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Defence Ministry warns of Russian ”information war”

Recent events in Ukraine have led to an increase in false reporting, Defence Minister Carl Haglund said on Friday. His comments came as a researcher for Finland's defence forces accused Russia of operating so-called “troll farms” – armies of internet users spreading pro-Russia messages on news stories and social media.

Carl Haglund.
Puolustusministeri Carl Haglund. Image: Yle

The Defence Minister Carl Haglund has warned against the spread of Russian propaganda and misinformation in news reports and online. Speaking to Yle on Friday, Haglund described the mainstream Russian media’s portrayal of events surrounding the Urkaine crisis as “far from impartial or objective”.

Haglund made his comments after a researcher for Finland’s defence forces claimed that Russia is operating so-called troll farms – armies of internet users hammering out comments on news stories and social media in support of Russia, on issues such as the EU sanctions, and whether Finland should join Nato.

“One troll can put out 50 to a hundred posts a day. Add in blog writings, and times that by however many people are doing it, and you have a huge mass of information," Saara Jantunen of the Defence Forces Research Institute says.

Both the west and Russia have long histories of trying to influence public opinion by managing the flow of information, during the Cold War, for instance. Finland was in a sense caught between the two ideologies during that period, when its own media was tightly controlled and led by a policy of Russian appeasement.

Disinformation confusion

But some researchers claim that modern techniques for disseminating information online via comment pages and social media mean that the current propaganda battle has been taken to a new level.

Jantunen says the result is confusion even among Finnish media and decision-makers over what information is real and what is disinformation.

Haglund claims that the Finnish media has at times picked up and run with erroneous reports on the conflict, that first appeared in the Russian press.

He also described a ratcheting up of critical online posts, which he insists twist his and other ministers' words every time there's a pronouncement related to Russia.

Haglund called for vigilance and appealed for people not to believe everything they read and see online.

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