Russian propagandists are constantly reinventing reality

Propagandists have proven to be highly adept in constantly reinventing reality in autocratic countries, particularly Russia, where the fact that reality has constantly debunked the Kremlin’s claims could not wholly shake Russian confidence in its war on Ukraine.

“Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially, the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia”, wrote George Orwell in his novel 1984.

This was meant to symbolise a fictional world where those in power are highly successful in engineering their own reality, even when substantial changes occur that would normally be expected to shake the population’s trust in their own propagandists.

Unfortunately, real life has proved to be surprisingly similar to Orwell’s fictional world, as Russian propagandists have been trying to explain events on the battlefield in Ukraine.

On February 26, 2022, two days after Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, a (now removed) text on the Russian state news agency Ria Novosti declared Russian victory, praising the Kremlin for restoring Russian unity and ending Ukraine’s existence as an “anti-Russia”.

However, total Russian victory soon became impossible, so there had to be a pivot to a new narrative. After all, based on Russian propaganda, the people at home should have been expecting their soldiers to come home soon.

So, an old narrative about NATO provoking war with Russia via its Ukrainian “subject” was refurbished. It was, in fact, NATO and its support for Kyiv that was leading to “military escalation”. In April 2022, RT head Margarita Simonyan, a key pillar of Russian propaganda, declared on Russian state TV that the country was “waging war against NATO”.

Managing expectations

The situation worsened for Russia when Ukraine launched a highly successful counter-offensive in the autumn of 2022, regaining significant lost ground. Propagandists were confused, blaming security services, Kremlin advisers, and the lack of general mobilisation. They, however, quickly returned to their previous claims about Russia being at war with NATO rather than Ukraine. “Brussels” was accused of prolonging suffering by supporting Ukraine and the West. Some claimed the war was lasting longer than expected because Russia “greatly cares about civilians”.

Elsewhere, actors who claim to support peace—such as Hungary’s government—claim that Ukraine has done “what it possibly could” on the battlefield; it could not advance. It stopped being sovereignbecause it could only function off Western money, so it should return to the negotiating table.

As such, expectations have been constantly redrawn by Russian or pro-Russian propagandists regarding the war. From a three-day battle, the expectations were changed because of an alleged fight with NATO or because Russia was “taking care of civilians”. Setbacks were explained by Russia not putting everything it had into the fight.

As of June 2023, the majority of Russians (73 per cent) support the actions of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine, according to a poll by Levada, and 54 per cent said the “special military operation” was progressing successfully.

However, only 40 per cent supported continuing military actions—down from 48 per cent in May. Even if we consider measuring public opinion in Russia extremely challenging, data suggest that the complete failure of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine still appears to be a success to most Russians, even though many want an end to the war.

Hearts and minds

It must be noted that the West is currently in an information war with the Kremlin for the hearts and minds of the people, especially Western populations; support for governments aiding Ukraine is not collapsing.

The Kremlin meanwhile is playing a long game, waiting for the exhaustion of the West and its abandonment of Ukraine. This war is deeply asymmetric. The West has barely any access to Russia’s information space, while Russia can (mostly) freely broadcast its messages in Europe and North America by circumventing sanctions or via intermediaries.

Additionally, populations of authoritarian regimes might be more resilient to war exhaustion due to their restrictive information environments.

Overall, the West needs to invest more into improving the resilience of its populations, not via repression but—instead—education, media literacy, and proper strategic communications by governments.

This is, of course, going to take longer than it took for the Kremlin to turn Russia into an autocracy. Investment in these strategic actions must start flowing right now.

Originally published here

Banning TikTok is Just the Beginning

The hype around banning TikTok on official government devices shows us that liberal democracies are beginning to take Chinese influence seriously, and the appeasing economic policies of the last two decades are soon to be a thing of the past. Are we late to wake up? Time will tell.

