090 Olga Tokariuk and the threat of AI-powered propaganda

With us today is a researcher and a ukranian journalist Olga Tokariuk, and the topic today is artificial intelligence, propaganda and the role of journalism in today’s society.

We sat down with her to discuss the role of articifial intelligence in the field of propaganda, disinformation and addressed the issue of regulatory frameworks in this field.

Also addressed was the issue of propaganda funding in the scope of russian invasion of Ukraine, myth building in todays society and the way to address these issues from a journalistic stand-point.

Transcript of the episode:

Expand the transcript

00:00:06 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Welcome everybody. It’s the 21st of June 2023, but you’re listening to this episode of Citizen D podcast on the 15th of July 2023. With us today is a researcher and Ukrainian journalist Olga Tokariuk and the topic today is artificial intelligence, propaganda and the role of journalism in today’s society.
So first of all, welcome Olga, Hi.

00:00:30 Olga Tokariuk
Thank you for having me.

00:00:32 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Let’s start with where we left off a couple of weeks ago. You were visiting Ljubljana, you gave a talk on the generative artificial intelligence being used to manufacture propaganda and disinformation and my question to you back then was, is artificial intelligence doing more more harm than good in the field of fighting against and at the same time producing propaganda, disinformation and misinformation.

00:01:01 Olga Tokariuk
Yeah, that’s a very good question and I don’t have a very clear answer yet also because, you know this, we are witnessing a very fast explosive growth of generative AI, this is a relatively new phenomenon, right and the researchers are still looking into it, and there is no consensus on whether it will bring the humanity more good or more problems, more troubles that we already have?

What we can say at this stage is like witnessing the recent developments especially in the last year, year and a half since the Russian full scale invasion of Ukraine started, it’s a very good case study to look at disinformation and how what kind of technologies are being used to produce this information, but also to counter it, to try to expose it.

So looking at this period of time and all the information space related to the Russian full scale invasion of Ukraine and the use of AI in it, we can say that it’s a double edged sword, so in one way artificial intelligence can help to raise awareness and combat disinformation precisely because of its ability to analyze huge amounts of data and for example, identify networks of disinformation, spreaders of inauthentic, you know, accounts, bot nets on social media such as Twitter and one of the projects I worked on was actually about analyzing Russian narratives about Ukraine on Twitter, in general narratives about Ukraine.

Very often, they echoed Russian propaganda and we were looking at who and what were the accounts spread in these narratives. What is the probability that these accounts were automated networks were bot nets, were not actually real users? And the AI was really helpful in doing that because with the help of the algorithm, me and my colleagues from the company called Mythos Labs is the algorithm that they developed. It’s like their patented, you know, invention.

So with the help of that algorithm we managed to analyze thousands and thousands of Twitter accounts, sharing information or disinformation on the topic of Ukraine and the algorithm was able to calculate the ratio, the probability with with which these accounts were automated, they were part of a botnet, so they were not real users.

So in that regard, the AI is really helpful because it helps us human researchers, people working with information, with disinformation to understand large amounts of data, and also because with a certain set of criteria, the algorithm is able to, with a very high probabilities, never 100%, but it is quite high, to establish whether this or that account is actually a bot. It’s it’s not a human human you know, directed.

00:04:30 Domen Savič / Citizen D
My following question would be how do you how do you build a trustworthy algorithm? What can you do to sort of test test the algorithm out before you let it loose on on as you said, millions of accounts where where it does its thing.

00:04:51 Olga Tokariuk
Well, I actually didn’t have an answer to that question because I was a part of the team who was doing human part of research and they were very smart people with IT background who developed the algorithm. But I trusted the colleagues they tested this algorithm, because it’s not the first project that has to deal with, you know, digital sphere and the disinformation country and disinformation, violent extremism online.

So they’ve been working on several projects related to that in various parts of the globe, but I can’t really go into specifics of, you know, the technical issues, how it was tested, because I just have no information.

00:05:37 Domen Savič / Citizen D
OK. But another follow up question to your opening statement when you said that we currently don’t know if the algorithms are doing more harm than good, would you be able to highlight certain point which we could use going forward to see, OK, if this happens the algorithms are clearly siding with the with the propaganda production authors and if this happens, you know, algorithms are on our side, fighting, detecting and removing disinformation.

