Last week, after several months lapse, large-scale propagandistic articles from Russia flowed about Estonia. This time the attacks were centered on a false premise that the Estonian Defence Forces sing about killing Russians. The topic first appeared publically on Monday morning, February 26. moreover, spread throughout the Russian media for the entire week.
Propastop starting noticing the growing news coverage on Monday afternoon. On Tuesday, we issued a warning about a possible scandal. By this time, about a third of all the hits had appeared in the Russian media. The Estonian Defence Forces comments can be read in the Eesti Päevaleht article. The first comments were in the media on Tuesday, a more detailed explanation appeared on Wednesday. The story reveals that signs of the future scandal were already circulating a week earlier when a Facebook posting on the marching song appeared on February 22. Initially the use of this topic for a propaganda attack remained dormant. The situation where a topic for attack against Estonia could be used widespread in the Russian media will very likely happen again. That is why we are making conclusions in the situation that can be applied to the next similar case in the future.
We will be a propaganda loser if we are unable to react early to news releases. Usually we have a day, possibly two days to divert the topic or adequately hold it from a communication blowout. If the subject has already developed into a media out-pour, it is akin to trying to put toothpaste back into the tube. Delay means trying to limit the damage and simply waiting out the storm.
A press release or the expectation that a journalist will contact you to give his commentary is not realistic or not enough to disprove a propaganda attack. In addition to the traditional media, one must be active in channels that could possibly be controlled, for example in social media. Based on public sources, we can say that activity on the part of the Defence Forces in Social media was sorely lacking. Media channels must be independently sought out and in their own language. Phoning the editorial staff is better than sending an email, information can move a lot faster. Fake information can be suppressed if the case is spoken of in front of a camera, not just written about in an article.
We recently saw a statement by the Latvian Ministry of Defence on an information attack, where the press release information caused a lot of confusion. It should also be noted that the result is affected best by the observance of these principles by a group effort; great progress is not accomplished through individual implementation.
Of course, in this type of propaganda it can always be argued that, can Estonia compete with the Russian media machine. Truthfully, we do not have the resources to reach Russian audiences with our messages. In the present case it should be noted that messages that were overturned by the Defence Forces were transmitted by Delfi to the Russian media ( for example the story in Izvestiya on February 27.) although it remained basically still stating the same original false information.
Focusing on residents of Estonia including those that live under the influence of the Kremlin media certainly will pay off. In addition, the escalation of a scandal can be avoided by swift action. Propastop believes that although an undertaking may not always produce the desired results, efforts should still be tried to intervene in such a crisis. If nothing else but to stop, it from growing to such a point that it is circulating in the English language medium.
An example of effective crisis communication would be the Golden Mask incident, where a quick telephone call to the Russian media channels prevented the propaganda message from spreading.
Pictured: a screenshot of the Defence Forces overturning message on the Russian media news.