The borderless nature of new media helps the free flow of ideas across the world. But it has also enabled the spread of disinformation and toxic speech campaigns. Over the past few years, Arena’s directors, Professor Anne Applebaum and Peter Pomerantsev, have produced some of the most important analysis of Russia’s use of social media and other tactics to undermine Western democracies and have written, given testified and advised policymakers on this issue in the US and Europe. The problem however is not restricted to Russia.
Transnational alliances of state and non-state actors, including ultranationalists and other extremists, are now coming together to run disinformation campaigns in most western democracies. In 2017, Arena produced an analysis of the influence of Russian and other foreign and ‘alt-right’ groups in the 2017 German federal election. Working together with data analysts at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and editors at publishing house Axel Springer, this project mapped conversations in the far left, far right and Russian-German social media, monitored Kremlin and far right publications, and investigated who was behind automated propaganda. Research from this project was widely published in Germany, both during the elections and afterwards. Similar projects are planned in Britain and elsewhere.
In this field, Arena is seeking to draw on historical experience. In addition to our practical work, our team has recently authored a 70-page study on the Cold War experience of Soviet subversion, analysing past tactics in order to draw lessons for the present.