Pandemic propaganda and the global democratic crisis

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused more than 4.5 million confirmed deaths worldwide, and 300,000 deaths and counts, which has overwhelmed the health care system, economies and society that have been hit hard. This is a global crisis that poses particularly unique challenges for democratic countries. There is clear evidence that staying away from society is crucial to narrowing the epidemic curve. Many governments have taken measures to impose strict blockades and even surveillance measures on their citizens. For democratic countries, the implementation of such draconian measures, even if only temporarily, will put pressure on democratic institutions, which may undermine public trust in the protection of democratic freedoms. Facing these unprecedented challenges, all kinds of malicious actors hope to use the crises through pandemic propaganda and false information. It is no coincidence that the world's democratic polities have become the targets of such vicious influences for global authoritarian and violent extremist advocates.

For example, although COVID-19 was traced back to Wuhan in November 2019, and because of the inaction of the Chinese government, it covered everything and almost guaranteed the global spread of the virus. Therefore, the Communist Party of China (CCP) Officials actively advocated conspiracy that the US military was the source of the virus and participated in a wider "soft power" movement to show that they are leaders in public health in the world and threatened "economic coercion" against the countries that criticized ". The Chinese Communist Party's aggressive attitude hinted at the aspirations it might have after the pandemic. At the same time, the Russian government has widely adopted multilingual propaganda activities in order to follow its customary script and disseminate false and provocative messages aimed at inciting discord and distrust in Western democracies. At the other end of the threat spectrum, violent non-state actors from extreme right-wing extremists to jihadists have identified the epidemic in different ways as a sign or catalyst for the collapse of democratic or free market systems. Regardless of whether it is explicitly stated or implied, the theme linked to the current vicious impact of the pandemic on Western countries is that democracy, as a government system and a set of values, cannot cope with the outbreak of COVID-19.

Therefore, it is important not to view pandemic propaganda and false information only through the lens of COVID-19 foam. It is also the latest anti-democratic evil tool aimed at weakening the “Trinity Trust” among the democratic population: social trust, trust in authority / expertise, and trust in democracy. Understanding the pandemic propaganda and false information in this way highlights the importance and urgency of fighting the pandemic, especially considering the enormous pressure that democratic institutions will face in the coming months. All of this is at a time when democracy has declined globally for more than a decade. This phenomenon is known as a global democratic decline. A recent series of Rock Wars articles argue that a new framework is needed to understand the threat of propaganda and false information in order to improve strategic policy discourse and decision-making. The COVID-19 crisis underscores the relevance of this appeal. In many ways, this article is a response to this appeal. It argues that the vicious influence of anti-democracy is a useful framework that can be used not only to understand the threat of propaganda and false information, but also to develop strategies that complement the broader national security and foreign and public policy goals.

Torrent influence and the need for a new framework

In the next few months, Heli will severely test the inter-agency relations of the US government. Three are particularly important. First, the weakened workforce due to disease and social distance constraints will make the COVID-19 pandemic put tremendous pressure on all sectors of the inter-agency in the United States. Agencies responsible for responding to vicious influences, such as the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department ’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) and the broader intelligence community, will need to respond to a large number of pandemic-related activities, with too many staff and budget constraints. International allies that are essential to effectively monitor and respond to threats of malignant impact will respond to their own resource and personnel constraints, further weakening overall efforts.

Second, the COVID-19 pandemic and severe government response to the need to mitigate its impact. With the pressure on the health system and the soaring unemployment rate, this will lead to major social unrest and fiscal unrest. The world is facing an economic recession, which may deteriorate into an economic recession. Fear, stress and uncertainty will have a profound psychosocial impact on individuals and communities around the world. Studies have shown that extreme stress can impair cognitive function, making it more difficult to convert from "automatic" thinking to "contemplative" thinking (ie, more time and energy), thereby making people more susceptible to cognitive bias. These conditions will increase the vulnerability of individuals and collectives, and may expand the scope of resonance between malicious and non-state propaganda and false information.

Third, the wave of activities aimed at the vicious influence of the November presidential election has not yet completely erupted. In view of the practical and symbolic meaning of free and fair elections in the government ’s democratic system, elections are a high-value, high-impact goal for actors with vicious influence, especially the turmoil caused by the 2016 presidential election. The Russian government and pro-Kremlin entities are targeting democratic primary elections, which shows that new tools, strategies and troll farms have been added to the database. Coronavirus has caused delays and cancellations of certain Democratic primary elections, and because the possibility of a pandemic remains a threat to public health throughout the fall, there is growing concern that the integrity of the presidential election is threatened.

