“Fake News”: Responding to Disinformation in Western Political Campaigns

Date: 14:00-16:00, Thursday 30th November 2017

Location: The Henry Jackson Society,
Millbank Tower,  London, SW1P 4QP

Opening Remarks:  

Timothy Stafford (TS)
Research Director, Henry Jackson Society

Tomi Huhtanen (TH)
Executive Director, Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies


Edward Lucas  (EL)
Senior Editor, The Economist

Jakub Janda (JL)
Deputy Director, European Values Think Tank

James Carson (JC)
Head of SEO and Social Media, The Telegraph


Roland Freudenstein (RF)
Policy Director, Wilfred Martens Centre 

TS: Ladies and gentleman, good afternoon. Thank you so much for being with us here at The Henry Jackson Society. My name is Timothy Stafford, I am the Director of Research here at HJS and am delighted to welcome you this afternoon to our discussion about fake news responding to disinformation in Western political campaigns. Now as you’ll know, this is an issue that has raise to prominence in a very short period of time and with any period of time that is short, the issue means new things and different things to different people. There has definitely been a tendency on all sides to have used and abused the definition of fake news. There are those who like to apply the definition to any piece of reporting which they disagree with, among them the incumbent American president, which is probably a too broad definition for us to accept. And there is also a tendency to apply it to some of the rough and tumble domestic political politics, such as the £350 Million billboard on the Brexit bus. But today we are going to look at the most obvious cases of fake news, namely those instances in which actors knowingly advance untrue and erroneous claims; disinformation in order to bring about a political effect. This is an issue which I’d like to say is very dear to the hearts to anyone who works in the wider realm of think tanks and foundations and policy centres. Every industry in life has certain things of which it’s very proud, lawyers value the rule of law and due process, journalists value the freedom of press and freedom from government intervention and our industry, if we can call it that, has historically been comprised of people who believe in the free exchange of ideas as the means of bringing about more informed societies and better policy. But that faith rests upon the assumption that those who put forward the ideas do so with the best of intentions and a world in which that’s no longer true, in which foreign governments advance incorrect information to affect political opinion and sensationalists inaudible websites publish false stories simply to gain visits and hits, is a world in which the public interest is damaged. At the same time those trends underscore the importance of institutions that inaudible to strengthen free societies by publishing research and by promoting debate. And it’s for that reason, and I’m delighted today we host this event in conjunction with the Wilfred Martens Centre for European Studies. The centre is a leading voice in Brussels through its events and publications and I would like to take this opportunity to thank those that are here with us today, each of whom have made this event possible. Firstly, Nicholas inaudible for helping to arrange today’s event. Roland Freudenstein who is going to be moderating this afternoons panel and lastly, but by no means least, Tomi Huhtanen, the centre’s executive director, who I’d now like to invite to give some opening remarks on behalf of the centre. Thanks you very much for being with us.

TH: Thank you Timothy and also on behalf of Wilfred Martens Centre for European Studies, it is my pleasure to welcome you to this event. Actually, maybe this is the first event of Martens Centre and Henry Jackson Society together, but in fact our history goes way beyond, already a decade ago when our founder Wilfried Martens was here in different meetings. Henry Jackson was very much involved in different discussions we had and it’s very pleasant for us inaudible this relation. Timothy already shortly mentioned about XXX etc. inaudible three words. About us for clarity, so we are a European political foundation, a foundation of the part, the European people’s part is the largest political movement in Europe. Its centre, centre right, has more than 72 member parties, now biggest group in the European parliament. Long, long time ago, well not so long time ago, actually our group had relation with the Conservative party, but after long, long story with gloomy ending that relation interrupted. But nevertheless we continue to work with UK actors and we are very pleased to come here to London. One big place for us is our member organization and partners, so we have a hub in Europe or in Brussels of think tanks, national think tanks cross Europe. Our members and partners inaudible. We do research, publications and evens and as mentioned EPP doesn’t have a inaudible party in UK and as a result Martens centre has not been really active here before. But as we are approaching a new situation and as the institutional relations in UK and EU will be at least, period of time, diminished. We can assume, we fell that it is our responsibility to, in our level, to keep debate going and also especially on the questions we reflect about our common inaudible and our common future. Inaudible to say something inaudible introduction, but Timothy gave already agood picture of the scene, of the debate we are going to have. Maybe just to mention the challenge of this debate is indeed that in fact, fake news issue touches at least for a bigger discussion, with a future of internet and social media in communication it is the future of traditional news media one could say. It is impact the future of democracy and democratic systems. There is a lot of concern about what is going to happen with our basic political system and last, but not least, the Russia aspect of this discussion that, I noticed that this fake news is now also coming up in the agenda here in UK because what Prime Minister say and several other news. But I can definitely tell you that in Europe, especially inaudible countries which are very much closer to Russia, the issue of fake news, is, if not in the top three news, maybe top five. The issue in question is really about whether this few latest actions of Russia involvement not only what we speak about Great Britain, UK and United States, but specifically various European cases, can it be considered as aggression. So with further due, thank you very much Henry Jackson Society. Thank you for coming, and I will pass the word to Roland Freudenstein. He is Policy Director of the Martens centre, who will moderate the debate and introduce the speakers. Roland, floor is yours.

RF: Tomi, thanks very much. I gather my voice carries so I don’t have to borrow a mic from anyone. It’s great to be here. Thank you for coming in such great numbers. In full view of MI6 and MI5, you know that’s for us continental that’s always an experience. 26th floor of Millbank Tower, I understand that ten floors below there is RT. You know, which may have something to do with the topic that we are discussing. In any case, it’s great to be here and to discuss fake news in campaigns and in politics with you. So, we will kick off with James Carson from the Daily Telegraph, who as I understand has a PowerPoint presentation, which has not only words but also pictures. That’s good.

JC: That’s true.

RF: Wait. And right next to me, Jakub Janda from Prague, who is Deputy Director of European Values, one of our dynamic new partners in central Europe. European Values has made a name for themselves, especially in the topic of Russian disinformation, Russian influence or you call it hostile foreign influence to add the most global term. Hostile foreign influence not only in central Europe but in many other EU member states and also recently you had the home fair summit, the home fair forum on counterterrorism and also made a name for themselves in central Europe on that topic. And of course last, but by no means least, Ed Lucas, who is senior editor at The Economist and wrote visionary, one of his many publications was his visionary book, published in 2007 about the new cold war which at the time was ridiculed by some people and worst, Edward became the contraction who was preaching to a niche audience and now is mainstream. Congratulations I’d say. Right. So, without further due, James, please go ahead.

