Finland is “winning the war on fake news” and its findings in this “war” may be crucial to Western Democracy, the CNN claimed.
In May 2019, in Helsinki, Finland at the Espoo Adult Education Centre, lecturer Jussi Toivanen, who is the Chief Communications Specialist at Finnish Prime Minister’s Office spoke about misinformation and “Russian propaganda.”
His PowerPoint presentation had slides with catchy titles such as: “Have you been hit by the Russian troll army?”
They showed methods used to deceive users on social media: image and video manipulations, half-truths, intimidation and false profiles.
Another slide, featuring a diagram of a Twitter profile page, explained how to identify bots: look for stock photos, assess the volume of posts per day, check for inconsistent translations and a lack of personal information.
Finally, it had the popular deepfake video showing Barack Obama talking various nonsense.
Jussi Toivanen’s course is part of a program of the Finnish government which has been on-going since 2014. Two years before Russia allegedly meddled in the US elections, thus Finland was ahead of the curve on Russian hysteria.
“Finland has faced down Kremlin-backed propaganda campaigns ever since it declared independence from Russia 101 years ago. But in 2014, after Moscow annexed Crimea and backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, it became obvious that the battlefield had shifted: information warfare was moving online.”
Toivanen, didn’t specifically say anything concrete, as cited by the CNN, he said that it was “difficult to pinpoint” the exact number of misinformation campaigns that have targeted Finland. Regardless, they nevertheless play on issues like immigration, the European Union, or whether Finland should become a full member of NATO.
Allegedly, Russian trolling ramped up in 2015, and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto called on every Finnish citizen to take responsibility and fight false information. That, of course, by itself wasn’t enough, so American help was needed.
Toivanen then said something that’s been becoming and more apparent – the targets of propaganda need to taught from very young age to only believe the Western propaganda, any other kind is inherently wrong and evil, but the US-fabricated one can’t possibly be fake news.
“It’s not just a government problem, the whole society has been targeted. We are doing our part, but it’s everyone’s task to protect the Finnish democracy,” Toivanen said, before adding: “The first line of defense is the kindergarten teacher.”
At the French-Finnish School of Helsinki, a bilingual state-run K-12 institution, training children to spot any alleged attempt by Russia to influence their fragile minds is taken quite seriously.
In Valentina Uitto’s social studies class, a group of 10th-graders were locked in debate over what the key issues will be in next week’s EU elections.
“They’ve gathered what they think they know about the EU election … now let’s see if they can sort fact from fiction,” Uitto said with a smirk.
The students broke off into groups, grabbing laptops and cell phones to investigate their chosen topics – the idea is to inspire them to become digital detectives, like a rebooted version of Sherlock Holmes for the post-Millennial generation.
The French-Finnish School partners with Finnish fact-checking agency Faktabaari. Together they create a sort of course frame for students from elementary to high school that would make them “media literate.”
The exercises include examining claims found in YouTube videos and social media posts, comparing media bias in an array of different “clickbait” articles, probing how misinformation preys on readers’ emotions, and even getting students to try their hand at writing fake news stories themselves. (Because articles in UK Media and US Media such as “WORLD WAR 3 ALERT” aren’t clickbait, at all).
“What we want our students to do is … before they like or share in the social media they think twice – who has written this? Where has it been published? Can I find the same information from another source?” Kari Kivinen, director of Helsinki French-Finnish School and former secretary-general of the European Schools, told CNN.
This approach, though, needs to be careful, since skepticism may ultimately turn into cynicism in students, and nobody would want that, you want them to only believe the targeted propaganda.
“It’s very annoying having to fact check everything, not being able to trust anything … or anyone on the internet,” said 15-year-old Tatu Tukiainen, one of the students in Uitto’s class. “I think we should try to put a stop to that.”
Finland, possibly following in the US’ footsteps is also “exporting democracy,” but they are doing it through experts, who are teaching others how to spot alleged Russian misinformation.
“They knew that the Kremlin was messing with Finnish politics, but they didn’t have a context with which to interpret that. They were wondering if this meant they [Russia] would invade, was this war?” Jed Willard, director of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Center for Global Engagement at Harvard University, who was hired by Finland to train state officials to spot and then hit back at fake news.
Russia, of course, maintains that it doesn’t interfere in any domestic politics, but who believes that anyway.
Regardless, Willard’s class appears to be taking a page from Ukraine’s democracy: in his class, focus is shifted on developing a “strong national narrative” rather than attempting to even debunk alleged false claims.
“The Finns have a very unique and special strength in that they know who they are. And who they are is directly rooted in human rights and the rule of law, in a lot of things that Russia, right now, is not,” Willard said. “There is a strong sense of what it means to be Finnish … that is a super power.”
Of course, there’s skeptics, who consider that specifically teaching children to only believe Western propaganda isn’t enough. Social Media platforms should do everything they can to filter and censure the content, so that it doesn’t even have a chance to approach any citizen of the “democratic” world.
“Facebook, Twitter, Google/YouTube … who are enablers of Russian trolls … they really should be regulated,” said Jessikka Aro, a journalist with Finland’s public broadcaster YLE.
“Just like any polluting companies or factories should be and are already regulated, for polluting the air and the forests, the waters, these companies are polluting the minds of people. So, they also have to pay for it and take responsibility for it.”
Aro’s first open-source investigation back in 2014 looked at how Russia-linked disinformation campaigns impacted Finns.
“Many Finns told me that they have witnessed these activities, but that it was only merely new digital technology for the old fashioned, old school Soviet Union propaganda, which has always existed and that Finns have been aware of,” Aro said. “So, they could avoid the trolls.”
In the last Finnish elections officials saw no “symptoms” of Russian meddling, and according to Toivanen that means Finland has become a difficult target for the alleged Russian trolls.
“A couple of years ago, one of my colleagues said that he thought Finland has won the first round countering foreign-led hostile information activities. But even though Finland has been quite successful, I don’t think that there are any first, second or third rounds, instead, this is an ongoing game,” Toivanen said.
“It’s going to be much more challenging for us to counter these kinds of activities in the future. And we need to be ready for that.”
Thus, a more proactive approach is needed, and look forward to it.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Arranging the Narrative: Mainstream Outlets In Rush To Hide Links Of Nazis Detained In Italy With Pro-Kiev Forces In Eastern Ukraine
- Constructing the Narrative: Google Uses Special Measures To Limit Spread Of Non-MSM News