The debate regarding TikTok concerns something other than the app’s quality or what people use it for. It is about how China collects data to achieve an even larger scale. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is taking the AI competition seriously. To surpass its competitors, it needs a considerable quantity of data, through which the aggregate of useful information can help make its artificial intelligence more and more successful. One would argue that China has the advantage of having the largest population on Earth, so having a suitable aggregate at home is a plus. It is also clear that government-sponsored mass surveillance has been happening in China for a while. With the help of CCTVs, apps, different consumer tech devices, biometric mapping of citizens, and Internet surveillance, the communist country constantly monitors its citizens. Although the results are probably auspicious, China needs even more data about foreigners to perfect its AI project.

On the other hand, having an app on devices with sensitive information also going through can be dangerous for lawmakers. The apparent cybersecurity threat has forced EU lawmakers to enact new
legislation to ban TikTok
on government-issued devices. Similarly, sensitive information can be tracked from the websites of organizations, schools, companies, and basically anything. American researchers showed many companies embed TikTok trackers called pixels on their sites. They studied many sites ending in .edu, .gov, and .org, only to find that most used these trackers without being aware of additional risks. It also entails that TikTok can track you even if you don’t use the app.

In the United States, the issue regarding TikTok was already raised by the Trump administration, but only at the end of 2022 did they finally come up with legislation to ban the app on government devices, plus many schools and states followed the example of the federal government.

Picking up on the American example of model legislation to regulate TikTok, the Consumer Choice Center launched a campaign in January to initiate similar rules and laws in the European Union. Raising awareness was imperative that the people understood the threat behind Chinese influence in Europe. Through different solutions, from a partial ban to complete divestiture of TikTok, the Consumer Choice Center has also looked at other types of Chinese economic influence and the diversity of Chinese tech that influences our everyday lives.

There is still much work to be done if Europeans want to avoid making the same mistake regarding tech dependence on China as they did in the case of Russian gas. Any energy, technology, or economic dependence will entail dire consequences for liberal democracies. As countries like Australia and the UK have already moved forward in restricting and banning other Chinese technologies, the European Union and the member states should consider taking further steps if they don’t want their citizens to be surveilled by a foreign nation.

We obtained the letter: TikTok to be removed from all European Parliament devices and content blocking will also be introduced

Media1 has obtained the letters sent to all 705 MEPs on this issue.

The Directorate-General for Innovation and Technology Support writes to MEPs that cybersecurity concerns have been raised on the usage on the use of TikTok social media platform, in particular regarding data protection and collection of data by third parties.

In view of these risks, the President of the European ParliamentRoberta Metsola, and the Secretary General, in alignment with other institutions have agreed to

  • that TikTok application must not be used or installed on Parliament’s corporate devices, such as mobile phones and tablets,
  • TikTok applications that have already been downloaded and installed must be uninstalled as soon as possible.

Access to the service will also be technically blocked

This measure applies as from 20 March 2023 to Parliament corporate devices enrolled in Parliament’s mobile management application. As of this date, web access to TikTok through our corporate network, i.e. on corporate desktops and laptops, will also be blocked.

There is also a Hungarian connection to the case

As previously reported by Media1, the respected international free market lobbying organisation Consumer Choice Center, which has a Hungarian manager: former MP Zoltán Készwrote in a January resolution to EU policymakers that it is time for the EU to step up its action on TikTok “before it is too late”.

Read the full text here

Made in China – Sold in China

For decades, we have been used to seeing almost everything we buy with the label ‘Made in China.’ It was convenient for every party, consumer and seller alike. However, lately Chinese tech products have caused quite a lot of concern in the free world.

TikTok is one of the most talked about issues. The app’s popularity casts a shadow on the danger it poses regarding data collection and the apparent link between the company and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). No surprise that several governments have already taken steps to limit the use of the app. First, the United States banned TikTok on government devices, followed by some universities doing the same. Canada is likely to follow, and many people hope the slow and bureaucratic EU legislation will pass something similar.

