The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has recently embarked on a novel campaign against disinformation, employing icons commonly associated with the Soviet Union. Experts, however, caution that such imagery may not adequately highlight the current threat posed by Russian disinformation campaigns, which typically adopt a more North American facade to ensure credibility with their targeted audience.
Over the last month, CSIS has initiated a series of posts on social media platforms, outlining their countermeasures against the spread of carefully crafted misleading online information. These posts adopt a font similar to the Cyrillic alphabet, featuring symbols such as stars in place of dots and inverted Ns. The campaign employs prominent Russian icons like the Matryoshka doll, with one post questioning, “Do you know who is behind it? Disinformation is here and hides well.” Another urges Canadians to exercise discernment regarding the content they share on social media to mitigate the risk of online trolls.
However, McGill University political science professor, Aaron Erlich, voiced concern over the potentially convoluted messaging of the social media posts. He stressed the importance of alerting the public to misinformation but raised questions over the spook-infused theme of the campaign, suggesting that it may cause unnecessary fear. According to Erlich, poorly executed communication efforts could yield counterproductive results, leading to wonders about the vetting process for the campaign.
CSIS responded to the criticisms, stating the campaign was intended to inform Canadians of the potential threats from various countries, not solely Russia. According to spokeswoman Lindsay Sloane, the Soviet-themed communications are aimed to educate the public about the risks posed by hostile state actors who engage in spreading disinformation. The agency further highlighted that both governmental and non-governmental actors utilize the internet’s vast reach to carry out their agendas, undermining faith in democratic foundations.
Erlich, armed with his study on Russian disinformation, corroborated CSIS’s claim. He agreed that the Russian disinformation campaigns extend beyond healthy political debate, aiming to label all politicians as corrupt and challenge core facts. However, he pointed out that actual Russian disinformation strategies often disguise themselves as North American sources, making them even more insidious.
Trends identified by Rapid Response Mechanism Canada, an initiative by Canada’s foreign affairs department, align with Erlich’s observations. Their findings suggest many pro-Russian messages are disseminated through websites mimicking North American or European media outlets.
The analysis pays particular attention to sites such as Global Research, a Canadian registered website promoting narratives aligned with the Kremlin. These narratives often endorse conspiracy theories, undermine bilateral support for Ukraine, and intentionally distort events and quotes to misrepresent global situations.
However, Tim Blackmore, a professor at Western University, highlights the difficulty in determining the impact of such narratives. The ultimate effect on the reader depends on a multitude of factors, including the reader’s existing world view. He advocates for a cautious and skeptical approach, urging people to slow down their rush for immediate truth.