The Rey Juan Carlos University hosted this conference to analyse disinformation and hoaxes on social networks in various fields

IDITESDE Conference: "Disinformation as a support for narratives"

photo_camera Jornadas IDITESDE: “La desinformación como soporte de las narrativas”

Hoaxes and fake news have been around since time immemorial, although there is a period in history when they were particularly relevant and when more advanced disinformation techniques were developed: the Cold War. According to recently released files from the UK's National Archives, from the end of the Second World War to the late 1970s, British governments subsidised Reuters and the BBC to disseminate 'fake news' against anyone sympathetic to the communist regime or the USSR.

These declassified documents show how British government officials falsified documents. For example, the Information Research Department (IRD) falsified a press release to discredit the communist-backed World Federation of Democratic Youth.

Over the years, these techniques have not only evolved, but with the advent of the internet, they have become much more difficult to control. This is why it is important to know how to identify and stop them.

Jornadas IDITESDE: 鈥淟a desinformaci贸n como soporte de las narrativas鈥

This was the intention of the Institute for the Development of Intelligence in Terrorism, Security and Defence (IDITESDE), organiser of the conference "Disinformation as a medium for narratives", which was held on 30 June 2021 at the Rey Juan Carlos University. The conference was attended not only by the precursors and directors of the Institute, Ana Isabel D铆az Delgado and Manuel Pablo Robledo Torres, but also by analysts from different fields. The moderator was the journalist Francisco J. Girao, director of SegDef.

At 9:00 am, the day began with the presentation by Diaz Delgado, who emphasised that the main objective of IDITESDE is to collaborate with governments and institutions to promote the culture of security and defence, as well as to contribute their knowledge in both areas.

The first round table was attended by Lieutenant Colonel of the Cavalry Mr. Francisco A. Mar铆n Guti茅rrez. Francisco A. Mar铆n Guti茅rrez, whose presentation was entitled "NATO and disinformation: a phenomenon that never comes alone". In it, Mar铆n Guti茅rrez said that disinformation, for NATO, is "a hostile and complex act" whose objective is "to confuse or deceive".

"NATO is faced with multifaceted and hybrid threats, including disinformation campaigns and malicious cyber activities," explained the lieutenant-colonel. He also mentioned the lack of transparency in several areas, including information, on the part of some nations in the world, such as China or Russia. "If there is no transparency, security is compromised", said Mar铆n Guti茅rrez, who also stated that NATO is committed to maintaining communications based on facts, not on hoaxes or fake news.

The international organisation's approach to combating disinformation is twofold: the first is to "understand what is happening in the information field and the impact of communications on different audiences", he said, and the second is to "actively participate to respond strategically to this phenomenon". The idea is to adapt with new techniques and tools to the new threats.

NATO and other organisations and institutions, such as the European Union, combine disinformation with subversion to weaken political independence, territorial integrity and collaboration between entities such as those mentioned above. Mr Mar铆n Guti茅rrez concluded his presentation by stating that NATO is strengthening and will strengthen national capacities to deal with this problem.

Jornadas IDITESDE: 鈥淟a desinformaci贸n como soporte de las narrativas鈥

The next speaker was the Infantry Captain of the Information Operations Regiment, Mr Juan Pablo Bolivar, whose presentation was entitled 'Information, the new paper bullets'. To begin his narration, Bolivar explained that the main mission of an information operation is 'to make the perception and will of the adversary favourable, and to try to avoid the counter'. In other words, the mission of these operations is to make the potential adversary give up for our benefit.

"One of the information activities is PAP (presence, attitude and profile), i.e. approaching in a certain way and with a certain profile to achieve the objective," said the infantry captain, who also spoke about the importance of emotionality and simplicity in communicative acts, as it is possible to influence the adversary to, for example, lay down arms. "The truthfulness of messages is essential; information is transversal, from the ordinary citizen to the highest command," said Bolivar.

Speaking about current events and disinformation, he said that "the new paper bullets are the social networks", which are the channels through which disinformation spreads. Asked about the latest information operation carried out in the national territory, the infantry captain concluded that it was Operation Balmis.

Jornadas IDITESDE: 鈥淟a desinformaci贸n como soporte de las narrativas鈥

Navy Commander and analyst at the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies (IEEE) Federico Aznar Fern谩ndez-Montesinos was the next speaker on the first panel of this conference. His presentation was entitled "The Battle of the Narratives". His first sentence was a declaration of intent: "War is not a military activity, it is politics, which sometimes uses military means. The aim is not to win the war but to win the peace, that is to say, to repair everything that is broken.

With regard to the stories that are built around the phenomenon of disinformation, Aznar Fern谩ndez-Montesinos explained that these "do not describe reality, but create it". As an example, he cited the narratives of terrorism, which are used to attract followers, recruit soldiers or obtain goods, among other actions.

"The narratives seek to widen the gap in society and take advantage of crises," said the naval commander, who concluded by saying that more important than what is said in the phenomenon of disinformation is "what is not said, the silence".

To conclude this first round table, the legal department of the Association of Victims of Terrorism was represented by the lawyer Carmen Ladr贸n de Guevara, whose presentation, entitled "The Legal Truth", focused on the stories that the terrorist group ETA has tried to inculcate and those who continue to support it today.

According to the lawyer, her aim is to impose a narrative in which the group is not the executioner, but the victim. "In the corridors of the National High Court, an ETA leader who was on trial told me that whoever told the story would win the battle, and he was right", recalls Ladr贸n de Guevara, who maintains that it is important and necessary to "tell the truth of the story in order to win".