Another concern is the Huawei 5G network, which some EU countries have already given up. Still, most member states depend on this Chinese technology, although many alternative service providers come from the free world. 

Lately, it has caused uproar in Australia to learn that the notorious Chinese companies Hikvision and Dahua provided surveillance cameras to government buildings. According to James Paterson, the opposition spokesperson for cybersecurity and countering foreign interference, the Commonwealth was “riddled with CCP spyware,” and he urged the government to remove them immediately. Some months ago, the same took place in the United Kingdom, where these two companies were banned due to human rights issues and possible espionage.

The latest news that has caused worry has come from Android users in China, where the cell phones of popular Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi, OnePlus, and Oppo Realme collect a massive amount of data via their operating systems. Although, as of now, we only have information that this concerns only phones in China, we must be cautious about using similar Chinese tech products and services. Otherwise, we will end up having our data ‘Sold in China.’

Originally published here

The debate on whether to ban Tiktok is not about free speech

The intellectual debate among classical liberals on the necessary or unnecessary limits of free speech has been going on for quite a while. It is mostly accepted that liberal democracies must be the guardians of free speech and help other countries achieve the same end. However, a new, 21st-century version of liberal democracy entails admitting that when one has authoritarian regimes to counter, one must have security measures to defend our democracies against totalitarian countries.

We at the Consumer Choice Center believe in free speech and tech innovation and in being free from surveillance from rogue regimes. Free trade with private companies is also vital to world trade. Still, when it comes to the Chinese communist regime owning a part of a company, it worries us to see that our liberal democracies may be harmed by the possibility of European consumers’ devices being spied on.

Obviously, I am referring to the popular social media platform TikTok here. Due to national security concerns, governments in North America are taking serious steps against the Chinese app. In the USA, it has been banned by the federal government for their employees on work-related devices, and also some universities have followed suit. Canadian authorities are equally considering a similar ban for the very same security reasons. Should the European Union do the same? If it intends to ensure the security and privacy of its citizens, liberal democracies in the EU cannot deny this new reality of the 21stcentury.

Read the full text here

Why does the Chinese Communist party want my credit history?

Citizens and consumers in liberal democracies should fear the rise of the CCP

I was one of them.

One of the 147 million Americans who had their information compromised in the epic 2017 Equifax data breach. It was one of the largest hacks in history, leaking the names, social security numbers, addresses, and credit history of over a third of the country.

At first, we were led to believe it was the result of sloppy cybersecurity and greedy hackers who wanted credit card data.

But now, according to last week’s indictment from the Justice Department, we know it was the handiwork of four members of China’s military.

To think it was a few renegade black hat hackers with expensive tastes was upsetting enough, but now to learn it was the long arm of the Chinese Communist party? This is serious.

What do the Chinese communists want with my credit history? Is it to spam me with emails or offers in the mail? Or, worst-case scenario, to add me and millions of my fellow Americans to their ‘social score’ database so our behaviors can be ranked and judged? 

Most of the fallout between liberal democratic nations and China in the last few years has been over governmental policy: trade spats, currency manipulation, and theft of intellectual property. These high-level issues were problematic enough, and now it seems China’s desire to exert control over the US is directly affecting the people. 

We’ve known for years that Chinese Communist Party censors have made creeping demands in Hollywood: Tibetan monks replaced with Celtic ones in Marvel’s Doctor Strange, Tom Cruise’s bomber jacket with the Taiwan flag removed in the Top Gun sequel, and cut scenes in Bohemian Rhapsody to obscure that Freddie Mercury was gay.

When Quentin Tarantino refused to edit his latest movie, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, to please Chinese censors, they pulled its release date. It was eventually shipped to Chinese cinemas, but it’s uncertain if portions of the film were cut.

