because he himself highlighted this problem in his speech to the Committee members. The initiative is meeting with support. I hope it will not be blocked by some countries. We shall see how it goes. If somebody attempts to block it, we will inform you promptly. That would be interesting.

The UN Secretariat has a Public Information Department. It is doing a good job although it is working against heavy odds because it upholds not a country or party position, but reflects the opinion of the UN. It has to be weighed and balanced. The Department’s work is very complicated and taxing professionally. They, of all people, should know and understand what a supranational approach could be to developing a strategy of countering the spread of fake news.

This involves several areas of effort. Besides, I think the voice of every country and every journalist must be heard. It is not right to be indifferent and to think that it is no big deal if someone has failed to react to fake reports. That is not so. Each fake brings another fake in its trail. As of today, I consider the Western media reports about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when the first humanitarian convoys were sent to Donbass to be the most egregious and high-profile case of the spread of media fakes. This is not to mention Colin Powell, who probably feels very uncomfortable after the notorious episode with the vial. White vans with corresponding markings that were closely monitored by the Russian side, the Ukrainian colleagues and humanitarian groups started delivering humanitarian relief to the population which was deprived of bare necessities. The Western media unleashed a campaign alleging that Russia had started an invasion of Ukraine and that Russia was bringing in tanks in white vans. They claimed that the vehicles had not been inspected and that Russia opposed inspections. The reverse was the case. Russia was ready to comply with any inspections. I repeat, all this was happening before our eyes because the Russian Foreign Ministry was actively involved in this process. The media unleashed a barrage of fakes. Look it up online and find these media outlets. No one apologised, no one issued a disclaimer, no one sprinkled ashes on their heads and said they had been wrong and had been misled by false information. No one even wrote about it although very serious things were at issue. It was announced to the whole world that the world’s biggest country was perpetrating aggression against a neighbouring state. To me it was an ultimate example of the war of fakes.

These are just some illustrations of how fakes can be countered. In fact a strategy needs to be put in place. When I said that this is the job of the professional community I knew that it was already working on it. Some major organisations and social networks are currently negotiating among themselves the introduction of technologies to counter the spread of fakes. Major media outlets have made similar attempts to establish contacts. I think if the UN takes a step to work out a strategy and offer a venue for such experimental work, everyone will benefit from it.

Question: You mentioned the Acting Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications and Public Information and the reaction from the UN Department of Public Information. Have your other colleagues taken this initiative seriously? To what extent is this possible in the context of existing political and media realities, given the current media confrontation?

Maria Zakharova: You wouldn’t believe how seriously all of this was taken. The next day, someone sent me a link to a Washington Post article. I’ll read it in English and you please do the translating. I’ll read what it says. It’s not April 1, they really think this way: “Russians are fighting the war of words against the U.S. with American words.” We are accused of using American words in an information war with the US. This is the absolute limit! Read this amazing thing! We are being accused of having the nerve to use, I emphasise, “American” words in an information battle. I don’t know if there is any space left to fall any further. Are the US media probing the bottom? There are no other options. I think it is high time they started thinking about the heights, because they can’t fall any further.

Question: What about your colleagues at the UN?

Maria Zakharova: Our colleagues are working. The Committee will hold sessions until early May. Let me repeat that we are proceeding from what the UN Secretariat itself says. These were the remarks by the Acting Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications and Public Information. Many of our colleagues broached this theme in their remarks as well. Haven’t we had enough talk? It’s time we did something. This is why we made this proposal. The Washington Post article says we allegedly have the temerity to use “American” words. Personally I was accused of using the words “fake news,” but I couldn’t use this collocation because it was their find and invention that can be used only by them and not by us. Whose idea was this? The phenomenon is there, but you can’t say the words. It’s not serious.

Question: They are not English words, but American.

Maria Zakharova: This fits in well with the concept of exceptionalism.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.