Austria Deploys Crisis Anti-Propaganda Digital Team to Counter Coronavirus Fake News – What Should Other Governments Do?

  • The Austrian govmernment created a special response team to counter fake news spread in the nation pertaining to coronavirus.
  • China and Russia have been busy spreading false narratives about the coronavirus to encourage mass hysteria.
  • Currently digital propaganda and false treatment options are becoming a security issue in the West.

Currently, a majority of nations around the globe are battling the coronavirus pandemic. However, there is another battle that needs rapid attention and response. It is the cyber battle around fake news and misinformation. Russia and China have been busy spreading misinformation such as the false statements from Chinese government representatives that the US brought coronavirus to Wuhan, China.

 

Russia is not far behind; spreading the false narrative that US President Donald Trump purposely did nothing knowing about COVID-19 in advance. These lies have caused both political parties in the US to start throwing accusations at each other. The Kremlin is delighted to meddle in the 2020 US election. Russia can be observed using the popular US platform Twitter that has over 330 million registered users and 145 million users on daily bases. Tweets are appearing today (including from verified accounts with a checkmark) earnestly spreading such news, genuinely believing it to be true and in their mind aiding their Democratic candidate to advance in the polls and to gain additional support for the fall presidential election.

However, Austria decided to take a proactive approach to combat a digital propaganda tsunami sweeping the Western world. The Australian Federal Government created a quick response digital crisis team to combat the spread of fake news and propaganda pertaining to coronavirus misinformation. The false information can be tracked, collected and then corrected to reflect the real news about COVID-19.

The question is: why are IP addresses from China and Russia not banned? Verification should be required to never allow such accounts in the first place. Who is setting aside risk assessment and risk control measures. China has the “Great Fire Wall of China” which only allows information that is deemed approved and favorable to the Chinese government. Russia is a little looser, but made draconian changes to follow en suite. The Russian intranet is actually modeled closer to the North Korean model of digital control but more evolved.

Twitter and LinkedIn ire not allowed in Russia or China freely. Yes, some people use a VPN and other options to get access to these platforms, but very few, and usually only professionals or studious individuals. The others, who are “allowed” by the Chinese government to be on western social media are specifically there to gather intelligence information on behalf of China, troll, spread propaganda and in general conduct surveillance of Chinese citizens living abroad, such as international students and professors. Then their families in China are used to coerce them to take actions harmful to US national security. Sites like LinkedIn and Twitter are not making money from advertising in China or Russia since they are not welcome there. If it is purely from a desire for customer acquisition and to boost the value of shares, this is still not a good enough reason to add these spies and operatives to the Western panic over coronavirus and cause undue hardship on governments and citizens.

I think one of the greatest things about the US is the freedom of speech solidified in the US Constitution. However, why should free speech be extended to foreign nationals overseas, whose only goal is to cause harm and malicious interests? Western governments should mandate such sites to start removing these accounts and monitor their spread, not just add another reporting drop down menu option for such activities. It is simply not enough.

The people have a right to know about the virus and should have options for alternative viewpoints and formats, but not false propaganda. Deliberatly false reports not only interfere with the work of ministries and state authorities, but also inflame people’s insecurities and fears. Unfortunately, such false news often spreads quickly through various information channels, especially on social networks, through messaging services, or even by word of mouth.

The newly formed team in Austria has direct support through the executive security training center in Vienna and some police students have been utilized to track and combat fake news narratives on the world wide web. The team has been operational for about a week now.

The European Union is expected to deploy its own crisis alert team to combat fake news and propaganda as well.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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