Latvian elves against foreign propaganda


There are citizen’s initiatives in all three Baltic countries that are standing up against propaganda pressure from the Kremlin. The Estonian representative in this action is the blog Propastop; the Lithuanians have several social media actions as well. Today we are bringing you an overview about a Latvian Facebook group „ Elf unit news“.

The group was established in March of this year by the imitative of two men. USA born businessman and Latvian defence League Zemessardze member, Juris Ulmanis who has currently stepped back from active participation with the „elves“. Former Latvian Foreign Ministry worker, Ingmars Bisenieks, who works in the field of translation and publishing, is the group’s active leader and has supplied the information for the basis of our story.

They have a closed group of approximately 200 individuals on Facebook of which roughly twenty are taking an active role. Every participant can decide whether they post anonymously or use their real names. Bisenieks conducts background checks using public sources on all potential new members, with the intention of excluding false accounts and individuals with an anti-Latvian bias. „ I have rejected approximately 70 applicants with questionable backgrounds, “said Bisinieks.

Articles, information, attention to trolling activities, information attacks and topics in false news are discussed within a closed group. Bisenieks make the more interesting shared information public in newsfeeds, which all followers can then read. The frequency of the postings has grown to one to two a week.

Why do the activists call themselves elves? The idea came from similar volunteers in Lithuania that use the name for themselves, which is based on the fantasy world of Tolkien. If the distributors of Kremlin dictated disturbing statements are called web trolls, then why not call the individuals who fight against them, elves from stories of middle earth.  In any case, the romantic name has helped attract attention to the initiatives in both Latvia and Lithuania.

Notwithstanding the name, Bisenieks acknowledges that his created Facebook group does not deal with catching internet trolls. The majority of the postings have articles with topics on information conflicts, propaganda and influencing. At the same time the „elves“ news feeds did not bring out a single disclosure of propaganda or false news attacks. Consequently, it is more of a relatively general and educational undertaking.

When discussing future plans of the group, Bisenieks mentioned control of facts, which would reveal suspicious content stories found in mainstream media. At the same time, he says that nothing suspicious has been found to date, the Latvian press is doing their job well. They plan to pay more attention to Russian language content in the future, currently all postings are in Latvian although Russian and English articles are shared as well. Considering the group has fewer than 60 followers, the popularity of „Latvian elves“ has a lot of room to grow. It has though initiated interest in the media; articles in the Latvian and English press on its inception have been published. It is apparent that attention in European media has risen recently due to growing interest in Russia’s influence and information warfare issues, which is evident in articles about Propastop as well.

You can also read about the initiation in and The Irish Times.

Photos: screen shots from the topic’s Facebook page. The second picture is of Ingmars Bisenieks from the activist’s personal Facebook account.