Are there some events that you would use to sort of monitor and decide on which side the scale is is tipping?

00:06:46 Olga Tokariuk
Maybe it’s a very basic example, but I think everyone who’s on Twitter will agree that the algorithm and the way changed after the takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk is something really remarkable and the fact that now on Twitter the algorithm is set in a way that would show you so many tweets from accounts that do seem very suspicious, from accounts that spread disinformation, I think it’s a very like blatant example of how change in algorithm can transform a platform that was considered trustworthy that was considered to take this information into something that is increasingly looking like a swamp for all sorts of disinformation, which is not being countered in any way and which is not being taken seriously enough by the present owners and management of the social media platform.

And this is a huge disappointment because I think you know and as I said, like AI can be used in both ways, right? We can use it to counter disinformation, but it can also be used to help spread this information, but once we have overlooked how serious the issue of disinformation is that we should not just like tell people and the broader public raise awareness about it; how it operates, how this information spreaders work, what kind of tools they use, what should what are the red flags?

What should we be looking for and another step is actually to support the efforts of those combating disinformation fact checkers researchers, but also dedicated teams on social media that were there before, and now we see, with the example of Twitter, that basically Musk, they he fired all those people from Twitter who were looking into this information and trying to take it down or flag it or mark it as such and you know, kind of lower it in your feed, so you won’t see those tweets that were clearly spreading disinformation because there was a team dedicated to to make it invisible to kind of take it down to counter to combat it.

So it’s not there anymore and we are seeing like how Twitter is is basically becoming disinformation, super spreader and this is something that really worries me, but I wanted also to add on you know in the context or maybe that could be our next question to discuss because I started talking about the example of you know Russian invasion of Ukraine and what changed in the sphere of disinformation and examples of the use of AI and so I I spoke about how how we can counter on this project that I worked on that AI actually helped us to expose these narratives and to expose these botnets to identify them, and to put them in the lights.

But this the last year and a half, it also showed us how AI can be used to facilitate the spread of disinformation.

00:09:50 Domen Savič / Citizen D
So with the spread of AI and the responsibility or the role of of big content platforms of of big digital intermediaries – so how do these two things come in common. You have on one side the propaganda or the disinformation producers. And then you have the distributors. Who would you say looking across all the like the generative media media spectrum from newspapers, television, radio station, websites to platforms like like, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook – who would you say plays the biggest role in distribution of of this information connected with the with the Russian full scale invasion of of Ukraine?

00:10:53 Olga Tokariuk
Well, there are several levels of disinformation spreaders if we might call them like that. So the top of the ladder would be Russian officials so Kremlin and, you know, Russian President and all his clique, that would be just throwing in the narratives that Ukrainians or Nazis or Ukrainians, an artificial state or that you know, Russian speakers are somehow pressed in Ukraine all these sorts of things that while Russian dictator Putin used to justify his full scale invasion of Ukraine.

But these narratives will would then be picked up by many actors in, in on social media. There are some very influential people and super spreaders, influencers who would echo these narratives in  different countries. Basically there would be these people who would be sharing the sort of the sort of narratives then there would be a network of Russian and that state media, such as RT and Sputnik and these propaganda tools have been taken down in the most of the Western world, but they are still very active outside of the Western world in the global South, for example, they are even expanding in countries such as South Africa, they are expanding in the Balkans, they are expanding in Latin America, in Africa, they have a lot of influence beyond South Africa.

So then there would be the networks of so-called websites, even in the western world that would call themselves like sources of alternative information, very often they could be conspiracy theories and all sorts of anti western anti democratic narratives and then below this would be all the botnets and automated accounts on social media, which might not have a lot of influence which might not be creating any original content, but they would serve as amplifiers, so they would serve to create an impression of a massive diffusion and the massive popularity of this sort of narrative, so they would just like amplify what other accounts, either Russian officials, Russian state media or these prominent influencers in other countries, so they would just amplify what those accounts share with the goal to create an impression that, well, actually this kind of narrative, this kind of thinking is really popular. A lot of people retweet it or share it, so it there’s might be something in it.