JC: Hi, so I have spoken on this topic in the last three weeks at Dulwich College and the House of Lords so I’ve got slides to present. I’ll stand here cause it’s probably best based on the room to speak you all and the slides are pretty small. It’s just going to be a kind of whipped up tour of where we’ve really gone with the kind of post-truth movement and how social media fits with that and how we kind of got to this hot topic of fake news particularly in the last 12 months. So I just want to start with this that trust in the establishment is really an all-time low. If you look at the gallop poll, which is trust in mass media, it was about 53-54% that they agree about trust in the mass media until about 2003. The Iraq war obviously had an effect leading to about 44%, but since 2005 it has been on a downwards trend and in 2016 it was at an all-time low at 32%. Additionally, this part on the right shows that establishment jobs aren’t very well trusted. At the top there we got doctors, teachers, scientists, judges and at the bottom we have politicians generally, government ministers, estate agents, journalists, bankers, business leaders. With the exception of estate agents, these are jobs that we’d equate with the establishment. So what’s going on here? There is quite a lot of things beyond the internet that are affecting the trust in the establishment. If you think of the 1990s, there were a lot of very rich cultural narratives that brought conspiracy theory into popular culture. The x-files for instance, one of the best running sci-fi shows in America and Britain and conspiracy was at the heart of the program. Other films like Independence Day or best-selling computer game Half-Life, both had conspiracies within. So then, the war on terror and the Iraq war, obviously the inaudible reason of going to war appeared in some people’s eyes to be a lie, because weapons of mass destruction were never found, financial crisis, because living standards haven’t improved and then scandals, so, things like the MPs expenses scandal that the Telegraph had covered in 2009 or the Monika Lewinsky scandal in 1999, and you know, those both really undermine the trust in the establishment. But at the same time, social media started popping up like late 90s, stuff like AOL messenger, MSN Hotmail messenger came out, but the real kind of social media, as we know it today, the big companies, started around 2003. So, Myspace 2003, Facebook 2004, Youtube 2005 and Twitter in 2006. Quite a round founding there and we are really, really familiar with all of those. And also this is overlooked, but this is fairly important technology in how fake news spread. WordPress is a blogging software, its open source, anyone can download it and install it on a server within 5 minutes. It powers over 100 million websites and that was founded in 2003. And if you were going to set up a fake news website you were probably going to use WordPress, it’s just so easy to install, customised to make it look like a news site, you use WordPress. So, Facebooks growth, it eclipsed Myspace in April 2008 and starts to becoming a second internet at that point. Facebook take over the internet, now it introduced, previously, before 2006 it was only available on University campuses and then it opened itself up to any other email address. See this growth in 2008, it eclipses Myspace. The really big difference is in 2009 when it introduced the like button. So, this is where publishers wanted to put like buttons on their articles so that they can be shared into Facebook, and so Facebook became more than just itself, inaudible. It actually started taking over the rest of the internet in away. Things like inaudible, which pretty much served a purpose like Reddit disappeared as a consequence of Facebook like. Also introduced Facebook connect where you could log in to websites using Facebook’s login system, that makes a massive deal on e-commerce sites now and after that point you see this exponential growth and it goes up to 2 Billion users in 2017 and it becomes, the consequence of Facebook like is a major source of publisher traffic from 2011 onwards. And in 2012 we really got a second social media revolution as well. This was due to the ubiquitous smartphones. Before 2012, smartphones are still a bit of a minority user base, but at that point they kind of tipped and then there was social media apps being built specifically for smartphone users. They did not have a desktop version, so things like Instagram, snapchat even tinder. Those apps which have mass user ship were based on the social media revolution, on the second social media revolution which is smartphone based. Now ,apps like snapchat and Instagram aren’t necessarily the most important when spreading fake news, but what the social media, second social media, revolution really introduced is social media becoming really pervasive. You cannot get away from it at this point. Before you login on desktop, you could get away from it, kind of ignore it. Now you’re inaudible, you are constantly notified, it becomes a lot more, sort of pervasive and insidious.

So, social media problems. So first of all, because WordPress is so cheap, and 100 million people using it, regulation can’t really happen. So, you can publish cheaply without any regulation and then you can distribute it really rapidly. You know, there is basically no barrier to entry, even a major print you have to have a printing press or rent one and then you need trucks to transport your information around, this doesn’t happen anymore.

Next up is algorithms, Facebooks algorithm is based on three main factors, which are: time decay, if you post something then it will appear in the newsfeed and then appear over time. Probably between 24-36 hours. It’s not a real time newsfeed, but there are two other key factors on that which are weight and infinity. So weight is the amount of engagement a post has, so if I post something and it gets a lots of likes, its more likely for it to show up other people’s newsfeed. If my friends have liked it, then it is more likely to be shown to me over time as well. That’s where you get a kind of filter bubble effect. If you engage with more stuff, inaudible then you are more likely to see it over time, which is a problem. Eli Pariser has written about it in his book ‘The Filter Bubble. And then high inaudible travels really well online. The website upworthy I mentioned earlier, this is an example headline from upworthy, which is fairly absurd: ‘This amazing kid got to enjoy 19 years on this planet. What he left behind is Wondtacular.’ That word isn’t even real, they’ve made it up to make it a superlative. This got 40 thousand likes and this kind of positive hyperbole works wonders in inaudible 2012. Reasons why things like upworthy and Buzzfeed got kind of big. Now, you are seeing particularly in the UK and the US that things like Breitbart are taking a kind of lead from this viral publisher’s book and creating their own hyperbole based stories. This one from the canary was a recent interesting example; we need to talk about Laura Kuennsberg, she is listed as a speaker at the Tory party conference. So what happened there, is she was actually listed as an invited speaker, which didn’t really mean anything, she was just invited, she didn’t have to go. But then the canary started a sort of a hate campaign against Laura Kuennsberg. They made out that she was definitely biased against Labour through this headline and they got a lot of stick for it, but not before it got 14 thousand likes. They changed the headline later, but it was shared already quite already, quite widely. Also you got this bewildering increased competition in the last ten years. So, not only can people access the existing news sources on the right in the UK, you can now access any of the US news sources, you can access the new people like Upworthy, Buzzfeed and you can access social media itself. So there is quite a bewildering amount of information going around.

