The EU's top diplomat - Joseph Borrell during the presentation, Source: Joseph Borrell on Twitter

Report: Russia uses diplomatic channels to spread disinformation

Report: Russia uses diplomatic channels to spread disinformation

EUvsDisinfo, a branch of the European External Action Service, published a report outlining the tactics and origins of Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference (FIMI)

Yesterday, EUvsDisinfo, a branch of the European External Action Service published its first report on Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference (FIMI). The report outlines the origins of disinformation – mostly from Russia and China, as well as the channels, narratives, aims and goals of the campaigns.  

The report was presented by Europe’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, who also hinted that the EU’s diplomatic and foreign service might start benefiting from tools to share warning and know-how about disinformation. Additionally, he highlighted that Russian (and Chinese) official diplomatic channels are often potent vectors for disinformation.

Moreover, according to an official statement, bringing the topic to the forefront of public discourse could be part of the solution to countering the issue. This includes fostering a more critical and informed public, which is the backbone of any liberal democratic society. At the same time, Borrell noted during a press conference, that liberal values and freedom of speech were precisely the avenues malicious actors have been exploring to saw discontent.

Identifying disinformation channels

The report is based on 100 instances of disinformation tracked between October and December 2022. According to an official statement, researchers were more interested in analysing a sliver of time in detail than identifying broader trends over a long period of time.

The main topic of disinformation was Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine directly in 33 of the recorded incidents, while 60 out of 100 were describing support for the invasion and the main motivations behind the attack.

Additionally, the countries taking part in disinformation campaigns were Russia and China, however, the two had different reach and targets, while some campaigns were a joint effort. Russian actors were involved in 88 out of the 100 cases, while Chinese were active in 17. In 5 cases both parties were involved.

The so-called FIMI (Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference) are quite often multilingual too.  Content is translated and amplified in multiple languages. The report’s data set featured 30 languages – 16 from the EU.  

FIMI with a Russian origin has a wider variety of languages but 44% of it was targeted at Russian-speaking populations, while 36% targeted English-speaking populations.

Lessons from the ‘Playbook’

While FIMI campaigns can take a lot of shapes and forms, there are some techniques that stand out. A major one is the use of official diplomatic channels to legitimise false and misleading claims. Another is impersonation techniques.

The latter target international organisations or individuals, which enjoy a certain level of public trust. A big avenue of approach here is satirical outlets, like the German ‘Titanic’ magazine based in Frankfurt, or the Parisian 'Charlie Hebdo'. Both saw ‘fake’ covers criticizing Ukraine used as a misleading tactic and appropriating their style.

According to the report, print and TV media are impersonated most often, with certain magazines seeing their entire style copied. This is in line with another finding from the report – most FIMI is image or video-based – the cheapest and most reliable format for online distribution.

Additionally, it is important to consider the purposes of disinformation. The report says that it is mostly to distract and distort, to direct attention elsewhere or shift the narrative and the blame.

Check out the full report here.



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