The overall picture is deeply worrying. As the capabilities of the United States and its allies may be overstretched and distracted, and the crisis caused by the pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerability of the target population, the opportunities used by malicious national and non-state actors will mature. Under such circumstances, the United States will be exposed to the threat of propaganda and false information.

Policy document Persuasion or extinction assesses the US ’s response to the threat of foreign malignant impact based on one year. Interview with officials of the State Council and exclusive access to GEC internal evaluation. The policy document recognizes that the situation is both a product of institutional history and contemporary decision-making, and therefore provides a historical background for the assertion of National Security Strategy 2017 . The efforts to oppose competitors ’use of information are weak and scattered. The efforts of the United States lack sustained attention and are hampered by the lack of trained professionals. The historical feature of the US government ’s foreign policy and national security information department is that there is a century ’s trend of intermittently establishing, dismantling and rebuilding its central mechanism. However, since 2017, we have been working hard to strengthen inter-agency legislation and strategies Policy and operational capabilities. For GEC, this includes codifying it into law, appointing Lea Gabrielle as a special envoy, and implementing internal strategies to manage GEC ’s growing responsibilities, budgets, and personnel as a U.S. inter-agency and multi-sector The overall coordination mechanism. Partners. More broadly, the introduction of a series of legislative reforms in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act to enable the US inter-agency to adopt a full-spectrum approach is an important step in the right direction. Make efforts to address specific threat vulnerabilities, such as appointing Shelby Pierson as the highest elected security official in the United States to improve coordination at the federal, state, and local levels.

But for decades, the US government China ’s domestic and foreign-backed volatility policy information departments need time to overcome. Therefore, it ’s no surprise that The policy document views inadequate efforts to retain institutional knowledge and limited mechanisms for strategy and communication coordination as key gaps in the current U.S. situation. In addition, in an interview with State Department officials, many expressed the urgent need for a new overall framework to Understand the scope of state and non-state vicious threats against the United States and its allies. Without such a framework, the risk of counterattack strategies may be surrounded by certain threats (such as jihad), while other threats are inadvertently given development Space until the focus and resources are shifted late (eg Russia, China, far right). In addition, it is necessary to understand the ways related to the threat of vicious influence and formulate countermeasures, which need to be maintained with broader national security and foreign and public policy objectives Synchronization. The framework of the anti-democratic malignant effects seems to meet these requirements widely.

The strategic logic of the anti-democratic malignant effects

As described in a recent article by the Royal United Service College, it is best It will target various states and non-state propaganda and The threat of false information is understood as anti-democratic influence activities, because they have the strategic logic of common intentions and effects. As shown in Figure 1, the anti-democracy's vicious influence attempts to erode the "trinity of trust" of the target population: social trust (ie, to others Trust), trust in authority / expertise and trust in democracy. Of course, vicious influence activities inevitably have other short-term goals, such as terrorist propaganda, which may attempt to recruit or instigate, while false information from state actors may Attempts to divert or distract the audience. Although this framework is complementary to understanding those more recent goals, it focuses on broader social psychology and strategic impact, which is particularly relevant in the medium to long term. It is useful to consider examples.

Figure 1: The strategic logic of anti-democratic influence activities. (Photo provided by the author)

Whether strategically or accidentally, the target of anti-democracy's vicious influence is the "Trinity of Trust" in the population, which is essential to the operation of democracy. From jihadists to racist far-right groups, violent extremist propaganda against democratic groups not only attempts to differentiate and fight against identity differences, but also emphasizes the deficiencies of the democratic system and cannot justify its violence. In a 2013 article in Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula Inspire the author forced Western Muslims to realize that democratic commitment is a commitment to everyone but them, because “you belong to Islam It ’s enough to classify you as an enemy. They do n’t consider our citizenship and the childhood we spent nearby. ”The central narrative of the racist far-right propaganda that spurred mass murder in Norway and New Zealand is that liberal democracy is different The process of destroying white people, white people ’s heritage and future is called “great substitution”. . "Violent extremists have used the opportunity to take advantage of the COV-19 crisis. For example, the al-Naba newsletter of the Islamic State described coronavirus as God ’s punishment for" idola worship "countries (such as secular democracies), while extreme right-wing extremists Responding in various ways, from blaming minorities (ie, eroding social trust) to

