Information Hygiene During Times of Peace and Crisis

26.August.2019

On the second weekend of August, the popular Opinion Festival took place in Paide, Estonia. ECEAP and the International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS) contributed to the event by organising an open discussion panel to highlight and analyse different aspects of information hygiene during times of peace and crisis.

The Estonian Opinion Festival provides a platform for a variety of worldviews, therefore making it a meeting place for all layers of society. It was founded in 2013 with a mission to improve overall debate culture and civic education. ECEAP has previously also promoted similar events in the Eastern Partner countries.

The panel discussion “Information Hygiene During Times of Peace and Crisis” concentrated on the issues of information hygiene drawing mainly on Ukrainian but also on Estonian experiences in countering malicious attacks in the information sphere. The panel included moderator Dmitri Teperik (Chief Executive of ICDS) and speakers Lidiya Smola (Professor at the National Technical University of Ukraine, Researcher in the field of Political / Psychological Science), Iryna Brunova-Kalisetska (Executive Director at Integration and Development Center for Information and Research, an expert in the prevention, transformation and reconciliation of identity-based conflicts), Tetiana Kolesova (media expert from Kyiv), Valeriia Pimkina (journalist from Kramatorsk), and Grigori Senkiv (Director of National Centre for Defence & Security Awareness, Estonia).

Participants of the Panel noted that especially since the beginning of the conflict in 2014 Russian TV channels have been disseminating untruthful information about Ukraine trying to create instability and undermine the Ukrainian war effort. Pro-Russian trolls have also been active in social media spreading false information and encouraging political polarisation.  

It was stressed by Ukrainian specialists and journalists that in such a situation it is important to educate both journalists and ordinary media users how to distinguish truthful information from propaganda and false information. It is important for media to avoid spreading hysteria and instead concentrate on sober analysis of actual facts. As a weakness of Ukrainian media it was pointed out that the main TV channels belong to different businessmen with often conflicting agendas, which makes creating a united front against Russian interference more difficult. However, all participants agreed that there is a need in Ukraine to move in this direction. Some Ukrainian participants proposed that the solution could be to prohibit those Russian TV channels that spread propaganda and false information as well as the corresponding Russian social media outlets. In discussion it was pointed out that although such a solution could be understandable in a county at war like Ukraine, it has its own dangers and could be an impractical solution in other places like Estonia.

The discussion also considered the recent Ukrainian presidential and parliamentary elections where it was pointed out that “political technology” rather than the electorate’s preference for certain political ideology played a decisive role. As the most important issues for the electorate were the fight against corruption and achievement of peace, the now-President Zelensky and his party emphasising their image as the new force untainted by corruption scandals and ready to solve the military conflict with Russia were the most successful in appealing to both Ukrainian- and Russian-speaking parts of the population.

Organisation of the discussion panel was financed by the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ funds for development cooperation.