The role of fake news is one which has evolved over the past years and in the case of Russia and the war on Ukraine, fake news has evolved past attempting to gain an influence abroad and has begun to play a large role at home. That role, is to successfully gather support through a time where citizens will be likely to feel the hits of Western sanctions. While efforts abroad have been utilized to gain some form of political edge, at home disinformation is serving a similar role to gather support instead of opposition. In statements made by President Putin and the Kremlin regarding a justification for the invasion of Ukraine, Putin has been quoted as ordering the invasion with:
The purpose of this operation is to protect people who for eight years now have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime. . . To this end, we will seek to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation
While fake news has been largely used abroad, the domestic introduction of fake news lies in pushing a narrative in order to gain both support for policy that might not be voted for or enacted through legislative means and to act as propaganda against the coverage of other media. The use of the de-Nazification example is simply a means for the neglect of democratic institutions and also a free press, by taking control of the narrative without facing any challenge. And challenge is exactly what the disinformation is attempting to achieve. In an effort to convince the Russian people of a proposed de-Nazification justification to invade Ukraine, the play is to gather support from the people in order to further enact on the policy with support of the Russian people. This example and further plan is revealed through the Kremlin’s statements in response to criticism of the Ukrainian invasion from other surrounding former Soviet era satellites. The statement from the Kremlin essentially responds to the government’s response without context, in an appearance that the other countries are acting as aggressors, in order to gather support behind the foreign policy of “de-Nazification” as they pose a “threat” to the Russian people. This is troublesome for several reasons, the first being that the disinformation is now attempting to maintain power and support from the citizens through false pretenses whereas if the disinformation were not present, there may be opposition. Manipulating the public opinion is dangerous to democracy since without public outcry, the government can proceed to do so as it pleases without any real contest.
The result of public support means that it is much harder to hold the government accountable and maintain those which hold office today in their positions. Disinformation is not only allowing authoritarianism to be able to exist but it is also allowing for the authoritarianism to be welcomed and uncontested with open hands. While the disinformation presents a threat domestically, it also plays a role into eroding the democratic institutions and press from other countries as well. In an effort to block the false information from influencing citizens, the European Union has banned Kremlin sponsored news media to prevent the outreach that the Russian government has in gathering support and influencing the politics of other countries. The role of a government backed or filtered media in the eyes of disinformation is a new and controversial topic, but also a topic which has become an issue worldwide.
In a study conducted by Rebecca Weitz-Shapiro and Matthew S. Winters over holding accountability, they have reported that
from an original survey experiment in Brazil, we show that all citizens react negatively to corruption allegations but that
more politically sophisticated respondents are the most likely to discern between sources of information that differ in their
What the excerpt is providing, is evidence for how citizens actually react in their view of the government based on the perception of credibility alone, and with a government sponsored/back news media the only credible information is coming from that very same government if they have no access to other outlets. The Russian model is not just dangerous because it intentionally becomes involved in other countries and their elections, but also because of the proven role that it has demonstrated in pushing support for policy through the use of false narratives exceeding propaganda.