this broad strategic logic is also evident in the impact efforts of antagonistic state actors. This highlights how the pandemic will Exacerbating the systemic weaknesses inherent in democracy. When the Russian Internet Authority used false information during the 2016 presidential election to instigate opposing protest groups against hostile political groups, its broader purpose was to weaken social trust. The Chinese government hired scholars and politicians 'S efforts have clear short-term goals, for example, advocating talking points and policy goals approved by the Chinese Communist Party. However, as time goes by, this choice of scholars and politicians may also reduce public trust in authorities and experts. National actors are particularly active in using COVID-19 for malignant impact activities. For example Chinese officials have been actively trying to reduce trust in American experts and authorities by advocating dirty conspiracy theories, and in a broader context trusting the ability of democratic countries to respond to crises. Pandemic propaganda and false information in front of the Kremlin tried Eastern European audiences instigated anti-NATO attitudes, and a report from the European Union highlighted how Russia ’s disinformation efforts have caused mistrust and exacerbated the health crisis in Western countries. In March, Chinese agents adopted a similar strategy, which was a pandemic. During the period, dissemination of information in the United States aimed at causing panic and mistrust among Americans. China, Russia, and Iran have largely adopted similar propaganda spoken-advocating anti-American conspiracy theories, emphasizing the so-called incompetence of Western reactions, and While praising each other ’s responses while refusing to treat transparency as a small politics, this reflects in many ways

the framework presented here is not only useful for understanding a range of threats, but also for the impact of such activities on the target population over time. The potential impact is useful. Studies supporting the model show that If it goes on, the target population may be more susceptible to polarized narratives, which provide bipolar explanations and solutions to their perceptions of the crisis. For example, consider the rise of populist leaders whose narratives usually refer to A small and “pure” constituency related to the idealized history, and the constituency must overcome hybrid tribes and corrupt elites. The weakening of the “Trinity of Trust” in the population may also lead people to non-democratic forms of government, even more extreme In the context of politically motivated violence, the support for attitudes is increasing. In addition, because anti-democratic propaganda and false information often take advantage of existing vulnerabilities, it may expand over time This vicious influence resonates with the scope of people. This underscores the importance of actively resisting the vicious influence of anti-democracy, especially during crises when people ’s vulnerability increases. After all, even before the spread of COVID-19, the world Democracy within scope is on the decline.

The global democratic recession when the crisis broke out

Since 2006, in sharp contrast to the past three decades, the number of democratic countries in the world and the degree of freedom have Was dropped. A recent "Economist" Intelligence Department Democracy Index report stated that democracy is "retreating" globally. The Freedom House report responds to this finding, which shows that a 13-year decline in democratic politics has resulted in a net decline in the key indicators of democratic health in 116 countries, while net growth has improved in 63 countries. Although the failures of the second and third wave of democracies, especially in Africa and Asia, caused this drift, the most disturbing trend may be the established, prosperous first wave of democracies' decline in freedom. The “Trinity of Trust” within the world ’s democratic countries is often fragile, and the commitment to democracy itself is suffering. For example, a poll conducted by Pew Research on 38 countries found that only about a quarter of respondents were “loyal democrats” and nearly half were “unfaithful democrats” "Another 13% support non-democratic forms of government.

The situation is simple and clear: the global democratic recession is declining towards a democratic depression. To aggravate the insult, the decline of democracy is accompanied by the rise of global authoritarianism. However, it is wrong to think that this renaissance of authoritarianism and the spread of the vicious influence of anti-democracy led to the downturn in democracy . On the contrary, the most destructive power suffered by the cause of democracy is self-inflicted. Years of politicians told voters that certain democratic commitments and freedoms need to be diluted or temporarily suspended in the name of anti-terrorism in the name of democratic systems and procedures. Perhaps there is no doubt that even in the most prosperous and mature democracies, faith in democracy It is also weakening cynicism for undemocratic reforms. Larry Diamond, a leading democracy scholar, sees the reduction in per capita income and weak restrictions on administrative power as the main drivers of democratic vulnerability. Given the global economic weakness and the need to take severe measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, these considerations may now be particularly important in a global pandemic. Please be assured that evil state and non-state actors will continue to use influence actions to opportunistically exploit loopholes, especially the disparity between democratic commitment and reality. On the other hand, Diamond's research points out that supporting the international environment is essential for improving the resilience of democratic countries. With 2020 becoming a key year in the fight against the COVID-19 virus and global democracy, the question is what should the United States and its allies do?

