I am lead researcher in OBCT’s project ESVEI, “Exploring systemic vulnerabilities for external influence in Italy”, an initative co-sponsored by the Open Society Initiative For Europe - Open Society Foundations. It tackles structural issues that in recent years are increasing the vulnerability to external interference of democratic processes, taking Italy as a case study.
It aims at increasing awareness, initiating policy debates, and providing sensible, forward-looking policy recommendations in three domains that are central to democratic processes in modern societies, but that, due to inadequate regulations and poor practices, needlessly expose such processes to meddling:
- social media and disinformation;
- transparency of funding and lobbying;
See the project page on OBCT’s website.
Researcher, data analyst
Western governments recently attributed to Russia a massive cyber-attack against Georgia. In this and other situations, the brazenness of the attack was seemingly a goal in itself. But Russia is not the only cyber threat. Structural political incentives for better security practices and international solidarity and assistance are needed
They have large amounts of private data, their internal communications are highly sensitive, they have a lot of power, they don’t seem to take cybersecurity seriously. How do we move forward? Originally published on balcanicaucaso.org In early 2019, the European Union’s Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) released a set of recommendations for EU-wide election cybersecurity . They focused mainly on three aspects: online disinformation, threats to the digital infrastructure that is used to manage the voting process, and concerns about the cybersecurity of political organisations and political practitioners.
Disinformation campaigns, dubious practices on social media, murkey financing of political campaigns and lobby groups, timed hacked and leaks: new structural vulnerabilities to our democracies are there for anyone to exploit. It’s time to focus our public conversation on new policies and practices that can mitigate these risks
Based on a media analysis of mainstream Western media, this chapter defines ‘Russian meddling’ as a distinct phenomenon that emerged at the time of the U.S. presidential elections in November 2016. It then proceeds by putting the preoccupation with Russian interference in the context of West-Russia relations and debates what is specifically Russian about Russian meddling. Finally, it outlines the work conducted by expert groups and dedicated committees to find policy responses to the vulnerabilities exposed by alleged Russian interference, focusing in particular on information operations conducted through social media and hacking-and-dumping operations. As will be argued, there is a growing consensus on the structural nature of these vulnerabilities, and an appreciation of the fact that they must be approached without unduly focusing on the Russian component.
In recent years, the issue of Russian meddling and Russian interference have prominently entered the public and political debate in Europe and North America. Given the extraordinary attention the issue of Russian interference has attracted in the media, the way it poisoned the public debate, and the real-world political consequences it caused, there is good reason to investigate what happened, and to find ways to prevent its recurrence or mitigate its consequences. This chapter firstly defines “Russian meddling” as a temporally delimited phenomenon that grabbed the attention of Western mainstream media starting with the US presidential elections in November 2016. In this context, and in line with the official US investigation that led to the publication of the Mueller report, Russian meddling allegedly took place particularly in two partly overlapping forms: disinformation on social media and timed hack-and-dump operations. After outlining some of the dynamics of this media narrative, this chapter approaches each of its main component parts separately discussing evidence about their prevalence and impact on both sides of the Atlantic. Finally, it provides recommendations on how to deal with Russian interference and, in particular, with the vulnerabilities it exposed. Indeed, the fact that, as will be seen, Russian meddling in democratic processes may not have materialised in Europe along the lines suggested by the initial media framing does not mean that the vulnerabilities that Russia allegedly exploited (or could have exploited) do not exist. On the contrary, these are structural vulnerabilities of contemporary democracies, newly shaped by recent technological developments, that need adequate responses in policy and practice, quite independently of Russia’s role in them.