And, what social media does is sort things out pretty well but it actually makes things look really rather similar. If you look at Facebooks trending topics here, the only point of difference in these headlines, so you can identify them as this grey text – that’s really, really small on desktop – in I believe September this year or August, Facebook lost its editorial team that managed these trending topics, replaced it with an algorithm, loads of fake news got into the trending topics. Also, mobile makes things look a lot more the same as well. If I’m a publisher, you know, the Telegraph, it doesn’t look, in Facebooks UX, it doesn’t look that much more different to a fake news website that calls itself the Denver Telegraph if they use exactly the same logo. So it is quite hard to differentiate. And then, fake news peddlers really get a financial incentive. They can set up a website with no regulation, then get traffic via social media. So WordPress no regulation, Facebook like scenario, through hyperbole the most outrageous the better, doesn’t even matter if it’s true. And then, cause Google Ads inaudible, you can put adverts on your site and make money quite quickly. So, the US election presented a major opportunity for anyone who wanted to create a fake news website to make some money. There were some very polarised candidates, obviously Donald Trump is the anti-establishment, the newcomer, the reality TV star. Hillary Clinton is the absolute establishment, listed candidate, wife of Bill Clinton, he’s obviously gone through a scandal. So, if youlook at fake news stories there. Anti-establishment against Clinton and more in favour of Trump, these are some of the top performing ones: ‘Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump. President releases statement.’ That has got nearly a million likes on Facebook. And then were a lot about Hillary selling weapons to ISIS and Bengazi which is a very muddy subject and quite hard to decipher unless you spend quite a lot of time reading it. But what fake news did was really wrap that in its own kind of imagination and it really spiralled into something: ‘It’s over, Hillary’s ISIS email just leaked and its worse than anyone could have ever imagined.’ Or,’Just read the law, Hillary is disqualified form holding Federal Office.’ Both of those have over 700.000 likes. So, on to the next slide.

So, Donald Trump is elected and onwards. Did he really win because of social media? Well, these headlines would make you think so. This one is straight from the inaudible ‘Donald Trump won because of Facebook.’ Or, you know, inaudible down here, ‘Here is how Facebook actually won Trump the presidency.’ So Facebook it seems like, it must have won Trump the presidency. The next please. It seems very unlikely, there is loads of reasons for Trump’s victory and things like immigration, social change and liberalisation, economics, there is loads of reasons why people would feel uncomfortable with these inaudible, it’s not necessarily linked to fake news. There is also a Stanford university study that is worth reading the abstract, that says for fake news really to swing the election each fake news story published would have had the effect of about 34 TV ads, so it seems very unlikely statistically that fake news really had that much influence in this case.

It does matter in other context obviously, it matters in life and death where there is low information environment, it becomes a much, much bigger issue. Things about Burma and Sudan where there is genocide at the moment and no information environment can really inaudible. Also in terrorist incidents you only had to look at Twitter last Friday when the Oxford Circus event was happening to just really not get at any idea what was going on at all. Someone said it were gang fights, I looked at it and I thought that’s fine then and then someone said there’d been shooting and then there is all these different stories coming up on social media and some people were just making them up, just to spread mystery. And also, we wouldn’t really be here if Trump didn’t win the election. This google search trend graph globally for the term ‘fake news’, if you look along here, obviously fake news happening running into the election, but then Trump won and it suddenly spikes and that’s a consequence of the media suddenly bringing it to attention – Mark Zuckerberg initially denied it. Then you have this really big spike, that was when Trump was inaugurated, that was when Buzzfeed published the dodgy dossier about his links with Russia, he started calling CNN fake news, shouted at Jimmy Poster in the first press conference and that was where really his assault on the media kicked off. He never used it, he had never used the term at all in 2016 in the first 6 months of this year he used it about 50 times. This worrying problem that we got to Donald Trump is that he appears to be inverting a term that was used against him to win the election, against the press now, which is worrying kind of idea for press inaudible in the future. Alright, thanks.

RF: Thanks very much. So, thank you James for defining the context in which we are now going to discuss at a little bit more detail some concrete examples of fake news and their political effect and where and how and why they are produced actually. Ed, I’d like to turn to you. What is your take and, you know, maybe one of the examples you give has something to do with Russia.

EL: Yeah, well I think the term fake news is a bit like cyber. It is convenient, but actually a bit misleading. It’s very, it doesn’t actually mean anything but we all know what people mean by it if you see what I mean. And I am pretty, I am rather cautious about it, for two reasons. One is that it implies that it is a new phenomenon, and the other is that it implies that it is a discreet phenomenon. And I don’t think either of those are true. Inaudble of suddenly being a bit provocative and no disrespect to Mr. Jones here, it’s a bit like sitting in Warsaw in the September1939 saying we have this real problem, this real new problem with the Luftwaffe. We have to have seminars and conferences to discuss the Luftwaffe. And it is true, we are being dive-bombed. It’s unexpected, its destructive, its very nasty, its very unsettling, but its not actually new if we paid attention to what happened in the Spanish civil war, we would know that dive-bombing has happened there as well. But more importantly, dive-bombing is just one part of a whole arsenal of a tactics of tactics, which would be deployed against us. In the case of Warsaw 1939 it was initially the german and inaudible also tobe the Soviets. So, I think the danger of focussing on fake news is it leads to a common trap in public life and policy making, which is that you attack the bit of the problem you see and you do it with the tools that you have to hand. So, as RT was already mentioned. Greatly about RT is that anybody can make themselves into an analyst of Russian disinformation. You just have to open your laptop or your smartphone, you can watch RT for a bit and you can start drawing conclusions. You can say, isn’t this scandalous? Here are people appearing on RT although they shouldn’t. And isn’t this wicked? RT is telling lies and isn’t this interesting here, inaudible inconsistencies in RT’s approach. One day its very antimuslim or very anti migrant and the next day its saying that western society is inherently racist. All these are good things to do, Im not saying that it’s a complete waste of time, but it’s a bit like sitting there, photographing the dive-bombers and saying ‘That one is a Stuka, I have never seen a Stuka at that angle before. It may not be the most important thing that we need to write. That was the end of the WWII metaphors, I apologise, but it’s a good way of getting the message across. So I’m going to leave a side the fact that Russia is attacking us with I reckon about 20 different tactics, ranging from military bluff and inaudible, which we see in inaudible and actual conflict which we see in the Baltics and Ukraine and so on. The abuse of the legal system, for example Interpol red notice, the massive use of money to corrupt financial systems, the use of the energy weapon to reward some kind of countries and penalise others, the subversion and very wide range of subversive tactics and intelligence and so on. If you just google, top Edward Lucas toxic 20 you can find a piece that I wrote about all these tactics. But let’s take safe for the sake of argument, we are going to focus on information, information war fares as one of those, which is not a bad thing to do.