00:14:00 Domen Savič / Citizen D
And you, as a journalist or someone who’s been involved in journalistic work in, in reporting from the field, from different areas – do you have any advice on how to address this issue from a journalistic perspective?

Maybe what do you use as filtering tool when you’re investigating a subject and you’re looking at as you said, millions of sources of information, some of them clearly propaganda, disinformation or misinformation? So what would be your advice to journalists growing into reporting about Ukraine, reporting about issues, where you have some some presence of of bot networks and disinformation producers?

00:15:01 Olga Tokariuk
Yeah, I would actually argue that the bot networks and botnets are the most innocent ones in my opinion. The most dangerous ones are influential people in different countries that would pick up these narratives. People who have a reputation, who have trust, but who would be sharing information which is clearly not true, which is clearly, you know, equals Russian propaganda about Ukraine. But that audience might not be aware of it because they might not have enough knowledge of Ukraine. I mean, because very often the narrative would be like that there was a civil war in Ukraine or that there are Nazis in Ukraine, so they would or they would question, for example, Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

This is something that we’ve seen repeated very often in different countries like I’ve been looking specifically into Italy and I’ve seen there really prominent people, even from the media, journalists, former journalists, some experts or people who call themselves experts, even some people affiliated with academia, with think tanks, they would repeat Russian narratives about Ukraine, people who have never been to Ukraine, people who do not speak the either Russian or Ukrainian, who do not have actually any specific knowledge about the context about the region, who do not have, you know, have never reported from this part of the world.

But they are respected because they’ve done other things, so they covered other topics, and they might be really respected and have an authoritative voice in their respective countries, and people would just trust them because because of their reputation and I think these these people and these kind of spreaders of this information are the most dangerous, and I also see that Russia is increasingly focusing on kind of working with this sort of people because as I said, the Russian propaganda state controlled media are teens are facing obstacles in the Western countries.

The Kremlin officials are not being taken seriously most of the time, but when a local someone who has a reputation in a country would would say something that you know basically would equal what the Kremlin says he would, he or she would be much more trusted by the local audience than other sorts of information.

So the advice to journalists, you know, like who am I to offer advice but I am someone who actually covered Russian disinformation, how it can influence real lives, real people’s lives and I’ve looked into how they operate like kind of what they, what tools they employ and what’s their playbook.

Well in addition to applying all your basic journalistic standards standards which mean, like you know, separating facts from opinions and looking into like speaking to different sides and focusing on the facts and verifying also, the claims made by your sources, this is very important because sometimes journalists would just like, report different opinions without actually verifying whether these claims are based in fact or not.

So I think this is something that is really helpful to disinformation spreaders when journalists just with quote a source or put on the same level, a source that sticks to the facts and the source that bases his opinions on things that are not based in fact on lies, on disinformation, on misinformation.

I think it’s very important for journalists to be aware that just having two opinions or different opinions is not enough, that not all two different opinions are equal, that you should always verify whether this opinion is based on fact or not, and if it is not, you should make your audience aware of it. You should say like yeah, this claim contains this and these factual mistakes.

This is something the journalists really rarely do, and I think they should do that more. And then of course, learning how you know how these information operators work. It’s not rocket science, there is nothing too complicated.

But just like you should not discount it, because I I sometimes encounter this attitude and this approach from journalists and say, well, this is not really an issue or it doesn’t affect us, it might affect you in Ukraine, but it doesn’t really affect us in other countries and I think this is very naive to assume that you know malign influence operations, and this information does not affect people.

Somewhere there is some paradise corner of the world in which the public is completely protected and is not affected by disinformation especially state sponsored intentional the information campaigns. We know the states who conducted Russia, China, there are others, but these are the most influential and thinking that you are somehow protected from it because you are in a safe in a democratic country and taking things for granted is a very unhelpful approach.

And I think journalists should just like be open to you know finding out to to research and to learning how the state sponsored these information campaigns work, what tools they use and then they will be able to make themselves immune from them and like I just make one example now the recent example of the blowing up of Nova Kakhovka power-plant in Kherson region of Ukraine.

We now have really convincing evidence that Russia was behind the blowing up of the dam, but the titles we’ve seen in the media in the days in the first hours but in the follow in the days following this catastrophe were very ambiguous.

