Baltic ‘elves’ take on Russian ‘trolls’

EPA/VALDA KALNINA

Russian and Lithuanian landmarks close to the site of a wire fence being built near the Sudargas border crossing in Ramoniskiai village, Lithuania, 05 June 2017. Lithuania has begun construction of the wire fence on its' border with Russia's Kaliningrad as the region braces for Russian military drills along the border.

Baltic ‘elves’ take on Russian ‘trolls’


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Three Baltic countries – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia – have decades-long experience addressing Russian disinformation. Their fight recently moved online with fake-news and hacking attacks.

The Kremlin-funded Sputnik News, for instance, started operating in all three Baltic languages last year. Alongside digital trolling, Sputnik is trying to fill the gaps left by traditional broadcast media, which mostly bypass the younger, non-Russian speaking generation in the Baltics.

As reported by Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, there is an increasing use of “hybrid trolls” – hired trolls that communicate particular messages as determined and directed by a particular state – as opposed to individual social media spammers who merely intended to shock or threaten.

This has triggered the emergence of Baltic “elves” — volunteer internet users dedicated to tracing trolls and challenging Russian propaganda online.

According to DW, Ricardas Savukynas started the elves network following events on Maidan Square in Ukraine that included clashes between protestors and pro-government forces of the Russian-backed President Victor Yanukovych.

“Russian propaganda works in three stages,” Savukynas told DW. It first victimizes the subject, then polarizes him and finally, empowers the person by showing that the “USSR was better, our government is occupational, and so on,” he said.

“It happens gradually, over years,” added Savukynas. “Our aim is to stop the progression of stages.”

“Now, we see signs of the Kremlin increasingly recruiting Lithuanian speakers abroad to spam indistinguishable comments from bots. They receive small amounts of money, we found, when Kremlin recruiters mistakenly contacted some of our ‘elves’.”

But the real danger of Russian disinformation is when it targets the poorest and most vulnerable in Baltic society.

“The most important thing in fighting propaganda is to fight our nation’s problems,” said Savukynas, “When people feel enabled to solve their problems, they can never be victimized.”

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