Hybrid War of Information

On October 15, 2017, the research team of Marinov and fellow coPIs filed a pre-proposal to the Volkswagen Foundation, under the call Challenges for Europe.  

Misinformation by foreign actors to deceive public opinion and undercut political unity is hardly a new phenomenon. Going digital, however, has given it new momentum. The aim of the project is to answer a number of relevant questions to the current war of information in comparative perspective: (1) how do events, concerning issues of interest to foreign powers, impact the mix of information and disinformation reaching domestic publics in Europe? (2) do propaganda strategies change when there are random or unanticipated events? (3) How do approaching elections in European democracies change the mix of topics circulating online and offline? Our empirical strategy includes surveys, and topic-modelling of online and offline media. In addition, we will follow social media reception of stories. We will select news stories in outlets such as Russia Today (Deutsch) to analyze the diffusion of individual news stories, as well as the users who post and amplify the stories (for example, through retweets on Twitter). We make use of recent techniques that were developed to identify `bots' (non-human social media accounts) to understand the dynamics of diffusion. Our chosen approach will give different metrics on the war of information, and its impact. The timing and granularity of social media data can help us isolate the transmission of propaganda, and, possibly, its effects. Our theory will open up new questions. We hope to shed light on the underlying motivation to foreign actors for attacking democratic processes abroad. We aim to understand who responds favorably to foreign propaganda narratives. We also want to know how the channel through which the message is sent (e.g. local or foreign media, online or offline) affects efficacy, and whether pointing out the source counteracts the effectiveness of a message. The analysis we propose can help set the tone in the debate on the future of information, and of freedoms in Europe and beyond.

One paper to come out of this research program is under review, on Russian interventions in the German elections.  Another paper looks at how German voters react to propaganda pushed by the Kremlin.  The paper is under review and available from SSRN.

The VW preproposal was not successful.  The co-PIs are developing a full proposal to the NSF and DFG.