I also don’t think that fake news is that new, in fact if you look at the history of journalism in this country, journalism started as the tendentious propagation of politically loaded information with very little regard for the truth. The very first of these papers were scoreless scandal sheets. And that really continued in this country and other countries for many years. What we now call real news, responsible mainstream journalism, is actually a very modern invention. It dates from Lord Reith, of the BBC, from the people who set up public broadcasting corporations in many countries after the war having seen the damage that was done with propaganda stations before and during the war. The growth of very lucrative, local monopolies in American cities, which allowed proprietors to extract a certain match of rent from the advertising market and spend it on very high quality journalism. Now I think that high quality journalism is a very good thing. We should cherish it and we can get on in the discussion about what more we may need to do to help it survive and thrive, it’s very important for a democracy. But I inaudible think it’s the natural order of things. Even in the heyday of very good quality journalism we had rubbish journalism. We had politically very slanty journalism, such as the morning star, which many of you will remember from the 1960s and 70s, used to be called the daily worker before that, which was a communist propaganda sheet. Some of the people who worked on that and close to that are now working for Jeremy Corbyn, but that’s a separate question. So politically slanted propaganda has deep roots and also purely sensational money making propaganda, there used to be a wonderful publication in America, so called supermarket tabloid, called Weekly World News and this specialised in absolutely made up stories. Often about Elvis Presley, being discovered somewhere, or this famous one which became a kind of inaudible WWII bomber found on moon. Another one, was this Nazi UFO had been found in Antarctica. Things that would be absolutely recognisable in the modern age as click bait, but it wasn’t click bait then, it was till bait. It was to get people pick the stuff up and buy it at the supermarket and maybe they believed it and maybe they didn’t. Now what’s changed and I agree with every word of James’s presentation is that technology has enabled the propagation of fake news with inaudible, ubiquity and anonymity that we didn’t have before. If you wanted to publish the Weekly World News before, you needed a printing press, you needed a distribution chain, you needed to persuade supermarkets to carry it, you quite substantial costs and there were barriers to entry. Now, as James said, you only need a website. If you wanted ubiquity in the old days, you needed short wave radio transmitters. Russia had those, other countries had those. I spent a lot of time in the 70s and 80s listening to those short wave radio stations and we had big monetary organisations that tried to analyse what they were saying and now you get the same ubiquity with the, just from the internet. And the third is anonymity. Now anonymity is actually quite a modern invention and that’s what I want to focus the rest of my remarks on. Because when we set up the internet nobody said we are going to take this tool for academic research collaboration and we are going to make it absolutely anonymous. We are not going to require any kind of meaningful identity assurance, we are not going to have any really meaningful navigation. This is going to be a free for all, which the closest analogy would be citizens band radio. Some of the older people may remember citizens band radio, you could buy a citizens band radio and you put it in your car or even keep it at home and you could just start transmitting. In many countries it was totally unregulated, quite different from amateur radio licences and things like that and quite different from the laws that govern newspapers. In most countries if you publish a newspaper, you have to register. There will be, what is sometimes called the impressum or colophon is something in the newspaper saying where this is printed, where this is published, who is the responsible editor. These are part of press laws that go back, in many countries, back to Napoleonic days. And the internet stopped that and so for this reason if we are going to attack a so called fake news epidemic and push back against information whether its tendentious for commercial purposes or tendentious for political purposes whether its distributed with deliberate intend to deceive or just distributed by people who think they are telling the truth but are actually not. Then I think trying to draw a bright shiny line between disinformation and non-disinformation is going to be futile. It is as difficult as drawing a birght shiny line between good journalism and bad journalism. Now I did a test on this recently where I printed out some articles from RT and Sputnik and articles from a British tabloid which I won’t mention by name, because there might be someone from the Daily Express here and I don’t want to offend them. But let’s say for the sake of argument it’s them, and I took fairly similar articles and I formatted in exactly the same way, just very boring plain format. And I said to these people, all graduate students of media studies, here is a test. One, some of these articles come from a state sponsored disinformation outfit and the others come from a commercially run newspaper. Can you tell the difference? And they couldn’t. Inaudible absolutely no statistical, in fact it was slightly favoured on a fairly small sample size, but they slightly favoured the tabloid over Sputnik and RT. So, it’s really difficult to tell this stuff apart. What do we do? Well, I think we have to look at the platform. We have to say, how did this information get into my mind space? Now we all know, if someone sprays graffiti on the wall, maybe interesting graffiti, maybe quite informative, it may tell us something about the public mood, but we don’t take that graffiti the same way as we take something that comes with a letter in a letter, with an address where we can check the address – I know this person, I know what they are saying. And a lot of what we call fake news is affectively graffiti, its stuff that is put on the internet with no identifier. So if you take for example the website DC leaks, which was the way in which the stolen emails of the Hillary Clinton campaign, the DNC, were put on to the internet in order to affect, I’m not saying decisively, but in order to affect the American political climate. The interesting about DC leaks was it looked inaudible its sister site which I think was called USA Politics Today was superficially, it looked like a real news site. It had good logo, a good layout, it loaded perfectly quickly, there was even an about us tab which said something we are here to contribute to the public debate and you can contact us with this form. On a very superficial look, it looked okay. Except, there was no phone number, there was no street address, there was no name of a responsible editor and if you then took, a rather sad and geeky, I do these things, I initially did a ‘Who is?’ search. Hands up here anyone who does not know what a ‘Who is?’ search is. What a fantastic audience. Hands up anyone who does know what a ‘Who is?’ search is. Well a lot of you are very, very strange. A ‘Who is?’ search is how you find what you might call the internet birth certificate of a website. So if you went to The Henry Jackson Society I am pretty sure, I haven’t tested this, but you would find something about Millbank Tower, there’d be a phone number and so on. Certainly if you go on The Economist or the BBC or any other website like that, there is an explanation of how did this get on to the internet. It lists street address, phone number, responsible person, contact details because people want that. They might want you to buy advertising or give them money. And if you do a ‘Who is?’ search for any of these fake news sites, you will find there is nothing there, it has been intentionally obfuscated. Now it’s easy to do this. You can go down to the news agents and you buy a prepaid debit card for a hundred quid. Using this prepaid card you register the domain. No one will ever find you. You buy some computer space, you can put it up there. You can do the whole thing from an internet café and even a high end intelligent agency will find it very difficult to know. They may be able to trace it back to the debit card but finding where, which particular debit card was sold somewhere in London and who that was sold to, that is really difficult. So, that is a kind of bullet proof anonymity, which is great if you are running the Tibetan Human Rights Campaign or the Chechen Human Rights Campaign and I’m not against anonymity at all. But we should not accept anonymity as the default. And so, my big proposal, which I have given evidence in parliament on this and I am pushing it as hard as I can, is that we should first of all educate people if you go to a website, does it have the basic attributes of realness. Does it have a street address? Does it have a editor in chief whose name has ever appeared in any other journalistic context? And is not just a made up name. Does it have a phone number? Does the who is registration make sense? And then there is a second and slightly more subtle test, which I’ll finish on, which is that a sign of good journalism is corrections, clarifications and apologies. I’m actually no longer at The Economist. I was there until very recently. But I know that the hallmark of good journalism is that you make mistakes and try to minimize those, but you correct the once that you make. And here is my test for you, can you find the only occasion on which our neighbours on the 16th floor have ever published an apology. It is very good, it’s quite difficult, it took me a long time, a lot of googling, quite detailed targeting googling and I was finally able to find one place on their website where just once in their ten plus years of history they have actually published an apology. It’s quite interesting, you read and you think gosh, I can see now why they did that. But actually, the more interesting point is, there are no other apologies. Go to the BBC website, go the Economist website, go to the New York Times website, go to any reputable website, certainly in the English, German, French, most mainstream media, inaudible, and you’ll find the corrections and apologies. That is a sign of health that is the living beating heart of journalism. So what I want is for twitter and Facebook and Google who are three places where almost all links come from, inaudible people type URL actually into their search engine. Always, always people go from, go through these big three and just as they warn us if you are going to infect your computer with malware and just as they warn us if this is a phishing site, they should also warn us if this site has what I call constructed anonymity. Test this very easily, go to a site that has malware on it and you’ll get a red screen from Google. I actually know the guy who inaudible in charge of that red screen. It used to have a button which said, yes I know what I’m doing. In doing a lot of AB testing, and they discovered that where 80% of Women stop at red screen, 60% of men confront with a button yes I know what I’m doing, immediately click on that as it doesn’t say inaudible. It’s quite hard know to get to, if you googled a site that is going to affect your computer, you’ll get a warning and this is pretty good. Same with, there are other VPNs and other inaudible that get a similar warning. So I want the same warning that this site doesn’t have the normal attributes of realness. Proceed if you want, maybe you have got good reasons to. But I think that way that makes it much, much harder. It won’t stop fake news, so called, but it will substantially raise the difficulty, increase the difficulty they have in being treated as if they were real. I’ll stop on that.

