Democracy in Danger

Saving the rule of the people — one episode at a time.

Disinformation Wars

Democracy in Danger / Episode 7

A Ukrainian flag floats amid the smoke at a pro-Europe protest in Kiev in November 2013. Before Russian-backed operatives sowed falsehoods and distrust in the last U.S. national election, Putin’s government trained disinformation tactics on Ukraine’s domestic politics and foreign relations, and practiced exerting its influence elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

Photograph via

Internet giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter aren’t just part of the disinformation problem — they are the problem, according to author Nina Jankowicz. Her new book, How to Lose the Information War, details Russia’s efforts to meddle in the affairs of other countries by turning the tools of free speech against democracy itself. In this interview, Jankowicz makes clear the stakes are high, but the solutions — regulation and education — are within our grasp. Join Will and Siva as they explore, with Jankowicz’s help, how the Kremlin has refined a concerted program of disinformation and cyber warfare to divide citizens in Estonia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic and other former Soviet satellites. Is this stuff really any different from age-old propaganda campaigns used by many governments? She thinks so.


About our guest

Nina Jankowicz is the Disinformation Fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. Formerly, as a Fulbright-Clinton public policy fellow, she advised Ukrainian officials on their communication strategies. Her broader research focuses on the role technology plays in the democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. Out last month from Bloomsbury Publishing, How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict is Jankowicz’s first book. Follow her on Twitter @wiczipedia.

She joined us from Washington by video conference in July. This episode was posted Sept. 1, 2020.

What we’re reading

By our guest

Learn more about How to Lose the Information War in this Wilson Center book launch event.

Jankowicz has published extensive analysis and commentary in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, Politico and other mass media. For a complete portfolio, visit her homepage.

In this recent piece in Wired, she argues that Facebook’s reported plan to shut down political advertising in the wake of a disputed election would be too little, too late.

And writing for the winter 2018 issue of the Wilson Quarterly, Jankowicz offers suggestions on how America might “invest in its own citizens” as a long-term strategy for fighting the spread of malign information.

From around the web

The day we published this episode, Facebook announced that it shut down 13 fake accounts used by Russian agents to recruit freelance journalists in the United States. The operation was intenced to hurt Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign with negative stories. The company acted on information from the FBI.

Take a deep dive on cyberwars, social media and the dilemma of internet regulation with these recent books: Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, by Peter Pomerantsev (PublicAffairs, 2015); Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet, by David Kaye (Columbia Global Reports, 2019); and, of course, from our very own co-host, the book about Facebook, Antisocial Media (Oxford, 2018).

George Kantchev writes last week for the Wall Street Journal about the political turmoil in Balurus, as that country grapples with post-election unrest and Russia’s long shadow.

You can also find out more in these Washington Post op-eds about Russia’s efforts to disrupt elections in France, in 2017, and Italy, in 2018, and what those countries did in response. Meanwhile, then–New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane has noted that the United States itself is no stranger to intervention in foreign elections.


A transcript of this show is available here

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