Even the most credible international media such as New York Times, they put things like both sides, blame each other, or Ukraine and Russia blame for blowing up the Kakhovka Dam, which I think is really first, it’s a bad journalism and second it’s really plain and really helping those who are, you know, spreading this information because if you look at the facts like Russia has been controlling the dam, Russia made repeated threats to blow up the dam, Russian military bloggers immediately after the dam was blew up, boasted about it on their telegram channels and their social media.

To make an explosion of such a magnitude, you would need to put a lot of stuff in there, a lot of explosive and if Ukraine did not have control to that area, it was physically impossible for Ukraine to do it.

And then of course, if you look like at the consequences of that, which are catastrophic, completely catastrophic, South of Ukraine will most likely become a desert in the coming years because it will be deprived of this vital source of water which is detrimental, hugely detrimental to the Ukrainian agricultural sector, to the Ukrainian economy in general.

So if you’re looking at just this thing that I’ve listed, you know, you should ask yourself, like, what’s the reasoning for Ukraine to blow up the dam? And if you’re only basing like it on the, you know the statement of the Kremlin which said that Ukraine blew up the dam, so are we still taking the Kremlin statement seriously?

After a year and a half of terrible atrocities in Ukraine that Kremlin keeps denying after year and a half of incessant lies from Russian officials, why would the media still treat the statement coming from the Kremlin with the same approach and with the same credit, give it the same credibility as it would give the statement coming from the Ukrainian side.

It shows that journalists unfortunately do not learn from their own mistakes, cause we’ve seen the same things in 2014 with the, you know, shooting down of the Malaysian airplane MH 17 flight over Donbas, you know, the media coverage was like both sides blame each other although. In the same way as with Kakhovka Dam, there was overwhelming evidence pointing to Russia, and then it was after years confirmed in the court in Hague that actually it was Russia, tt was the order coming from the Kremlin directly to shoot the plane down.

But many people, you know the court decision comes after years and years and many people forget about it, but they would have this kind of impression that, well, we don’t really know who did it, and even if, you know, after years, there is a proof that well actually, it was Russia who done it.

But this initial reaction in the media and this initial kind of both sides and Putin, you know, blame and saying, well, we don’t really know what, this is something that is really dangerous and it sticks because one of the goals of, you know, Russian propaganda is not as much to convince the people of something, but to actually confuse them, to dissuade them, to make them believe in nothing, to make them trust nothing to make them question everything.

And as a consequence of all this, to prevent them from taking a position and from taking action because they would say, well, we don’t really know what’s happening. Well, maybe Ukraine did it, so we shouldn’t support Ukraine because, well, we don’t really know. Maybe Ukraine is the same as Russia.

00:25:09 Domen Savič / Citizen D
This this segue into into my next question perfectly. So I wanna hear your thoughts on the issue of, I named the problem myth building in journalism. It seems on one side we have all of the artificial intelligence we have the I guess you could call it natural intelligence. We have all these tools, we have all this access to information sources on a global scale.

And at the same time, it seems that myths are I’m not gonna say not going away, but they they they represent one of the most important. Things in, you know developing story-lines or explaining things that are happening around the world. We saw that with the COVID pandemic and the uptake of of antivaxx propaganda, now we’re seeing that in the Russian invasion of Ukraine situation.

So what would you say or how would you? How would you solve this issue? So how would you solve the issue of of journalistic work being used to sort of disperse myths to sort of be on the on the vanguard of truth and be used sort of as a tool for you know, providing information to the to the people, to the political decision makers, to the general public which can then use this information to sort of act out politically to solve political issues, to address issues on a global or on a local level.

00:27:02 Olga Tokariuk
That’s a very complex issue and I think most they emerge and they persist when there is a lack of knowledge and whether when there is a lack of understanding or maybe even, you know, the information is not really relatable. So it is easier to believe in a mess because it might be more easy to, you know, it might explain things in an easier way in a more believable way and you know what I’m thinking about? Like, miss in the context of Ukraine and, you know, Russia.