Jornadas IDITESDE: 鈥淟a desinformaci贸n como soporte de las narrativas鈥

"The same thing happens with tributes to released ETA members, it is a way of continuing to feed their narrative", said the lawyer. "The value of the victims' testimony and the legal truth is fundamental. One is more convinced by the heart than by reason", she concluded.

At the second table, five other analysts were present, who continued on the theme of "fake news" and the importance of stories and counter-stories.

The first to speak was political scientist and doctor of international security Enrique Arias Gil, whose presentation was entitled "The emerging dimension of fake news: network-centric and memetic warfare", in which he explained that memes and manipulated information are the order of the day.

"We are in a memetic, virtual and anti-systemic war; a type of psychological warfare," began Arias Gil, who warned of the speed at which memes mutate and replicate on the internet. "In recent years they have been a resource for propaganda of all kinds, whether it is the elections in the United States or the war in Syria," said the political scientist, and the goal is clear: to take control of the dialogue, subverting the enemy.

To combat disinformation at these levels, the European Union has created a European centre of excellence to counter hybrid threats, although according to Arias Gil, they have been "ineffective", especially during the pandemic. "It is important to invest more resources in memetic warfare. In addition, citizens must remain active to prevent the spread of disinformation," he concluded.

Islamologist and analyst specialising in jihadist propaganda and narrative, Ms Dalila Benharoume, was the next speaker with "Truth and Post-Truth among Shahada (Islamic Martyrdom) Scholars in the West", in which she spoke about the perception of Islamic concepts in the West.

"Westerners understand the term jihad as terrorism, holy war or maximum effort, and this is not the case." The analyst explained that in order to understand the concept of "jihad", one has to go back to the foundations of Islam, the Qur'an and the Sunna: "Jihadism cannot be analysed from the Western worldview, it has to be analysed from the Islamic worldview, that is, from the model according to which Muslims perceive reality," Benharoume said.

In the book Shahih al-Bukhari, it is explained that the nature of jihad is armed struggle, and although the term may mean "effort", as a concept it implies struggle. Interpretation of the sources of Islam has a lot to do with radicalisation, i.e. a child who has been taught a literal interpretation will be more likely to become radicalised. "The jihad narrative only stimulates certain attitudes in its audience, for a young person to become radicalised they must have a predisposition," said the Islamologist, who warned that one way to avoid radicalisation is through Islamic reformism.

The next speaker was Mar铆a Inmaculada L贸pez, professor in the Department of Social, Work and Differential Psychology at the UCM, with her presentation "Social and individual variables involved in the belief and dissemination of disinformation", in which she explained, from a psychological point of view, the dissemination of disinformation and how it threatens democracy.

"The main problems with this phenomenon are that it makes it difficult for citizens to make informed decisions, undermines trust in institutions and encourages social conflict", said Lopez, according to whom everyone's individual responsibility is very important to put an end to fake news and hoaxes. "92% of Spaniards aged between 16 and 65 get their information from the Internet, especially from social networks. In other words, 92% of Spaniards are potential victims of misinformation," he said.

Jornadas IDITESDE: 鈥淟a desinformaci贸n como soporte de las narrativas鈥

Regarding people's ability to interpret information, Lopez said that when exposed to information relevant to each social identity, this information is often interpreted in a biased way and reinforces initial predispositions. "When a person is confronted with evidence that contradicts their beliefs, ideally those ideas are updated or modified, but identity carries more weight than veracity," he said. Solving this problem, he concluded, requires "verification, media education, individual responsibility and a change in incentives".

Eduardo Zamora, a former military officer with more than ten years' experience and now working for the private sector, witnessed a telematic connection and was in Mali at the time of the connection. Zamora explained how jihadist groups use disinformation to recruit followers.

"Ethnic minority groups also use it, as well as the government, in its actions on the ground," said Zamora, who also assured that the direct consequence of this disinformation is the rushing of military decisions, which generates obvious political instability. "There is no transparent information", said Zamora, who compared the unstable narratives to those used by supporters of Catalan independence when they said "Spain is stealing from us". "In Mali, something similar is happening, they are taught that France is the bad guy in the film, it's a kind of mantra," he said.

Concluding his speech and asked about the perception of the Spanish army in Mali, Zamora said that the Spanish army is "better regarded" than other European countries, although there is still some reluctance to trust.

Jornadas IDITESDE: 鈥淟a desinformaci贸n como soporte de las narrativas鈥

The final presentation was made by Colonel Pedro Valdivia of the Carabineros, also online, from Chile. In his speech, Valdivia explained the stories in the context of social protest.

"We have to identify the problem," began the colonel, who assured that in Latin America there is an asymmetric war that "wounds the state in its heart." "The key to disinformation is the manipulative and directed use of the media, and its objective is to create realities and stereotypes based on personal interests," said Valdivia.

Thanks to new technologies and social networks, this phenomenon of disinformation has become a "pandemic problem", according to the colonel, because information "can be infinite, it can go round and round and change form".

Jos茅 Ignacio Castro Torres, a colonel in the Spanish army, left the conference reflecting on the basic ideas that had been extracted from all the speakers. "It seems unbelievable that, living in the information age, disinformation is the order of the day. It is a phenomenon that destabilises society. We need to understand and participate in stopping this disinformation and promote critical thinking," he concluded.

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