RF: Great. Let’s just for one second, allow me a follow up. We’ve talked about why and how and through which technological innovations this phenomenon gained such prominence. But I don’t think, although James briefly mentioned the questions whether Trumps election was caused, he said was not solely caused by fake news, so question to you, what is the effect of fake news? Can you give us examples or cases where you think that the alleged influence of fake news has been exaggerated? Brexit referendum?

EL: I think that, first of all, it’s quite hard to measure this empirically. Measuring, I mean, in any analysis of elections, inaudible really does, saying this was the decisive factor, is very difficult. Because when people go to vote they have all sorts of factors in their heads and eventhe ones that they say are decisive may not actually be the ones that are decisive and you can measure this because you can take things that happened after an election, ask people to rank them in order of importance for their election and people will say things that actually didn’t happen until after the election. It’s empirically difficult to measure this. That’s the first thing.
But, there are things that we can do and we are not doing them. We have very crude statistics about the reach and impact of the, for example RT. So It think if you go to the Ofcom statistics, and I’m quoting from memory here so don’t write this down, I think something like 1.3% of the British population claim to watch RT for half an hour once a month. That is about the same as very minor shopping channels you never heard of and because people are not very reliable on this, it could be more, it could be less. If you go to the Nielsen studies, where people actually have buttons, where people actually are paid to record their viewing and inaudible with little buttons, then RT does not feature at all. But we need to spend some money. We need to find out the same way as we know about toothpaste. When I covered the Soviet Union in the first years after the, or the former Soviet Union in the years after communism I was covering business things, very interesting. And you get toothpaste companies, fast moving consumer goods companies and they commission studies and you find out everything about how people consume toothpaste. How many times a day, what your choice of brand is, how much you use, who would you trust for recommendation? And you get a folder this big with nothing in it but charts and tables about some pretty minor aspect of life and on that basis people then say ‘Right, we are going to go for this demographic and we are going to try and sell them in this way.’ We have not done that when it comes to disinformation. There is the British Government, I think, who has commissioned a study, but it’s only among Russian speakers in the Baltic States about the reach and impact of Russian language information. Well that’s great, but it is fundamentally flawed, no disrespect to the foreign office, because of course it’s not the Russian speakers who consume Russian language television because Russian language television is dramatically more interesting and more entertaining than the local television. It is  multi billion dollar industry and the local stations look like kind of local television. That’s just a fact. So we need to do the research, we need to do quantitative research and find out how many people are consuming this kind of information. Is it through television, radio, and websites, whatever? And then secondly we need to do qualitative research where we get them together in focus group, does this help make your mind up, are you doing this because you agree with it already, are you doing it because you hate it and you want to know what the other site is saying. In the least mind, if half the population of the Baltic States is watching inaudible every Sunday night because they want to know what the Russians are up to, that’s great. That’s part of the security culture. If they are watching it because they believe it, that’s a very serious problem. But we aren’t there yet. So we need to just spend a few million Pounds, Dollars and Euros and just do the work and find out what the impact of this stuff actually is.

RF: Thanks very much. A voice from central Europe, Jakub. What’s your view on this?

JL: First I will reply to Edward, actually, we have the tool which you mentioned. Basically a plug-in for your internet search. We actually have it in Czech and Slovak language. So basically, if I have it in my computer and I know this information outlet and we kind of know which they are, it will just tell me: ‘Please watch out. You are maybe watching this information outlet.’

EL: What’s it called?

