Digital Propaganda: Russia or the Kid Next Door?
Russian propaganda efforts have changed significantly since the Cold War era. Back then, NATO served to support the will of the people yearning for change in Soviet bloc countries to ensure democratic elections could take place despite personal threats levied at opposition figures. Today, using digital espionage, Russia has vastly increased its reach, gotten to know its audience better, personalized the messaging even more intimately and cloaked it in the voice of fellow nationals. Russia has delivered its messaging to the receivers’ social media accounts, and played on fears and divisions in the receivers’ community. NATO, seventy years on, has no choice but to continue to respond in a powerful and sustained way in order to protect the democratic will and expression of its member states. But it cannot be blindsided by focusing on one adversary alone.
In contrast, China’s more subtle digital propaganda methods often get overlooked. With ten times the number of troll farms, and more personnel, financial, and infrastructure resources, China is playing a long-term game in its democracy interference efforts. Just as the United States and Europe focus their energy on defeating these two foreign meddlers, they must also be aware of those working from within their borders to affect the democratic process. At the same time that the Russians may be tracking users’ online profiles and behavior in order to influence who they vote for, it is equally possible that U.S. domestic political parties, fringe nationalist extremist groups, and special interest lobbies are doing the same. Can democratic nations create effective defense efforts that transcend domestic borders? To answer these questions, this chapter examines what is meant by digital propaganda, who is using it during elections with what tools, what is currently being done to counter the challenges, and what remains to be done.