Among the three Baltic States, Lithuania has chosen the most vigorous and direct approach in the fight against propaganda, based on a model of cooperation between state institutions, volunteer information warriors and independent media.
Lithuania’s approach to information security is straightforward and is clearly part of the country’s defence strategy. The white paper on Lithuanian defence policy, explicitly defines as the main information threat, information attacks from Russia. These are aimed at creating hostility and dissatisfaction in society, falsifying history and weakening peoples’s confidence in the country and NATO.
The document also formulates four ways to combat this threat.
First, the strategic communications unit established by the Lithuanian Defence Forces monitors and analyzes the public information space to identify possible targeted attacks. Experts from the Defence Forces advise the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission to stop the spread of information attacks by legal means.
Secondly, raising public awareness of information threats and resistance to attacks through various training and campaigns. Each year, Defence Forces strategic communications experts organize more than 200 presentations and training sessions for municipalities, governmental agencies, schools, local communities, cultural, business and other non governmental organizations. During these presentations, experts explain how to recognize and deconstruct propaganda and other information attacks. The national defence system also supports civic initiatives that contribute to raising public awareness of information security.
A third tool to limit the impact of information attacks is to continuously explain to the public the benefits of being an NATO ally. Proactive steps are taken to increase public support for Allied forces being deployed to Lithuania and to deepen understanding of NATO’s collective Defence responsibilities.
Finally, the document considers it important to promote cooperation with NATO and EU institutions and Member States facing similar security challenges. Lithuania shares its best practices, experiences and lessons learned from various information attacks, with them.
Indeed, Lithuania has been one of the spokespersons for the fight against propaganda in the European Union and one of the most vocal supporters of the EU Stratcom Task Force, which began its activities in the EEAS in 2015.
The fight because of Sputnik
While in Estonia, the debate over restricting the Kremlin’s propaganda channels is still ongoing and its support for it can be expressed in the Rahvaalgatus.ee (People’s initiative) environment, Lithuania closed its local Sputnik website this summer. Sanctions from the Lithuanian Media Supervision Authority, the Radio and Television Commission (LRNK) were implemented after the illegal release of content from the Lithuanian News Broadcasting portal lrt.lt by the Sputnik website without the consent of the station. This time, Sputnik’s access restriction was due to copyright infringement, although in its yearbook, the Lithuanian intelligence agency confirmed that the Sputnik portal is being used to increase Russian influence activities in the Lithuanian information space, to spread anti-Western sentiments and to shape public opinion in favour of the Kremlin.
Elves, trolls and artificial intelligence
Internationally, Lithuania’s elves are probably the most visible part of the fight against propaganda. This volunteer information fighting community established in 2014 has grown to a troll hunting army of about 5,000 and has received a lot of media attention. Propastop has written about the Lithuanian elves on several occasions as well as they have been videotaped by a NATO media team.
The elves can operate both independently and in organized groups as well as some of them work closely with government agencies. A good example of cooperation between state institutions, the free press and elves in Lithuania is Demaskuok.I, in the English language Debunk.eu, a platform for detection of fake news, which was completed in Lithuania last summer. Propastop has also written about this.
This was created by a cooperation between Lithuanian Delfi and the Google Journalism Innovation Fund and it is an online platform, which monitors Lithuanian, English and Russian media. It automatically detects fake news narratives using smart artificial intelligence. In the event of suspicion of fake news, the news will be passed to volunteer fact checkers who will review it and make assessments. When it comes to fake news, then large media concerns can quickly disprove it on their channels. Among the fake news that were discovered by the system there are examples of how a NATO vehicle collided with and killed a boy on a bicycle, talks about biological weapons being tested in the Baltics and allegations of an UFO landing in Lithuania.
Vaidas Saldziunas, a Lithuanian Delfi defence sector editor and member of the Debunk.eu team, told the publication Independent, that their system tracks a thousand different channels and daily analyzes close to 20,000 news items.
Lithuania’s straightforward and vigorous approach and close cooperation between the media, volunteers and state institutions in the fight against foreign propaganda has also raised issues regarding freedom of the press and freedom of speech. The Financial Times reported the comments of an anonymous Western European diplomat who when talking about the Lithuanian initiative commented that it is worthwhile staying cautious and that a solution that may work in the Baltic States may not be suitable for other EU members.
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