JL: It’s called inaudible, but that is a more technical measure. So what I’ll do, is that I’ll try to give you a bit personalised story how first we are pretty ignorant, second we realised what big trouble we are in, let’s say in Central Europe on this, and third about what we started to do. So to put a very simply in, let’s say after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, I mean, inside Europe the feeling was, sure Russia is a threat, but Russia is a threat in Ukraine or maybe in the Baltic states. Not here in central Europe meaning, you know Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, maybe slightly Germany as well. So we did feel the threat physically. The armed forces did, obviously, so they saw what the Russians are doing, but outside of the military community the feeling was that it’s not really about us. Russia is aggressive but not of us. During 2015 we actually realised sitting in Prague and looking across the region that we could start seeing similarities across central European countries. So we started to see a Russian influence activities and I mean the non-military ones, meaning political infiltration of the institutions. Many disinformation outlets starting to copy paste Russian messages. Which practically means spreading Russian lies about Ukraine to put it very simply. So we started to see it in 2015, and then slowly we realise that actually it touches us as well in central Europe. And it’s not only about Ukraine or the Baltic states but it is also about us. So what we actually had to realise, first, it’s a long term issues. It is not going to go away. Actually if you asked in 2014 /15 in central Europe and everybody outside the intelligence and military community, is this going to be a big issue? Almost everybody would tell you no. It is going to go away. Maybe it is only about Ukraine. It’s not a big issue. Internally we will solve it. So those were their usual answers. We realised no, because it works out quite extensively at least for the Russian side. To give you some numbers which actually Edward was looking into. We did quite a lot of polling and some basic research for example in a small country of Czech Republic, ten million in centre Europe. 25% of the population will tell you we believe more in those specific outlets which we know is disinformation than in traditional media. So 25% of the population. If you ask them do you believe Kiev, Ukraine is run by fascist government, approximately 30 % of the population will tell you yes, we believe the Ukraine is run by fascists. If you ask them do you think Russian soldiers are present in Ukraine approximately 20% will tell you no, they are not there. So approximately on specific narratives, between 20 and 35%, that’s the part of the Czech population which actually believes those lies. Those lies were not there prior to 2014. Nobody was speaking about Ukraine in 2013/12 let’s say in the Czech Republic really. So we can really say this is an impact of disinformation outlets and disinformation campaigns coming from Russia and Russian proxies. So approximately one third of the population, that’s what we realised during 2015/2016. So first, it’s a big issue.

Another thing which we actually had to realise is that, we can do something about it. Because the answer during 2014/15 was, well we have freedom of speech so we can do nothing about it. That was the main argument which actually I believed in personally as well. But what changed my mind and the mind of many in the security establishment in central Europe, I mean outside of Poland let’s say, actually was talking to our friends in the Baltic region. Because they have been studying Russian influence operations extensively, for good reasons, because they lost their sovereignty because of Russian operations in the past. So the knowledge is actually pretty extensively present in the Baltic region. I mean in the government institutions in expert circles in Baltic countries. So we actually started talking with them quite extensively since 2015 and we kept asking well, what is it exactly that you are doing against the Russian influence and which of those activities could we use here in central Europe, where the situation is slightly different. We don’t feel the military threat being present, you know, we are not really afraid od Russian tanks right now in Prague for example, even though we had them for 20 years as you know. So this, what can we take from it? Those were basically the questions we asked during 2015. In 2016 Czech government decided to start review process of security policies, it’s called national security audit. They invited individual specialists, including myself. So I worked with the government for a year on basically a review of how the Russian threat looks like, to put it very simply. But we didn’t look only to this information, because the argument as Edward actually said is a whole took kit. That is the reason why the government actually calls it hostile foreign influence. Hostile, so it needs to address and attack some of the national security interest of our country, because not every foreign influence is hostile. We have quite a lot of American, German, Slovak interest in Prague and that is completely fine if they are not attacking the core national interests like EU and NATO membership for us, looking from Czech republic. So that is what was hostile. So they used many tools, disinformation political infiltration, economic corporations, inaudible buy individual people in central Europe, not only there, right. These are many examples what they are using. So we reviewed many things of what Russians are using, most are still classified but the classified version was approved and published by the government by the end of 2016 and then came the action plan. So actually there are many practical steps that were done by the government, setting up a new hybrid inaudible centre, because for example, what I believe that you really need to understand about Russian understand, something that we tried to understand in central Europe in the early 90s when we started to face organised crime. Because organised crime is different to regular crime, at least in two specific criteria. First, they update the modus operandi. So one day they use this tool, the other day if you start pushing back they’ll use something else against you as a government or as a country. So that’s what Russians are doing. Second, they also will use different tools against you and it will not be just a basic repetition of what works, if you start pressing back. So this is something basic that we could see at a Russian government, speaking for myself as a think tanker, working as a organised crime in practical organised structure against the national security interest of a country. So for this reason you really have to have a specialist unit or units who will actually understand all of those tools. So if you have only a inaudible unit, strategic communications unit at your foreign ministry. That’s great. But that’s not completely enough. You need to have a similar unit at the ministry of interior or home office. Because they are using most of the tools against your internal security. So for that reason the hybrid inaudible centre in the Czech Republic is situated inside the ministry of interior, our home office. Because most of the Russian activities are directing the democratic values and the internal security of the country. So that is the reason what the Brits call 360. You need to look at all the tools. I have more details on the practical issues about it, so very happy to discuss it later if needed. But the other things which I believe you really need to understand here is that there are basically two games which the Russian government is playing at one time. First, is the long term influence game. Trying to change opinions in targeted countries. There is the disinformation about, there is the cyber-attacks as well. So basically long term game trying to change our opinions or some part of the electorate in, let’s say, Europe or in the west. That is the long term game. And then second, there is a short term game. Individual short term campaigns. If there is an important decision to be made, publicly, Russian government will employ proxies or direct engagement with it or influence it. I believe that’s Brexit, there is the US election, there is the Dutch referendum last year on the association agreement referendum with Ukraine, those are Czech presidential elections happening in January for example, those are German elections, we can go case by case. So long term game and short term campaigns, where they employ what they have, use the assets and try to influence it. And the point I am trying to make and many people in the secretary agency are trying to make do our policymakers, if we are unable of defending our electoral process, we are really losing sovereignty. If there is a foreign hostile power who can really try to influence with massive means our own democratic process, I mean, at that our candidates, whoever they are, this is something that we need to protect. That’s the reason why we are trying to say, the electoral process, the campaign and the vote itself should be considered critical national infrastructure. Anybody inaudible, will pull back and my point is we are not doing it. At least in Europe. We are not pushing back much against the Russian government. We have the basic level of sanctions, which is fine, I mean related to Ukraine. But we are not pushing hard really. Heavily punish Russian government on what they have been doing on our elections and referendums. My argument is almost, we have not done that. To finish up on a specific basic question, which you asked. What could be the result of, or what could be the impact of this information as well. If you look through the national security audit, done by the Czech government which I co-authored. One, what we needed to do is actually to conceptualise what a threat is, not only what the Russians are doing, but why should the government care about it. What does it really endanger outside of the good big things like EU, NATO membership for smaller countries? One of the arguments which the national secretary audit does in the Czech Republic is that this information can impact policy actions of policy makers. If one third of the Czech population believes that Ukraine is run by fascists, then the government has a tough time selling out quickly, we need to support Ukraine. In any terms, military or diplomatic terms. That’s one of the reasons why for example Czech support of the Czech government for Ukraine has been very limited. Because politically speaking, domestically speaking is very hard for the government to go out and say’ we’ll help Ukraine, because they are under attack. I mean, there has been some help, but it could be done much more. The foreign ministry for example himself, and I know it pretty positively because we’ve been working with those individuals, actually knows that some part of his electorate actually thinks Ukraine is fascist, and for that reason it really limits policy options for a state, not only for individual political actors. I’ll stop right here.