I’m thinking not just about the journalism and current issues that we face with this information at least since 2014, but with the more intensity since February 2020. Two I’m thinking about all the historical mess that is still there and some of it, as I already mentioned, Putin used to justify the invasion of Ukraine like historical myths as saying, well, that Ukraine has never existed as a state.

So Ukrainians are actually just Russians who are confused, so we need to kind of reeducate them and bring them back with with our kind weapons. And I think that this issue of like this historical mess persisting and the fact that many people in the world they still kind of believe, at least partially the narrative that while Ukrainians and Russians are well, aren’t they the same people, are your language is really different, something, you know, the question that I get all the time.

It’s partially a result of the success of all the Imperial propaganda and historical narrative of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union when you know, like in history books it was always presented as some sort of like common Slavic Brotherhood of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. And, you know, never actually like mentioned all the struggle of Ukraine for independence that was going on for centuries and trying to kind of downplay the agency that Ukrainian nation had over centuries, but even like in Western kind of narrative of the history of this region, you know, there are so many still history books that are just at schools all over Europe, and a friend of mine is currently working on a project like analyzing how the history of these rules, for example, is being taught to school children in many European countries, and she was shocked to discover that in many cases there is like a direct parallel or direct kind of line ancestry between Belarus and Russia, so many in many school books, in many textbooks it will be written well that it was the state of Russia.

Well, we know that actually Moscow was founded several centuries later than Kiev and you know, the whole like statehood that the state that was formed around Moscow had completely different tradition than the one that was formed around Kiev. So in Kiev it was a state which was formed on the democratic tradition because they were Vikings influence from the north of Europe.

And you know, there were different tries, but there was quasi like proto-democratic form of government. There was a richer national kind of Council of the elders who were making decisions, so there was never one person, never an autocrat, never tsar, who was deciding for all the Kingdom the way it was in the Russian empire later.

So it starts from these sort of things kind of Ukrainians are not there, or they were not on the mental map of many people because of of the, you know, success of all this historical mass and all the historical interpretation and somehow, well, these were Russia as well.

So it’s not only about current journalism, so many people are discovering actually the history of Ukraine. They’re listening to the Ukrainian version of, you know, how they see their history.

They are shocked to discover that Kiev was founded before Moscow, that there were five unsuccessful attempts to proclaim Ukraine’s independence in the 20th century. So this is not something really new that Ukraine, not just to get their independence in 1991 that there was like long, long struggle process.

So of course I think it’s partially to the success of, yeah, the imperial propaganda Communist propaganda, the fact that there was no reckoning with the communist past and communist propaganda in Europe and like with, you know, the crimes of the Nazi regime, there was never reckoning of reckoning with the crimes of the Communist regimes.

In many parts of Europe, in many European countries, and definitely in Western Europe, there is very little awareness of that, and there is this kind of glorification idealization of the Soviet Union in some left circles and for some weird reason they also project current Russia on on the Soviet Union, which I would say like has nothing to do with communism, rather the opposite to well present day Russia or rather has more things in common with with fascism than with communism, but there is still this confusion in the left circles and some people would, you know, still buy this myth of a great, great Russia, great Russian culture as well.

There’s another dangerous myth – without critically looking at what kind of values that culture promotes, what kind of values even like the most famous Russian writers representing their in their works without being aware of all the colonial gays in the poetry of Pushkin, for example, like the way he writes about Caucasians, the way he writes about Ukrainians the way he writes about people from the Caucasus is is very realistic. It’s very, you know, a Russian central.

It is very kind of denigrated to these peoples and this is something which is not being discussed while there is a lot of like discussion on Western imperialism, there is very little discussion on Russian imperialism.

So I think we should have more kind of critical thinking and apply the same standard that we use sometimes in the West towards criticizing democratic countries to authoritarian states to not just be fascinated by the glorious image that they try to project.

00:33:48 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Before we, we move forward I just wanna one sub question. Do you see it as a generational issue as well? So would you say that these images of of of great Russia of, you know, connections with the communistic and socialistic regimes?

Do you think that is more present with with say let’s say the older generation or the elderly who who went through who went through the communistic socialistic period themselves, who maybe went through through Second World War themselves? Or do you see that transitioning to younger generations as well, who maybe have no first hand or even second hand experience with with everything you’ve you’ve just described?