China has the world’s second-largest movie market, making it no surprise that with Chinese capital comes more aggressive demands for censorship. Will they allow any criticism of Chinese communism, or even praise of liberal democracies? What about a potential movie about the brave Hong Kong protesters fighting for their liberties?

Mike Pompeo recently warned American governors to be wary of any dealings with institutions or businesses with significant ties to China. 

‘They’ve labeled each of you friendly, hardline or ambiguous,’ he said. ‘And, in fact, whether you are viewed by the Communist party of China as friendly or hardline, know that it’s working you, know that it’s working the team around you.’

These revelations about the insidious nature of the Chinese government come at a critical time. 

The Hong Kong protests continue after months of mounting force from police. Fears of the spread of the Coronavirus have emboldened Chinese authorities to fully exercise their authoritarianism: canceling the Chinese New Year, a complete lockdown of Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, and arrests of doctors and health workers who shared their concerns about the virus on social media.

The Chinese people, at least, are beginning to wake up to the antics of their government. Li Wenliang, a doctor who was threatened by police for ‘fear mongering’ about the Coronavirus, which later took his life, was labeled a hero for his efforts to spread the truth about the disease. But it will take many more acts of courage to cause a total paradigm shift in the minds of the people.

From the theft of credit information to entertainment censorship and brutal authoritarian crackdowns, it’s clear that citizens and consumers in liberal democracies have something to fear in the rise of the Chinese Communist party. 

For our part, we must continue to champion our free societies as bulwarks against the authoritarian regime. We must fight for the ideas and principles that have helped make liberal democratic countries great stewards of our liberties.

Originally published here.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Consumer Choice Center Launches 21Democracy Project to Counter Authoritarian Influence

Consumer Choice Center Launches 21Democracy Project to Counter Authoritarian Influence

Washington, D.C. – Today the Consumer Choice Center is announcing a new initiative aimed at countering the influence of authoritarian regimes on consumers around the world.

The goal of 21Democracy is to highlight the risks for consumer choice, privacy, human rights, national security, and intellectual property in the light of rising authoritarianism across the globe.

“The narrative of authoritarian regimes unduly influencing consumers and policies in liberal democracies is ongoing and we must be persistent in opposing it where possible,” said Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the D.C.-based Consumer Choice Center.

“Whether it’s the actions of Putin’s Russia or the Chinese Communist Party, we cannot compromise the underpinnings of our liberal democratic systems in the face of authoritarian regimes.”

Articles on this theme have already been published in Politico EU and La Tribune.

Specifically, the Consumer Choice Center is deeply concerned about the threat the Communist Party of China (CPC) poses to consumers, particularly invasions of their privacy and intellectual rights. 

Too many western politicians and media figures have turned a blind eye to the threat that some Chinese companies, often de facto controlled by the Communist Party, pose to their constituents.

While we acknowledge the importance of global trade as a driver for consumer choice and prosperity, we also see the risk of this principle being hijacked by bad players. (Self-)Censorship in western movie productions and 5G networks being controlled by an authoritarian surveillance state are just two worrisome examples. 

Liberal democracies such as the EU, Canada, and the United States need to find a common approach to protect citizens from the rising influence stemming from authoritarian players such as communist China.

21Democracy aims to serve as a networking, awareness, and activation platform for combatting this threat to freedom. We will speak up when others stay silent, we build bridges between policymakers, business leaders, and government from liberal democracies, and we will lobby for policies that preserve freedom and individual liberties.

To begin these efforts, the Consumer Choice Center joined activists from Students For Liberty in Miami at the Atlanta Hawks vs. Miami Heat game last week to protest the NBA’s silencing of dissent of its athletes and coaches when it comes to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. 

They chanted in solidarity with the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and spoke with fellow attendees to disapprove of the league’s position on political dissent in Hong Kong.

More information about 21Democracy can be found on the website 21Democracy.com.

Yaël Ossowski
Deputy Director
Consumer Choice Center

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. 

We represent consumers in over 100 countries across the globe and closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

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