A new study looked at the elements that might make people more receptive to Russian propaganda. People who believe in conspiracy theories, distrust governments, and don’t follow politics, according to their results, are more exposed to incorrect information and propaganda from an “illiberal dictatorship” that uses anti-mainstream messages. Researchers conducted a series of tests on a varied sample of over 2,000 people in Germany, according to a study published in the journal Comparative Political Studies. Before being given a short narrative of a real-world occurrence, participants were asked about their beliefs and attitudes. This includes both internal and international topics, such as Germany’s response to the immigration crisis and Putin’s shady financial dealings.
Following the division of the participants into five groups, some were provided extra information on the topic, reflecting anti-mainstream and mainstream frameworks, respectively. The source of the information was also revealed to some, whether it was a Russian or “Western” source. Persons with “strong views in authoritarianism, conspiracy theorists, people with poor political education, and government opponents” were more inclined to embrace anti-mainstream propaganda uncritically, according to the findings. They believe that this reveals the kind of people who appear to be more vulnerable to Russian misinformation.
Concerningly, the study revealed that presenting a pro-Western, mainstream perspective and naming the Russian source was insufficient to persuade respondents that the material was suspect and warranted additional investigation. This, they believe, may explain why addressing the problem of disinformation is so difficult. Dr Matthias Mader, lead study author and Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Konstanz in Germany, told IFLScience, “Our study suggests that it is more important to increase the public’s resilience against illiberal propaganda in the first place, because once they are alienated or disconnected from mainstream politics, the battle appears to be lost.”
“This certainly raises the challenge of how to pique people’s interest in politics while keeping them off the periphery of democratic politics… Long-term considerations, rather than rapid remedies, are more likely to be the answer to this question: early civic education, equipping the vulnerable with the resources they need to participate in politics, and so on “Dr. Mader said.
This study has special significance given the current use of disinformation regarding the developing Russia-Ukraine crisis. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, claimed lately that it has taken down a network of accounts and sites spreading false information regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As part of this network, the organization operated a number of websites that seemed to be independent news outlets and published bogus allegations about Europe and the United States abandoning Ukraine and declaring Ukraine a failed state. This is only one of several attempts to sway public opinion on the war between Russia and Ukraine. Bellingcat, an investigative journalism organization, has already identified a number of sophisticated media efforts aimed at spreading false or misleading information about the issue.
However, the authors of this new study believe that the present scenario in Ukraine is testing the limitations of misinformation, claiming that the sad reality of the continuing battle means that Russian disinformation will not hold as well as it has in the past. “The current scenario indicates that illiberal propaganda may have its limitations. Because Russia’s actions in Ukraine are so blatant, and there is so much attention and proof, the propaganda tactics we examine in our article may be less successful – if they are effective at all “Dr. Mader said.