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Richard Moore

FCO Political Director

Part of World Press Freedom Day

3rd May 2018 London, UK

You’re not entitled to your own facts

Pat Moynihan famously said, ‘everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.’ Those words have never been more poignant. We’re living through an era where disinformation increasingly cascades through our newsfeeds and across our airwaves. The concept of truth, a fundamental building block for developing consensus and shared understanding is under attack.

Disinformation is the sharing of false information with the intention to mislead. It’s not new. Dezinformatsiya was the Russian term used by Soviets as they sought to consolidate Lenin’s power after the Russian revolution.  A “special disinformation office” was set up in Moscow in 1923.

Russia is not the only state who deploys the tactics of disinformation, but they have been one of the most active and brazen. The Russian State has deliberately injected falsehoods into social and traditional media on a range of issues to obfuscate the truth, support its foreign policy and to undermine countries it perceives as opponents by attempting to exploit divisions.

We have seen disinformation campaigns aimed at a number of our international partners in the last few years. The Russian State’s usage of disinformation re-emerged in the run up to and during “The Night of the Bronze Solider” riots and subsequent cyber-attack on Estonia in 2007. There was a surge of disinformation activity around the annexation of South Ossetia, Georgia in 2008 too. Ukraine was subject to a number of concerted campaigns in the run up to the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and has continued to be subject to a wide range of disinformation activity that has been well documented. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania continue to be subject to ongoing disinformation efforts that are delivered through Russian state controlled media channels and social media. And there have even been attempts to influence outcomes in recent elections in Europe and the US.

More recently, the Kremlin has been using disinformation campaigns around the chemical weapons attack in Douma and the assassination attempt in Salisbury. The Salisbury attack saw the UK become the focus of a sustained disinformation campaign that saw over 30 different conspiracy theories sown by the Russian State directly or through its proxies.

The Kremlin uses a range of tools in its disinformation campaigns. Institutions and spokespeople peddle deliberately false narratives, state media amplifies these and overseas entities are used to spread them far and wide. It’s not been unknown for hidden payments to be made to journalists to produce content and fake evidence is manufactured and displayed on fake news sites. State sponsored social media accounts and bots pump out these fake stories at scale, in an effort to sow confusion.

So what can we do about it?

Firstly, it’s important to note that the primary audience for most Russian State disinformation remains the Russian people.  The wider aim of generating coverage and conversation in “the West” is often to plant seeds of doubt and to obscure behaviour not consistent with international norms.

The most effective way to combat Russian disinformation in the short-term is to expose Russia’s tactics and in the longer-term to educate key opinion formers and media organisations on how Russian disinformation is deployed. The good news is that this is working, increasingly people are aware of the tactics and sceptical of the messages they receive. This means that many false narratives gain little traction.

Countering disinformation is critical to diplomacy. Without shared understanding, international cooperation will become increasingly difficult. We, along with our partners and allies, have to fight to ensure that facts are established, that disinformation is countered and that obfuscation is met with clarity.

A resilient free media remains critical to protecting societies from the effects of disinformation campaigns. The UK will continue to support free media because we believe it helps to preserve free societies and empower free people.

2 comments on “You’re not entitled to your own facts

  1. “Russia is not the only state who deploys the tactics of disinformation, but they have been one of the most active and brazen.”
    “ONE OF?”

    After events in Ukraine, they have surely slipped down the league table.

  2. Gosh! Where do we start in dissecting this little gem or ‘beauty’ as another US politician might say….. I must say that your job description as “political director” strikes up the image of a soviet commissar publishing ‘pravda’…. Well, your sort of truth anyway. But let us not even get sucked into two minute hates directed at a defunct regime which no longer exists. We’ll look at scientific fact which is missing rather a lot at the moment regarding the Salisbury incident. I see that Marcus Sedwilius has been before the people’s representatives to declare that there are no suspects..https://amp.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/may/01/no-suspects-yet-in-skripal-nerve-agent-attack-mps-told?__twitter_impression=true….. I didn’t think that he was investigating the case himself so surely that should have been the police informing the progress on their investigation. But these are strange times. And WHO needs CCTV anyway? It often doesn’t seem to be much use to us in these type of cases. It doesn’t work or isn’t in the right place unlike DS Nick Bailey who thankfully just happened to be in the area…… Anyway – facts – what about the Salisbury consultant who wrote the letter to The Times about only three patients being affected and a few other little gems?…. Salisbury ‘open for business’ on 16/03 after a thorough baby wiping session and the effectively closed a month later for deep cleaning whatever you fancy and how much was leaked? 100g!!! Oh no that was a typo ?…. A bit of a dodgy fact zone, don’t you think? So many leaks – so many crumbs. How many different ‘conspiracy theories’ ? have leaked from the investigating authorities about how this event happened? I know, I know…..but we want to hear from the ‘political director’. We know that you are all for clarity no matter what some might say…. http://www.ozcankeles.org/moore-conflation-obfuscation-turkeys-coup-159/ and indeed we challenge you to do so…..

    I am sure that you made every effort (strenuously) to ensure that no GBR born jihadi was able to whisk himself through Turkey with gay abandon to fight for Islamic State who we oppose (strenuously) of course in every way, shape and form….. just not as very quickly as others ?

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