In information warfare, be careful what you amplify

Staged car explosions. Mysterious Ukrainian operative makes a confession on television. Announcements of Ukrainian attacks and the resulting mass evacuations. Nuclear exercises. Russia is not planning anything good, and there is every reason to fear what it may do next. Now the Kremlin’s order to call for reservist exercises on February 18 is causing even more panic – but wait! This exercise is, in fact, annual.

Let’s, of course, pay close attention to Russia’s plans, but let’s check the facts before adding panic.

Well-meaning Westerners grabbed the call to reserve. “This is an order that Putin has just signed, which orders to gather all the army’s reserves. Ominous, ”said Magnitsky, financier and legislator Bill Browder.tweeted February 19. The order did look sinister, given that about 200,000 troops in Russia have lined up near the border with Ukraine and that the Kremlin and its proxies are carrying out almost daily provocations and operations under a false flag designed to harm Ukraine. Many people retweeted concerned messages about calling Browder and other popular Twitter accounts.

But the call was a far less dramatic event than the posters saw. “Russia’s armed forces have been conducting exercises in reserve every year since 2012,” said Gudrun Persson, an analyst at the Swedish Defense Research Agency and lead author of the widely used report “Russia’s Military Potential in a Ten-Year Perspective.” “February was the most common month for these exercises, followed by June, and all the exercises took place in the first half of the year.”

Person noted that between 5,000 and 6,000 troops are usually involved in these annual exercises, although the Kremlin wants to increase that number. Even if far more reservists are involved in this exercise than usual, the call is unlikely to be a sharp escalation. Indeed, like reservists in many other countries, Russia is unlikely to be a spearhead.

“Russia’s reserves are more competent than in 2012,” Person said. “But the soldiers around Ukraine are professional soldiers. When it comes to Russia, we should be worried about many things, but this order of conscription is hardly one of them. “

In the frantic atmosphere that Russia has created through the accumulation on the Ukrainian border, it is easy to believe that it is now raising its reserves for the inevitable invasion of Ukraine. And heck, why not share such a juicy ad on social media? Checking whether the exercises are just this year’s annual event – most countries use their reserves regularly – may wait until later. Or maybe someone else can do it. The event has several Twitter accounts, including a Ukrainian news agency Liveuamappointed to the less juicy reality of the regular appearance of exercise, but predictably to a much lesser effect than dramatic posts on social media.

What is the harm in exaggerating the Russian threat? This is harmful because the Russian threat is quite serious. Around the same time as the Kremlin announced a call-up to the reserve, Russia conducted nuclear exercises are definitely a serious signal. “And nuclear exercises seem to be meant to provoke,” Persson said. “These are regular exercises, but they usually take place by the end of the year. The fact that they have decided to hold it now is a clear signal. “

Exaggerating the Russian threat is also harmful because it creates unnecessary panic in a situation that is unusually tense. And this is harmful because, like all other forms of misinformation and misinformation, it poisons our information environment.

Lies are not just pieces of misinformation shared by people who know the information is incorrect. Lies are also misinformation shared by people because they are lazy or do not know how to verify the information. The first, misinformation, is a poison often spread by groups and countries that wish Western society bad. The latter, however, is almost as poisonous, as it also spreads lies that distort people’s opinions. It is clear that almost no one spreads about Russian provocations with evil intentions. But thanks to ill-conceived posts on social networks, this usually sad event has attracted a lot of panic. What will happen next when Russia takes a mysterious step? What if he requires all his reserves? Will anyone trust what they read?

The check is boring. Juicy news gets clicks. Perhaps there is little harm in making people think that Russia has set aside its reserves to invade Ukraine. But the harm from people forming opinions based on incorrect information is unaccounted for. It is also a pity that people have decided that they cannot trust any information at all. In information warfare, be careful what you amplify

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