Brussels, 24 June 2024

Meet the Georgian activists fighting anti-Western disinformation

In 2023, the NGO Strategic Communications Center- Georgia received funding from EaP CSF to help Georgian CSOs strengthen their capacity to identify anti-Western disinformation and fight back against it. Interview was provided by Erekle Shubitidze, Executive Director for Strategic Communications Center- Georgia. 

Could you briefly describe Strategic Communication Center- Georgia’s mission?

“Strategic Communications Center – Georgia” is a Civil Society Organisation specialising in delivering quality Strategic Communications and related discipline trainings and services in Georgia and beyond. The mission of the organisation is to support the development of Strategic Communications discipline, to develop and advance counter disinformation and foreign interference and manipulation techniques, and deliver cuttingedge knowledge, skills, and support to governmental and non-governmental sectors in the development of their communication capabilities.

Consequently, through supporting effective communication and counterdisinformation strategies, the organisation aims to support Georgia’s integration into the European and Euro-Atlantic structures. Since our organisation was established, we have actively engaged in researching the information environment, enhancing media literacy, raising awareness about StratCom and supporting governmental bodies in dealing with disinformation and hybrid threats.   

Why is it so important to counter anti-Western disinformation??

Humans are born with freedom of choice. We make choices on an everyday basis that affect us, our family, and our friends. Our choices determine our future. Disinformation interferes with our decision-making system and inserts variables that most likely drives us to make decisions beneficial for the source of disinformation, against our own interests.  

The way disinformation is used by various state and non-state actors is especially dangerous for democracies, where people are heavily involved in politics and decision making. Disinformation has the potential to create false perceptions and incentivise citizens to act upon them. Consequently, if unattended, disinformation forces citizens to make uninformed decisions against their own interests which harms them and their society at the end of the day.  

We see many such examples emerging in countries of the European Union. However, countering anti-Western disinformation is especially critical in emerging democracies aspiring to become part of the Western structures. In such cases, disinformation can have catastrophic consequences right away. In emerging democracies disinformation, if unattended, can lead to the loss of foreign policy aspirations, pro-Western trajectory of the country and finally, even damage human rights and freedom of speech. Consequently, every responsible citizen of the democratic world should be aware and should be equipped better to make the best-informed decision on an everyday basis. 

What are some of the ways to flag misinformation?

There is no one sure way or silver bullet that can be used to identify or protect oneself from disinformation. Information Influence activities most of the time are less concerned with outright “fake news” and lean more into exacerbating preexisting biases and emotions. It is no coincidence that most of the time when we hear about disinformation we hear about emotional topics like migration, family values and religion. It is thus used to strengthen our long-standing viewpoints and such information is rarely challenged by the human mind. Therefore, the number one way to protect oneself from information manipulation of any kind is to be aware of the threat and be aware of the vulnerabilities our brain has. When we conduct basic media literacy course for school students we try to deliver the following advice: 

  1. Always remember that some people have vested financial and political interest in deceiving or misguiding you. 
  2. If the information is truly sensational it will be talked about by all news agencies and not only fringe ones. 
  3. Always try to check information with at least two trusted sources. 
  4. Learn more about the biases our brain has and become more aware of the threat.  
  5. Always remember that in democratic world individuals should take responsibility for making their own, informed decisions. Therefore, make sure that decisions you make are well researched and founded on facts.  
          How can CSOs build their capacities to fight against disinformation??

          The threat of disinformation is too large and too uncontrolled for any one country or organisation to be able to successfully eradicate. Furthermore, the information threats are not a temporary problem but a constant one  for as long as there is access to information. Hence, we believe that it is critically important for CSOs to build networks and exchange information, techniques, narratives and cases with each other. Furthermore, it is also important to build strong relationships in the areas of training and capacity building. Techniques such as quality Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) are a rare resource for CSOs, and efforts are needed to make it available for more professionals interested in countering disinformation. The idea behind building a Disinformation Firewall community was to answer the challenges that all of us in the community are facing. Building networks, sharing information, sharing technology, research, and training opportunities among CSOs is essential for us to be able to optimize the immense work that is necessary to counter disinformation and make a difference.  

          Furthermore, currently a lot of effort is being devoted to fact checking but not enough effort is made on pre-bunking disinformation. Factchecking has immense importance for tracing the origins of disinformation, finding links and informing the public about it. However, the “primacy effect” is notoriously hard to alleviate. Therefore, in coordination with factchecking, it is important to concentrate on pre-bunking techniques and campaigns and making pre-bunking as common of a tool for countering disinformation as fact checking. I think this is something CSOs can do well with the help of donors.

          Find more about Strategic Communications Center- Georgia on their website  

          This project benefitted from support through the EaP Civil Society Forum Re-granting Scheme (FSTP) to Members and is funded by the European Union as part of its support to civil society in the region. Within its Re-granting Scheme, the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) supports projects of its members that contribute to achieving the mission and objectives of the Forum. Grants are available for CSOs from the Eastern Partnership and EU countries. Key areas of support are democracy and human rights, economic integration, environment and energy, contacts between people, social and labour policies.