00:34:40 Olga Tokariuk
Yeah, I see. Actually a lot of this fascination with, you know, communism among youth and especially, of course around universities where they are always the places where left ideas are circulating. You know, I’m myself consider I consider myself a person who is leaning on the left so I can understand of course.

And you know why and how that is happening and this is not something new, but I think really the there is like what is what is a dangerous thing is that while you know definitely there are a lot of great ideas on the left side of the political spectrum, I think there is not enough critical approach to the past and to the, you know, Communist regimes.

Definitely not enough critical approach or to you know, to the Soviet Union and like when I was a student in Italy, I studied at the University of Bologna. It was really shocking to me to see my fellow students, Italians who were literally wearing necklaces with hammer and sickle, you know they were communists. They were proud of it, but they were wearing symbols of authoritarian, totalitarian, authoritarian state that killed millions of people.

So it’s like to me that looked like or to other students from, you know, other communist or former former communist countries that looked like wearing a swastika symbol, but to them it was something completely normal because I think this again, like the way that the kind of image of of the Soviet Union was whitewashed in, especially in the academic, in the left circles, it is really worrying.

And I don’t see, I mean there have been some progress in the recent years and since Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, there is, like really, really kind of gradual shift towards decolonizing Washington studies or duration studies or East European studies, whatever is the name, very often it’s Russian studies that’s still kind of is already, you know, an imperial colonial name, how can you call Russian studies if you are speaking about the whole, or post Soviet studies, which is again mind-blowing, like how many years should pass before people just drop this post-soviet title and start calling these countries in another way.

So I think it’s not happening. It’s not happening fast enough this reckoning and this realization, and this is the conversation that we need to have, because if we don’t have it, we will just like continue repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

00:37:29 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Just one more question before we move on.

Do you see the outcome of the Russian full scale invasion depending on the demystification of of Russia, do you think that when when Russia loses, the loses the war or is forced to withdraw and it’s forced to pay, hopefully some reparation and is given the full legal treatment after the failed invasion. Do you think this this perception will change? Like historically, do you see it as a tipping point in the in the imagery of of of of Russian state?

00:38:18 Olga Tokariuk
Well, certainly I think this should be our goal to work on that. You know, the wars that Russia has been conducting in the last decades, the war against Ukraine, the war against Georgia, the war in Chechnya, they all were imperialist wars.

They are somehow treated as some like isolated accidents or a response to NATO or whatever nonsense that is floating out there, but like Russians every time, basically they they never hit their ambitions to gain like more territories, more resources and like they are openly claiming that these are our lands and that, you know, this, the Ukrainians do not have a right to exist, for example, or Ukrainian independent state does not have a right to exist.

This is a completely imperialist rhetoric, so I think once there is a kind of realization of that, the wider the root cause of all this is imperialist attitude that Russia has not been decolonized and you know it didn’t abandon its imperialist mindset and it is not only shared by Putin or the Russian elites but that is widely shared on all levels of Russian society. It is even shared by some Russian so-called liberals by some representatives of Russian opposition.

So which is sometimes taken very uncritically outside of Russia and very welcomed and supported. But when you dig deeper and look into like, what what did they actually say about Ukraine, about Georgia, about, other countries that Russia considers to be in their sphere of influence, then you will uncover a lot of surprising things that reflect again, this imperialist mindset.

So I hope that these terrible atrocities that Russia is committing, covering them up with this imperialist rhetoric, it will be an eye opener for many people around the world, but then of course, whether it will be a tipping point or not will depend on the outcome of the war, whether Russia is defeated on the battlefield, whether Russia will recognize this defeat, whether there will be any accountability for Russia, for the crimes that it commits in terms of, as you said, reparations also, you know, Russian war criminals facing justice.

Definitely this should be like our end goal, we should work on that in order to prevent more wars like this from happening in the future because I I firmly believe that the only hope that you know Russia will not invade anyone again is like this decolonization of Russia.

And that’s the only way that we can do it, so we should work together to make it happen.

00:41:13 Domen Savič / Citizen D
And and just one one final topic – so you’ve spoken about the Russian propaganda channels of Russian propaganda producers and I wanna take a broader look at the funding of these disinformation outlets in the field of production and also in the field of of distribution.

