Opinion Festival (Arvamusfestival) 2021 - Verbindungsbüro Estland
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2013 marks the beginning of the very first Opinion Festival (Arvamusfestival). Thenceforth, the event has envisioned to unite people with different opinions and new ideas as a way to come together, discuss and debate important topics - ranging from global defence to environmental issues. The mission and general aim is to raise awareness and improve the culture of discussion by establishing a mutual platform, empowering people to share insightful and meaningful ideas. Arvamusfestival stands out as being one of the few events where individuals from all domains become united - extending from state institutions and universities to non-governmental organizations and citizens. The festival of 2021 took place on August 13, 2021 in Paide.
The Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) organized a discussion together with the Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association (EATA) in the area of “Truth and Justice”. The name of the debate was “The 21st century information war - why and how it is held and when have You become an information warrior?”. The moderator was Marica Lillemets and panelists Peeter Tali (Deputy Director of NATO StratCOM COE and member of Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association), Hannes Krause (Head of Strategic Communications at the Estonian Government Office), Andrus Padar (Member of the Estonian Defence League) and Vladimir Sazonov (Associate Professor at the University of Tartu and Senior Research Fellow at the Estonian Military Academy).
Today, information warfare can be classified as a form of modern warfare. Ultimately, an information war appears to be an innocent and friendly form of communication, simply to share ideas or memes - however, this perception is strongly misleading. At its core, an information war is a skilled manipulation strategy which aims to take control of people in order to shift their current attitudes. It is facilitated through narratives, myths, symbols and rituals that are made up of false information yet all come across as realistic and exciting. The main aim is to distract individuals and further emphasize on creating mistrust in state institutions by endangering both the state and human security. An information war does not have one particular or distinct target group. Nonetheless, it creates detrimental consequences and harms a large number of individuals. In the recent decades, such manipulation has been expanding towards Estonia, Europe and the USA, with the ruling attacks initiated mainly from Russia, and the People's Republic of China.
The current panel aimed to unravel the questions of both how and why an information war takes place in the 21st century as well as how a regular person is likely to become an information warrior. The discussion started off with an introduction to a newly published book on the influence and strategies of Russia, to broadly generalize the nature of propagandization. It was concluded that the culture of fear is strongly related to an information war which is additionally characterized by a subconscious influence on individuals’ decisions - unfortunately often difficult to recognize.
Importantly, according to Gerasimov doctrine, only one fourth of all modern war strategies is military - meaning other tactics include diplomacy, economy and culture as well as information and technology. During an information war, the potential aim of Russia may be to strategically damage international organizations and unions such as the UN and NATO, or create confusion in society - namely calling democracy into question. Here, the importance of NATO lies within planning processes which is facilitated by its clear and definite understanding of non-traditional modern warfare, varying from cyberspace to cognitive superiority.
By further widening the horizons, it became clear that information clutter and noise are complex and overwhelming not only for individuals but even for states. Therefore, countries should provide their residents with appropriate activities and tools with the focus of effective protection. A guiding cyber technology known as Desinfotest (https://desinfotest.ee/et/mis-on-desinfotest/) consists of 20 questions that on one hand test the respondent’s overall knowledge and on the other, teach them how to cope with cyber dangers - a tool developed by the state. Additional guidance is given by Propastop (https://www.propastop.org) and Go Viral Game (https://www.goviralgame.com/books/go-viral/) which puts emphasis on deceptive information regarding COVID-19 pandemics and allows to take a step in the shoes of an opportunistic manipulator.
Another question concerned the complexity of creating trust in a situation where different camps have already formed - for instance political views or opinions about the current vaccination system. Fundamentally, trust can only be built on the core values that already exist in a society - these must be strongly protected. The key term here is “strategic communication”, alluding to the unity of words, images and actions for a mutual goal. However, direct experience to showcase the reality should be provided once opinions have already been influenced by manipulation.
The general trend of misinformation over the decades has become entertaining which increases the likelihood of it being perceived as reality. After all, humans are emotional which not only gives them strength, but also makes them vulnerable towards manipulation. Essentially, education plays an important role in order to develop critical evaluation of mass media and to cease confirmation bias. Knowledge should be incorporated from the grassroots level - at this moment, focusing on arguments rather than emotions should become the focal point.