Persuasion or extinction [19659002] Although pandemic propaganda and false information constitute a vital public health threat, this article believes that these actions are also aimed at destabilizing democratic society and exacerbating the dysfunction of democratic institutions. Part of a broader anti-democratic influence activity. This is of great significance to practice. First, the framework provides multi-sector practitioners with an overall paradigm that brings together established psychosocial and strategic effects and the vulnerability of these harmful impact activities to exploitation. Therefore, it is not a method of "prank", but a more influential and influential plan, and an operation and strategic plan is made with the aim of action against the vicious influence that occurs. Second, government officials should focus on pandemic propaganda and false information, not only an attack on public health, but also an attack on democracy in their speeches. The more they know about the international allies, the private sector, the media, civil society, and the public, they will systematically and continuously strive to weaken the “Trinity of Trust” of democracy, and these sectors will be more capable of identifying threats,

echoing The recommendations outlined in the earlier assessment that the United States ’efforts to respond to the threat of propaganda and false information will benefit from strategic guidance, whose intentions are broadly similar to those of the Reagan administration, can respond appropriately, and point out those who intentionally or unintentionally expand their vicious influence . The National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 75 clearly outlines a broad set of interlocking principles, intentions and goals to synchronize messages and actions across departments. NSDD75 detailed a comprehensive and flexible agenda to coordinate the inter-agency coordination of the US government when the Reagan government shifted from a “containment” posture against the Soviet threat to “retreat”. Whether such documents are specifically formulated to counter COVID-19's propaganda and false information or against the broader threat of anti-democracy's vicious influence, strategic coordination is the key mechanism for achieving a more consistent and isolated approach. The development and dissemination of "new" NSDD75 will also help to improve communication and coordination and avoid information-type schizophrenia in various inter-departmental institutions that respond to rolling crises.

Finally, democratic countries around the world need to establish a united front against these anti-democratic enemies. First, this may be largely symbolic and temporary. However, as time goes by, a common understanding of these threats is crucial, which not only allows intelligence and knowledge to be shared, but also allows messaging and operations to be more coordinated on the basis of global efforts. In this crisis, democracies have the opportunity to demonstrate transparency and accountability (especially when they are hurt), and show that a free and open society is actually the most capable of responding to crises that require fact-based and evidence-based strategies. Policy decision. It is precisely because of these weak values ​​and practices that authoritarian regimes like China, Russia and Iran are inherently disadvantaged. Their ruling elites instinctively prioritized self-protection, censorship and propaganda, rather than harming their own people (the victims they are most vulnerable to), and even opposed COVID-19 in the world.

It is inevitable to make mistakes. Along the way. The biggest blow to the credibility of global democracy has come from the mistakes of its own government and its leaders. As Wallace Carroll, the former deputy director of the Office of War Intelligence, wrote in his special book Persuasion or Extinction in 1948: It was not conducted on two roughly parallel linear fronts Fighting, but fighting 360 degrees throughout the circle, and those who stand by in linear wars sometimes hit the most dangerous and convincing blows. "At present, all democracies in the world can do something and have publicly joined Australia ’s request to conduct an independent investigation into the origin of COVID-19 and the transparency of the CCP ’s initial response. If Chinese officials’ excessive wording is enough to scare other democratic countries Openly supporting Australia ’s appeal, the world can expect the Chinese Communist Party ’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea, the suppression of democracy advocates in Hong Kong and various other anti-democratic movements. Democratic actors feel entitled to act.

Haroro J. Ingram is a senior researcher of the George Washington University Extremism Project and a member of the RESOLVE network research advisory board. Together with Craig Whiteside and Charlie Winter he co-authored ISIS Reader by Hurst (UK) and ] Oxford University Press [19659032] (United States). Twitter: @haroro_ingram

Picture: Adam Singer

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