'BARNEVERNET STEALS CHILDREN' AN ANALYSIS OF RUSSIAN INFORMATION WARFARE NARRATIVES IN THE CZECH DISINFORMATION MEDIA.

AuthorPavlikova, Miroslava
  1. Introduction

    Since the Ukraine conflict and Russia's interference (see for example Stojar 2015), information warfare has become a popular term in the media, government and academic worlds. While the Western approach to this type of warfare is more technicist, kinetic-based and war-oriented (Reichborn-Kjennerud and Cullen 2016), which might be illustrated by American author's dealing with Revolution in Military Affairs (Fucik and Koiz 2013), the Russian approach is much broader, combining technicist as well as a society focused one. Kier Giles (2016) points out that the 'next phase of Russian information warfare' is much more than just sowing lies and denial, as has been seen in the post-Crimea phase in the media. "Instead, Russian state and non-state actors have exploited history, culture, language, nationalism and more to carry out cyber-enhanced disinformation campaigns with much wider objectives" (ibid.). Therefore, contemporary society weaknesses and its exploit emerge to be an important tool for information warfare.

    This approach can be found in information warfare actors' framing of modern Western European states. They produce narratives of rotten Western European societies that deviate from traditional Christian values. From a sociological perspective, Russian information warfare actors operate with a concept of anomic society, which Emile Durkheim described (see Durkheim 1951). An anomic society suffers from weak norms and moral values. As Durkheim pointed out, it is typical for modern societies, where people cannot follow clear given moral values. Regarding the concept of post-truth society (see for example Corner 2017 or Lewandowsky et al. 2017), characterised by a decreasing of society's trust in media and information, Buckhingam (2019) talks about the alienation of society, its disengagement and the state of anomia. Not propagation of its values in the first place, but the sowing of apathy and chaos are the main objectives of the Russian information warfare (Schmidt 2014). These warfare actors are exploiting the concept of state of anomia, so they can gain strategic advantages with soft power to balance its country's scarcities of conventional power. Even Soviets preferred not to go head-to-head but preferred to exploit adversary's weaknesses not necessary in the technological realm, but societal (Adamsky 2011).

    For purpose of our research, we chose Norway as a representative of the ideal type of a modern Western society (according to Business Insider, Norway was marked as having the best quality of life in 2016), with its liberal society and advanced social welfare system. Freedom House (2018) graded Norway with the highest marks in all categories (Freedom rating, Political Rights and Civil Liberties). The country has robust anti-discrimination laws and protection for same-sex couples; a gay marriage law was adopted in 2008 (NBC News, 2008). Moreover, Norwegian gay couples have been able to marry in church since 2017 (The Local 2017).

    At the same time, the country might be, under framing of Russian information warfare, the model example of anomic society, with its cultural diversity, the chaos of values and immoral people.

    To specify, we decided to work with a case of the Norwegian children welfare system (NCWS) that has been resonating in the European media sphere for the last few years. Initiative EU vs Desinfo (2017) considers children welfare issues as an example for a narrative of the moral decay in modern Europe. Also Berzina (2017), studying Russian propaganda narratives of Nordic and Baltic countries, identifies children's welfare issues as one of them.

    A number of Russian state and non-state media outlets have portrayed the NCWS in a negative light and treat it as an example of an anomic society and an immoral culture. We assume that the tactic described by Giles (2016) as the exploitation of history, culture or nationalism is used to negatively frame how the NCWS functions.

    The article aims to examine how these specific and blended narratives are used in the Czech media sphere. This country was chosen because of both its vast media coverage of the NCWS and the noticeable presence of pro-Russian actors in the media space.

  2. Objectives and methods

    The text aims to identify narratives and sub-narratives connected to child welfare issues linked to the NCWS in the Czech Republic disinformation media sphere. We chose the Czech Republic because of an individual Czech citizen's experience with Barnevernet (Norway's central state child welfare institution) and the massive media coverage of her case in the Czech Republic, especially by the so-called disinformation media. We intend to examine how Russian information warfare actors used this incident in the Czech Republic's media landscape.

    First, we will define the characteristics of the working narratives using an inductive research method. Next follows the coding; sub-narratives are counted and classified according to their generalness or specificity, as well as other analysis-based attributes. The authors will subjectively interpret the messages of these narratives. However, standardised sociological coding will also take place. For coding, we will use a sample of news articles from the disinformation media in the Czech Republic. For the study, we chose media listed in "Database of pro-Russian Content" in the Czech Republic from the Czech independent investigative website Neovlivni.cz.

    The formulated character of general narratives was established using pilot research on a small sample of news articles with the analytic method of open coding. Information from secondary sources, like news articles about Russian information warfare topics of the NCWS and the usual narratives, were also used.

    We primarily identified history-based narratives, which were generally tied to historical grievances. As Giles (see above) notes, painful moments in history are a favourite weapon in Russian information warfare which can contribute to schisms in societies. We also identified the presence of narratives derived from anomic society characteristics, especially the lack of traditional moral norms with its chaos in sexual relationships.

    We identified the following working narratives for the study:

    1. Narrative of NCWS fascist or Nazi legacy;

    2. Narrative of Norwegian twisted sexuality and moral decay

    Usage of these two, which often appear in the analysis of narratives about modern European societies used by Russian information actors (analysed for example by EU vs Disinfo, StopFake or Counter-propaganda) is more explained below, especially with the help of secondary sources.

    The authors realise that there are limits of this research design, which could contribute to the distortion of outcomes. Chosen database of pro-Russian content by Neovlivni.cz might not be absolute and maximally objective, but authors considered web platform as the most comprehensive and used by credible platforms (for example Freedom House).

    Also, as it was indicated before, the label 'pro-Russian' alone might be confusing and inaccurate, because most of the sources probably do not have ties to the Russian state and remain only on the opinion support base or sharing of thoughts from sources with real links. However, contemporary data about Russian information warfare do not bare on strict relations between state and channel. In the age of the internet, actors sharing propaganda content do not have to be financially, personally or by any other way linked to the Russian state. They remain in the role of supportive proxies, so it is the most of platforms listed in Neovlivni.cz.

    Another limit is connected with phase 'disinformation media', which might be confusing and not accurate as well, but it is preferred in academic discourse right beside 'pro-Russian'. We decided not to use 'pro-Russian' because of the possible impression of a direct link to the Russian state. Our article will implement less suggestive labelling. However, more scientific research about the accurate designation of this kind of media must be done, especially by media and journalism studies.

  3. Russian view on the Norwegian child welfare system

    The negative view of the NCWS contrasts Russian traditional family policy and gender deviant Europe. In West-European society there is a crisis of the traditional family; feminism and same-sex marriage become more important. Consequently, the Russian approach to this policy is negative. Contemporary Russian identity politics is moving in a non-Europeanist direction (Riabova and Riabov 2017).

    These Russian traditional family policy values might be expressed in a negative attitude towards the LGBT community (see for example, Herszenhorn 2013), and they are also ensconced in some Russian laws. This is especially well illustrated by the so-called 'anti-gay' laws, whose existence is one of the notable manifestations of this trend (Wilkinson 2014, Springe 2016). In 2010, the Federal Law "On Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development" was passed by the Russian Duma. Two years later some specific amendments appeared, including 'propaganda' against 'non-traditional sexual relations', especially in relation to internet content. This Federal Law of the Russian Federation from 2013 states its purpose as "... the protection of children from information causing harm to their health and development and separate acts of the Russian Federation aimed at the protection of children from information propagandising the refutation of traditional family values." Therefore, it is children who should be primarily protected in the traditional family context. In the context of Western European liberalization of family policy, the Russian Orthodox...

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