RF: Excellent. I mean, before we open it up to the audience, I’d just like to briefly come back to James. You know, I’ve asked that question before, what’s your take on specific Russian influence in the Brexit campaign. In the form of fake news.

JC: I’ve got to say, I don’t really know. Specifically, I think we are focussing a lot on Russia, perhaps and my issues with, I’ve got issues with social networks themselves, for engendering quite populist positions. I think that social media is bad political debate. So you end up having extreme debate. If you look at the comments sections of newspaper Facebook pages for instance, if your first and angriest, you’ll get to the top, there is no doubt about it. Even if your opinion is wrong. Story about Tony Blair comes up and you say war criminal, why should we listen, you’ll be at the top, without any question. So that creates this kind of populist anger all the time, it’s the same with Nick Clegg and tuition fees. And so you have this really divisive rhetoric that is pulling countries apart, the centre, the centre ground has essentially failed. In the last election in Britain it didn’t really exist, The Economist backed the libertarians and their leader and across Europe we are seeing the same thing and I think social media is a massive enabler in that. I think that that really had an effect in the Brexit campaign, to what extend Russia did, remains unseen I think at the moment. I mean, in the US at the minute, what they’re discovering, seems quite small scaled the Russian involvement. 50.000 Dollars spent here or there, it’s not a very big amount of money. But they are also finding very interesting things like 10% of all Facebook accounts were fake, which is a shocking statistic if you consider that there are 2 Billion accounts.

RF: Alright, on that happy note. We’ve got a couple of questions. We’re moving from that side of the room to the centre and then the left geographically speaking. OK, the gentleman in the second row please. Would you briefly identify yourself?


Q1: Inaudible Actually Mr. Lucas thank you very much for your examples. I totally agree with you, just a small inaudible. I would just like to bring you some of our knowledge and understanding of fake news. For us (Czech Republic) as for post-Soviet countries it is pretty clear that fake news is just rumours, and actually is the same technology that was used by KGB, so it is just about logistics. Logistics are new, but the nature is the same, the psychological impact is the same. So, definitely, nothing very new. Thank you.

RF: OK, the gentleman next to you.

Q2: Thank you very much indeed, I expected it to be first class and I certainly haven’t been disappointed. I’m (Inaudible) Grant, I’m a former law enforcement intelligence analyst, covering transnational organised crime in the ex-Soviet Union. Since I left I worked in Ukraine and other parts of the former empire, wouldn’t let me into Belarus and Russia. I have a friend who was born in December of 1963, and his two given names are Lee Harvey, so I am used to dealing with trying to demolish conspiracy theory nonsense, and realised how very difficult that can be, with many people completely subservient, impervious to facts, and swallowing complete rubbish. My question is, particularly for Jack, but for everyone, and it’s based on first-hand experience of this in the UK. Which organisations or institutions outside Central and Eastern Europe are, in your view, particularly swallowing the Russian story and are least sympathetic to your position? And I’ve been accused at Cambridge University of being a ‘leukocyte’ and that phrase (which I regard very much as a compliment) was not meant as a compliment.

RF: Excellent question, thank you very much. We take one third question or comment (those two still), it may also be a short comment of course. Gentleman in the third row, and then you.

Q3: My name is Dominic Kyle (?), I am an election observer for the EU, I’ve just come back from two months in Kosovo. What all members of the panel are saying now is undoubtedly true. My question or comment is, what can states do about it when the people in power are put there partly because of fake news? Whether this is in the United States, or the Brexiteers in the UK, or in the Czech Republic, or in Hungary or in Poland, Kosovo, wherever… it makes it much harder for the state to respond when the organisers of the state are there because of it.

RF:  There is a (?) between the organisers of the state and the people in power possibly, at least theoretically in a system of checks and balances but alright, I don’t want to take part in the answer already. Go ahead.

Q4: Greg Ross, I am at the Institute for Statecraft and I am a specialist in information warfare and social media.  The question to the panel is, a lot of disinformation clearly relies on a lack of credibility of those who are putting out the true information – the truth. How can the press institutions change how they act, change how they deal with misinformation, to reduce the effects of misinformation – what has been expressed before – to be counteracted?

RF: Alright, who wants to go first?

(Someone from the panel): I think news organisations probably got addicted to scale for a long time. And at the cost of scale, scaled up, quality sometimes doesn’t flourish because you see something somewhere and you think it’s got a big reaction, you might publish on that basis, and sometimes people don’t fact-check. You can see it in many publications I think, it is pretty obvious. And I think over the next few years, now that people are realising that advertising, Facebook and Google, will pretty much hoover up most of the money and most of the markets and it’s not going to be a big lunch. So most newspapers with commercial bends need to decide whether or not they want to change the scale or quality and think about this instead of concentrating on dollars. I think you will see quite a big pullback from particularly newspapers in this country over the next few years, they will move more towards the subscription-model rather than concentrating on clicks and advertisers.

