Canadian Intelligence Uses Soviet Imagery to Combat Online Disinformation

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Canada’s intelligence agency has turned to Soviet imagery to arm the public against disinformation, but according to experts, Moscow is likely to utilize visuals that hint at North American origins to better deceive its audience.

Recently, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) began addressing their war against intentional online misinformation through posts on social media. These posts borrow elements from Soviet aesthetic such as a font similar to the Cyrillic alphabet where stars replace dots and the letter N appears mirrored. A Russian matryoshka doll features in one of the posts, bearing the words, “Do you know who is behind it? Disinformation is here and hides well.”

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Further posts advise Canadians to be cautious about their social media activity, pointing out the lurking threat of online trolls.

Aaron Erlich, a political science professor at McGill University, agreed on the urgency of making the public aware about misleading information invading the online space. Nevertheless, he found the CSIS’s approach with these posts not quite straightforward and somewhat aims to induce fear.

Erlich pointed out the potential for the campaign’s unclear messaging to backfire, questioning whether the agency conducted any tests to understand the public’s response towards their methods.

In response, CSIS clarified that the initiative aims to alert Canadians about dangers relating to various countries and not exclusively Russia.

In a statement, the agency further explained that the campaign was reminiscent of Soviet symbolism. Still, its prime objective was to inform the public about the threats from hostile states that often indulge in antagonistic activities like spreading disinformation aimed at Canadians covertly.

An assertion by CSIS states that both government and non-government players take advantage of liberal democracies like Canada, especially since the advent of the internet has provided them with a platform to inflate messages that sabotage healthy discussions and weaken trust in an institution.

Erlich, who has previously studied Russian disinformation, concurs with the CSIS assertion. He argued that Moscow’s messaging intends to invalidate the democratic process, rendering all politicians as corrupt and contesting fundamental truths that form the basis of reality.

Erlich added that Russian disinformation seldom appears to originate from Russia, saying that they often craft fake identities on platforms like Facebook to mirror North American or Canadian individuals, making the source untraceable to Russia.

Reports from Rapid Response Mechanism Canada, a Canadian foreign affairs department initiative, confirm this, implying that pro-Russia messages commonly propagate through channels imitating European or North American media outlets.

An observed example includes a website named Global Research, registered in Canada. The website publishes content aligning with Kremlin narratives, routinely echoing conspiracy theories, and attempting to undermine countries supporting Ukraine.

Reading such narratives online may not generate the same reactions among different individuals, as the interpretation could vary depending on their worldview, said Tim Blackmore, professor at Western University in London, Ontario.

Blackmore emphasizes the need for individuals to be cautious, doubtful, and slow to judge information they encounter online.

“We need to settle into that and get out of the habit of saying, ‘I must have the truth,'” Blackmore said.