Education: Spetial Information Operations, BA.

27.11.2023

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In a Russian university, they will teach specialists in user content management who can identify manifestations of extremism, and crimes against individuals in social networks, and who will also be skilled in blocking pirated content. It is assumed that after completing their training, media police officers will specialize in investigating offences against citizens (cyberbullying, stalking), legal entities (piracy), or the state (extremism). Officially, the direction is called ‘Media Support for State Interests and National Security.’ According to ‘Izvestiya,’ the program is implemented with the support of the National Anti-Terrorism Committee.

Censorship Question

Alexander Verkhovsky, the head of the ‘Sova’ center, suggests that if students are deliberately taught to be ‘media police,’ the effectiveness of Russian censorship will increase: ‘Content control and filtering now happen everywhere, not just here. It seems it’s too late to discuss whether this is good in principle. Accordingly, corporations and states have and will have a demand for relevant professionals. The question is rather what is intended to be filtered, and who and by what means will do it. This depends on legislation and, so to speak, customs. Unfortunately, students at RANEPA (Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration) will be taught not only technical skills (and I believe they will be taught, so the quality of tracking will improve) but also instill an understanding of our laws and customs in this area as the norm,’ he believes.

Police Surprised

In the current structure of law enforcement agencies, ‘media police’ are not needed. Such specialization is not required unless the state has plans for a global tightening of censorship, according to a source associated with the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) interviewed by Radio Svoboda. Because the employees of ‘Center E’ (Center for Combating Extremism) precisely perform the tasks of ‘media police.’ ‘It is unclear why to create a whole direction for a bachelor’s degree when the necessary amount of knowledge to identify illegal content can be provided in 2-4 weeks of additional courses. What will they do with these graduates? Will such a narrow specialist be in demand in the labor market if he does not work with government agencies? MVD universities do not train such specialists because there are no such positions. Monitoring the network in the MVD is done by the Public Relations Department, but they have their narrow direction more related to the image of the MVD, and the Center for Combating Extremism. Employees of ‘Center E’ precisely perform the tasks of ‘media police.’ But in addition, they are also engaged in operational work—development of extremists, detentions,’ he explains.

Graduate, Be Ready!

On the RANEPA website, unlike the publication in ‘Izvestiya,’ the description of the new specialization is much more modest. Only 35 students are recruited for ‘Media Support for State Interests and National Security’—30 Russians and 5 foreigners. There are no budget places, and they want 350,000 rubles for a year of study.

‘As a result of mastering the educational program, the graduate will be ready to carry out professional activities in the field of mass media (in the field of multimedia, print, television and radio mass media) and solve the tasks of professional activities of the following types: author, editorial, project, organizational, expert,’ says the RANEPA website.

The word ‘media police’ is not mentioned at all, nor is there any connection between the program and law enforcement agencies. Students are offered internships not at Lubyanka or Petrovka (well-known locations associated with security agencies in Moscow), but at ‘Evening Moscow,’ ‘Komsomolskaya Pravda,’ VGTRK (All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company), ‘Russian World,’ ministries of culture and digital development, ‘Gazprom Inform,’ and even the Gorky Children’s Film Studio.

Propastop (a website focusing on digital threats) became interested in how foreign students will be accepted? For promoting their propaganda, or for ‘cleaning’ from someone else’s propaganda?

Others Fight Real Disinformation

At the same time, in Lithuania, the Prime Minister of the country says that she does not want censorship on social networks but would like them to react faster to fake news and misleading people using well-known figures for financial gain. ‘There are many discussions, including with the leaders of social networks, who always say in discussions that they are fighting against these negative phenomena, but of course, each of us has our own opinion on this. We see how any information related to the war in Ukraine, revealing, for example, the atrocities of Russia or something similar, is easily blocked, and how sometimes information that is clearly fake and should be removed very quickly does not disappear for a long time,’ said Ingrida Šimonytė.

The Prime Minister commented on reports from the disinformation analysis centre Debunk.org about a disinformation attack that began at the beginning of the year and continues in the Baltic countries and Poland. This attack aims to extort money from the population using well-known public figures, from artists to athletes, politicians, and even the prime ministers and presidents of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland.

In Simonyte’s opinion, states must find ‘some other ways of interaction’ with major social platforms. She emphasized that such coordination should also take place through the institutions of the European Union.”

Illustrations: the website of the respective university.