JL: Well three answers, first of all: how can we stop or what can we do about, for example, conspiracy theories being spread. For example, one of the examples during the Cold War which many people like to use and I would agree with it, is when the Russians (or the Soviets, let’s say) were spreading disinformation saying that the United States purposely created HIV or AIDS. And what the Americans basically said during, I believe, the Reagan era, is “if you keep spreading this we will not give you development aid on humanitarian or health issues”. And Russians (or let’s say the Soviets) stopped. And this is what we are not doing today. So we are not telling the Russians, actually not telling Moscow, “if you don’t stop doing this, we will do this, this, and this”. We are not doing it for political reasons, we are too soft or we are not willing to compromise whatever business ties or shady business ties many of our people actually have with Russia. That is point number one. Point number two, who actually doesn’t agree with whatever we are trying to push for? I mean, the problems we are seeing, politically, are that many people on the left have a problem with seeing Russia as a – I would say – an “evil empire” or basically as a country that is trying to really put hostile information out to operate against us. There are several reasons for it. First, some of them basically hate the United States so for whatever reason they need Russia to counterbalance them, so that works quite well for many people sometimes on the left and on the far right as well, admittedly, and some people on the centre-right as well, although there are big exceptions. But also, the other reasons why they are seeing Russian influence as a positive tool is against what they call the “American influence” or, in some parts of Europe the “EU influence” or “German influence”. It is very easy to see it. Geographically-speaking there is a big problem with Southern European countries, to put it very simply. It is very hard to really show what kind of activities Russia is really doing. If you keep asking many people in Italy, at least in Spain people are changing their mind a bit right nowadays, but if you look at places in Italy and some people in France sometimes, and keep asking “okay so, 10,000 Ukrainian deaths by Russian weapons, is it enough or are we going to go forward with sanctions? Are we really going to do anything about it?”. Well the answer is usually “okay so we have to look into the business ties”, for example. Another problem which we have is that there are not so many people who specialise in Russian activities in your countries. In many countries in Western Europe there are specialists on Russia itself, or Eastern neighbourhood, those are people who understand Russia (or more or less they do). But then, they are asked to basically testify or to discuss what is Russia doing in your country, which is basically a counter-intelligence task, and which usually isn’t a task for people who study Russia itself. This is a hybrid specialisation which we are still trying to build upon, at least in Europe. The third response, to what we can do against people who like this information and who are in power… I come from a country where our President is actually voting for Russian foreign policy interests, but the government isn’t, at least for now. So we can see quite clearly is, first, how he is doing it but actually it helps you quite well because you can show to a domestic audience that Russian disinformation or Russian penetration isn’t only about Ukraine or the Baltic states, but we can see it here in our own capital, how in our case our President (but in other cases it could be parliamentary leaders, it could be specific individuals, former PMs, chancellors… there are various people across Europe who are doing it), for our own people, in our own society, how it works. To give you a specific example, and to finish up on this, what really helped us in showing how Russian hostile influence works in the specific case of the Czech Republic, was the activities of our own President who has been basically a traitor for Russia. What he has been doing for the past year is, because we have been able to expose it, and to show it to the public, this made it the topic of a domestic discussion. And I think this is something that in the UK could help out as well, because if you speak about foreign policy only maybe us are interested, but if it becomes a domestic political issue, it will be controversial like it is highly bipartisan in the United States right now. But it needs to be put in this way because there is no way going around that unless you start investigating, for example, because of parliamentary enquiries, what the Russians actually did during Brexit. And we have our own cases which we are doing in our own case. But if we don’t get to the bottom of it, they will do it again because it is very easy, and it is cheap, and it works.

EL: I will be very brief because I want to leave more time for these exit questions. In terms of Russian support, you’ve got the right (which likes the inaudible services) and you’ve got the left (which likes the anti-Americanism) and you’ve got what I call the “greedy middle”, which likes the business. And it is worse as you go South, that is true, but it is still not great in Northern Europe. I think that the key to deterrence and ending impunity, it is absolutely right, we need to be much tougher on people who take Russian money and I am trying to encourage the whips of all major political parties, to say to all the MPs, don’t appear on RT, and I want a consensus, on all the whips that that is not something an MP should do. Hopefully, RT published a list of all the MPs, or all the conservative MPs, who appeared and I said that immediately to the conservative Chief whip, “Please have a word with these people”. But we need to raise the costs of doing business with it; if you work for RT, that is not the beginning of your journalistic career – that is the end of your journalistic career. If you appear on RT that doesn’t mean people will buy your book, it means that nobody will buy your book. And we can do this will social ostracism. But we also need, and I will ask you all as your second bit of homework and finding out the only apology that RT has ever printed, is google the phrase “strategic counterintelligence” and look at the evidence that Michelle Fankiva (?) provided in various instances and so on. Her idea that counter-intelligence isn’t only the job of the counter-intelligence services but of a whole of society requirement. We used to do this. During the Cold War, we did this in this country also when we were worried about Irish terrorism. Everybody who spotted a bag that had been left at a station was acting as a kind of volunteer counter-terrorism or counter-intelligence officer. Anyone who was in a pub, in North West London, and someone passed a collecting tin with an Irish tricolour on it people saying “give something to the boys”, you reported that and it would help. And a lot of people did that, and I think we can do it. As Jack has said, we have eviscerated our own capabilities, we were really good at this stuff during the Cold War. And after 1991, in an astonishing act of national self-harm, we just fired and side-lined and discouraged people from having this sort of capability. We had a narrow silo of people who were interested in Russia as Russia and knew all about what was going on, and obviously this is a good thing to know about, I am not against that… But the idea of analysing Russia as a threat and analysing Russian capabilities, in Jacob’s brilliant phrase, as akin to multinational crime gangs – that was a career killer in most government services, in Britain and in many other countries as well. And inaudible try to rebuild that very fast and it has proven very expensive and difficult.

RF: Excellent answers. Before we actually move to the gritty centre, as you called it, let me just make one addition to what you said Edward. In fact, on the continent, the right-wing likes the Americanism as well. The hard right, in most continental countries – maybe with the exception of Central Europe but even there to an extent – radical conservatism has turned quite anti-American. Germany used to be like Britain where for most of the traditional right anti-Americanism was completely taboo after World War II, but that has changed. The real hard-right wing party that we now have in Bundestag is probably Putin’s best friend in Germany.

JL: The narrative on this in Central Europe is look, actually Russia is tough on terrorism – they have defeated ISIS, first. Second, they are tough on migration, they don’t care, they don’t take them in, they just shoo them. Those are narratives which actually do work in many Central European societies, at least. And they are both lies, actually, but they do work as narratives.

RF: Exactly, and we haven’t even mentioned France yet. Alright. Gentleman right straight ahead of me, and then you.

Q5: Thank you very much for speaking to us. My name is Rohan, I am a student at King’s College London. I’ve heard fake news today described a lot of things – rumours, disinformation, lies, propaganda, political agendas… Mr Lucas mentioned rubbish as well. So, is fake news everything that is not true? Between yourselves, can you establish a clear and objective standard for 2017 if there is one? And where the blurred lines are, particularly in terms of political agendas? And why for instance some things such as “info wars” are regarded highly as a complete conspiracy theory inaudible even in the mainstream, even though they overlap a hell of a lot. Thank you.

Q6: Inaudible Cornwell, member of the Henry Jackson Society and director of inaudible. As regards fake news, is RT only playing catch-up with the Anglo-American narrative? As in, the Anglo-American narrative has been responsible for the overthrowing of democratic elections in Chile, in Iran, throughout the world and disinformation has been there for many, many years. The ultimate conclusion is that weapons of mass destruction was the ultimate fake news, would you agree with that? Or have I been manipulated so much by the media that I am actually here asking this question?

RF: One more?

Q7: My question is how might we move from FN (fake news) to FN (full news)? And I have a background in social psychology and have done audience research into what you deem a broadcasting regulator since when I became independent. And I devised a category alongside a well-established inaudible called agenda setting and my category was agenda cutting. Now, agenda cutting does not refer to censorship, but it refers to processes whereby, for not fully-understood reasons, the whole news does not come across. I simply give one area example now and that refers to Zimbabwe.


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