So I was this topic isn’t as discussed as maybe I would hope it to be because looking across the European Union, you have several Member States where the main propaganda outlets connected to either political parties or interest groups are funded directly from the state budget and I was wondering if you have any thoughts on the issue of of funding of, of propaganda, which seems to come mainly from the public funds and does not respond well to open markets advertising and other sources of funds for its disinformation production.

00:42:36 Olga Tokariuk
Yeah, you are absolutely right that Russia uses a lot of resources and allocates a lot of funding from the state budget on, you know, on propaganda, on state controlled media and we’ve seen that this funding has gone up strikingly in 2022 compared to the previous years. There is the OECD report on disinformation and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine which says that the government spending on mass media for the first quarter of 2022 was 322% higher than for the same period in 2021. So that gives us an idea of how highly prioritized for the Russian government and is, this information is propaganda, are these tools that are helping them to advance their foreign policy agenda?

So this funding has been on the rise in the last like at least 10 years. So every year, the budget of RP’s put make and other Russian outlets, it’s is increasing.

We don’t know how much Russia spends on its agents and it’s on its influence networks in other countries, this this data is is difficult to to access and very difficult it is also difficult to confirm that this or that outlet is receiving funding from from Russia.

But there have been studies made on links between different websites in other countries, in Western countries, and some Russian individuals who are directly linked to the Kremlin and who might be funding these these outlets.

00:44:34 Domen Savič / Citizen D
So is it, do you see transparency as a tool that that can resolve the issue of state funded state funded propaganda?

00:44:47 Olga Tokariuk
Well, it depends about you know which context we are talking about. Of course, if we are talking about the democratic country, then definitely you know, there’s never enough transparency and I think it could be useful, but then it will depend on the how robust is the demand for that is, is there enough leverage in the civil society organizations and the public to kind of pressure the government to, you know adopt and show more, more transparent and more transparent approach.

In authoritarian states such as Russia, I don’t think this is going to work. I think the only kind of tool how we assuming we are in, in democratic countries, in democracies and that’s what I mean by saying we so know how can what kind of influence can we have is definitely and trying to squeeze Russian coffers, into empty Russian coffers and by this I mean, of course, like there are sanctions, but unfortunately sanctions and Russia has found ways to bypass them and wash and budget received like a lot of income from saying selling hydrocarbons last year.

So yeah, while EU redirected its energy supply and started receiving gas from from other other countries like basically shrinking off its dependency on Russian gas, but Russians still found markets that were very eager to buy its oil and gas and speaking about India and but also other countries.

And so they they still managed to find a way to have a lot of money to, you know earn significantly, mostly thanks to the hydrocarbons and with that money, they would fund the propaganda.

So what can we do is strip them of cash, to close this inflows of hydrocarbon money into Russia, to freeze Russian assets, to go after dirty Russian money… So there’s still a lot of homework to do, I think and transparency is something that could work in democratic societies, but if you really want to counter the source and the root issue, then you should really focus on de-funding Russia’s state budget and the prime source of money that helps to finance propaganda.

00:47:54 Domen Savič / Citizen D
OK. Thank you, Olga, for sitting down with us and for answering, answering the questions. Best of luck with your work moving forward. This has been Citizen D podcast episode, we are offline or off the air in August, but we’re coming back in, in September, so hope to see and hear you then. Thank you, Olga.

Citizen D advice:

  • State-funded media require transparent ownership and funding in connection with an active citizen
  • AI is a double-edge sword which should not be autonomous
  • Journalism needs to get back to its fact-investigative roots.

More information:

  • A Year of Lies: Russia’s Information War Against Ukraine – article
  • Twitter Blue accounts fuel Ukraine War misinformation – article
  • Will AI-generated images create a new crisis for fact-checkers? Experts are not so sure – article
  • Elections in UK and US at risk from AI-driven disinformation, say experts – article
  • Investigating Twitter Disinformation in Ukraine – article


About the podcast:

Podcast Citizen D gives you a reason for being a productive citizen. Citizen D features talks by experts in different fields focusing on the pressing topics in the field of information society and media. We can do it. Full steam ahead!

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