Concepts, misinformation and Russia


In January, the Estonian media wrote about the formation of concepts and meanings, the Navalny process and its media coverage in Russia, as well as the need for more official fact-checking.

Concepts, meanings and manipulation.
The portal of the Estonian Institute of Memory,, published a text on special concepts developed by Soviet authorities, which were used to designate real, supposed and imaginary ideological enemies and to incite public hatred against them. “These terms could be seen regularly in the Soviet mass media and in speeches by Communist Party leaders. They have been used in hundreds of thousands of criminal files and regulations. When a person got such a label, either he was already arrested or he was about to be arrested. People with such a “Designation” were usually deported, imprisoned or shot. We will name and explain the most common hostile terms in the Soviet political language, which show ideological fanaticism and absurdity and millions of destroyed lives. ”

Mariann Proos, a junior researcher in Estonian and Finno-Ugric linguistics at the University of Tartu, also wrote about the words and their meaning in ERR’s Novaatoris in January. She wrote: “In order to cope with the world every day, we constantly use our senses – the senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to the daily application of these perceptions, we also talk about our perceptions every day, such as how we saw, heard or how we got cold outside when we came to work. One of the ways we can talk about our perceptions is through the verbs of perception, or verbs, such as to see, hear, or feel. ”

Propaganda photos of Soviet Estonian newspapers can be seen at the Pärnu Museum. According to Indrek Aija, the custodian of the Pärnu Museum’s photo collection, which has organized the exhibition, the museum has a total of about one and a half thousand photos from the former photo collection of Töörahava Hääle (Working People’s Voice) and Pärnu Postimees (Pärnu Postman). “They cannot be considered as historical documents, because they have been very strongly manipulated in order to be in line with the Soviet ideology and ideological goals of that time. On the one hand, it is definitely a choice of topics that could be photographed or that could be published at all. Everything went through censorship; the photos usually have the censor’s stamp on the back of them. ”

In January, Delfi published a text by the historian Igor Kapõtin, in which Kapõtin discusses teaching history in a Russian-language school. Kapõtin believes that in order to better understand history, it should be taught to children in their mother tongue, not emphatically in Estonian. “In any case, the system where a Russian teacher generally teaches Russian students history in Estonian and according to an Estonian textbook for an Estonian school has led to the fact that teaching history in a Russian school obviously suffers.”

About the coronavirus and false information
The most actual topical issue in the media continues to be the coronavirus and the fake news, conspiracy theories associated with it as well as exploitation of the general confusion caused by the virus.

ERR published a longer overview of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Tartu. Researchers focused on the onset of the pandemic from early March 2020 to the end of May. The spread of harmful misinformation was observed in six European countries: France, Italy, Norway, Finland, Lithuania and Estonia. Almost 100 cases were analyzed, including stories and messages published on social media as well as in various media publications.

The story of Marju Himma was also published on the ERR portal, focusing on the case of Irja Lutsar, who was the victim of an information attack. Himma wrote, “As a society, we must protect people who communicate in public from harmful information attacks; otherwise we will lose our experts, officials and politicians, who have so far been very open communicators with both journalists and the general public.”

Katrin Tiidenberg’s essay “From the Borderland to the Suburbs: Sex, Digital gentrification and Social Media” was published in the January Vikerkaar (the Rainbow), in which the author tries to analyze how social media-based digital culture currently works, what affects it and where it leads to. I would then try to find the most appropriate metaphor to describe the situation. If we do not like this metaphor, we are obviously on the wrong track. To do this, I will start by describing the life cycle of one specific cultural form (sexual culture) on one specific platform (Tumblr).

Russia’s influence activities
A significant part of the information manipulations and propaganda texts published in January focused on Russia.

At the beginning of the month, Estonian publications wrote about the reaction of the Russian media to the proposed amendments to the draft referendum submitted by the reform party members of the Constitutional Committee of the Riigikogu (Parliament) concerning Estonia’s accession to Russia.

Vadim Štepa wrote an opinion story in Delfi about his perception of how the Russian-speaking population of Estonia envisions the case of Navalny and how the media channels of the consumers influence this image. He writes that Estonian residents who receive daily news from PBK or other Russian channels (RTR-Planeta and NTV-Mir) have developed a preconceived notion about this event because it is based on Kremlin propaganda and not on independent international assessments.

In a Delfi opinion story, Toomas Alatalu looked at how Russian TV news covered demonstrations of support for Navalny. Alatalu writes that they called on each other’s victory not to protest, they clearly showed that the authorities are afraid of the success of planned resignations, ie the formation of an opposition platform. Unless, of course, the volatile and cold winter weather interferes. The possible success of these protests will certainly immediately give new substance to the forthcoming election campaign and the behavior of the regime’s elite.

Delfi’s research editorial board published a longer overview of the Russian media’s coverage of coronavirus vaccines from Western companies. Martin Laine writes, “If you enter the keyword “Pfizer” on the RIA Novosti portal of the Russian news channel, you can clearly what type of slanted background the Russian media uses for the coverage of vaccinations. “Five people died after receiving the vaccine”, “More than 130 side effects of Pfizer vaccine reported in France”, “Israeli doctor complains about complications of Pfizer vaccine”, “Ireland reports 80 side effects of Pfizer vaccine”, “The European Union decides under pressure to allow the  Pfizer vaccine on to the marketplace ”,“ 23 dead in Norway ”.

This is a clearly a coordinated action. These headlines all come from only a five-day period. The data show that systematic propaganda has had a clear impact in Estonia, even on the staff of our hospitals. ”

Fact check
In January, Pealinn (The Capital) published communication expert Janek Mäggi’s comments on Kaja Kallas’ idea’ that Estonia should have a more formal form of fact checking. Mäggi says: “It may have been a figurative flash thought. I do not think that this type of additional bureaucracy makes any sense, especially at a time when information is being produced in huge quantities. There is a lot of information, sources as well. Consumption of information should be based on the use of the most reliable sources possible. However, it is not possible to always prescribe sources to a person. “

Photos: screenshots of web pages.