Latvian elves against the trolls of the Kremlin

A former employee of the Latvian Ministry of foreign Affairs Ingmars Bisenieks decided to assemble a team of “elves” who will fight with fakes and propaganda spread by the “Kremlin trolls” in the Latvian electronic mass media.

He hoped that the work of the action team will initiate a social movement to improve the media literacy among compatriots. Latvian “elves” will draw on the experience of Lithuanian Internet activists who have to use their designations slang term “elfing”, that appeared in Runet in 2009.

— How did you come up with this idea?

— In the early 90s, I, as a University student, I began to notice some of the propaganda tricks in the Newspapers and on television. After the events in Ukraine became evident that the attack on the portals is not only a personal view of some commentators, they are coordinated and organized. I began to follow the news about the trolls that came on this phenomenon recently in the Russian and English languages. The main goal that I set, is raising awareness, raising the awareness of people, mostly young people who use the Internet daily. The activity of the initiative group of enthusiasts who could quick and acceptable way to reach people with relevant information would be a good thing.

Pointless to fight with each comment “trolls”, it’s physically impossible and not necessary, because they aim to hurt, to provoke, to arouse some emotion. You need to constantly give people recommendations show you where you can acquire knowledge about what they are interested in listed on the global level, media and research centers, of which there is no question that fake, “fake” whether it is institutions, organizations that can be trusted. Information is available in the Internet sea, but a simple user will not go and look for her.

You any technique developed recommendations for the people you recruit? How should they react and in what places, under what posts, after any review in any media or social networks they should leave their answers?

— Yes, the basis is. There are actually two types of communication. One is the finished result to the public, verified information, which the administration of our group on Facebook, three or four people can publish texts, videos and audio files. But with a group there is a problem: for better communication, better outside it to close. Has already become noticeable that you start to use vs people who want to join it.

— They are anonymous?

— People can choose to leave under their own names or not. We do make can’t, it’s all volunteers, nobody pays. Maybe most even do not want to publicly name his show, and that’s understandable. Now I’m thinking of how to convey information to all, for the General public, without revealing our associates. And with them we will normally communicate through e-mail or a hidden group on Facebook.

— You will verify information your volunteers are going to distribute?

— Originally, probably, Yes. We all need to gain experience.

— That is the main requirement for volunteers is factchecking.

Yes. And about that, how to spot “trolls”, I can give is to read the future “elves” material which I gathered: what characterizes their actions on the Internet, what types of applications they choose.

— Tell us at least partially.

Is one of the methods — flood, or that for the sake of flooding: to start blasting the topic with this nonsense, not related to the topic of the question, just a long review. And you can see that this is intentionally done. Or, for example, are trying hard with a neutral news to turn the conversation to some politically sensitive issue. If “Troll” join the discussion starts aggressive behavior, rudeness, personal insults. Best of all, to people not involved in the discussion with them. Stupid maybe, but only if the person starts to argue with the so-called robot, element software, which is under the key words automatically puts the prepared text.

— You intend to work only on Latvian portals?

— We have already had the opportunity to chat with the Lithuanians, they started early, with the 2013-2014 year. Their experience is interesting, but there are other bordering countries Russia, where experiencing the same problems: Estonia, Poland, Finland. In the future it would be interesting and useful to establish contacts with colleagues in neighbouring countries. The problem is that we have so far, the division is by language and comments on same Delfi, the Latvian and Russian versions differ. It would be interesting to take on Russian portals, but it will be more difficult because the Kremlin propaganda already has done its job, there are stereotypes, myths to fight harder. I find it easier to start with the Latvian audience to work.

— How the Latvian audience sensitive to Kremlin propaganda, which is conducted in the Latvian language?

Where is the rabid lies, distortion, there is a large audience among Latvian readers. But there are more subtle points: you can use the dissatisfaction with the policy of the government or any politicians in Parliament, or something unpopular in the EU. In the end, this indirectly serves the same purpose: to show that Latvia as the state is only a heap of problems that the EU is a malevolent bureaucrats do not understand in real life, and he would soon disintegrate. Critical sentiment is used to generate a long term perception of what is in our country and around it.

— How you will political and social criticism to separate from propaganda?

Is hard enough, and we are not the first channel of the Latvian television, which shows the whole range of problems. With its internal policy disputes is not an arena of action for “elves”: in our country coalition government with many parties, and there will always be disputes. But I think that it is necessary to pay attention to how that how the impact on hearts and minds comes from the outside. On methods of informational influence in the electronic media.

— Do you have any ideas how to protect the page from complaints that it is not “banned”?

— If we use Facebook or other portals as mere mortals, if you want to give the opportunity to comment on our posts, no filter there will not put, it is necessary to reckon with it. But if we become secret partisans, the whole point is lost. You need to be in dialogue, in contact with a wider audience.

— You do not take into account the fact that most propaganda is not on misinformation, but on the ability of people to find confirmation of his phobias and the perception they have in mind the myths?

— Yes, an emotional moment is sometimes more important than pure facts. But counter-propaganda by the same methods as “trolls”, I do not believe. And for my like-minded pursuit of it is unacceptable. It is productive if it is done as was done to the Kremlin’s services for many years and in many media.

— You represent the press as a former employee of the Latvian foreign Ministry, and you spread your calls to the sites of the official organizations associated with NATO, foreign policy research institutes. Aren’t you afraid that your actions will be perceived by people as institutionalized and “official”?

— I’m seven years since I worked in the foreign Ministry and this initiative through the state channels don’t advertise, I don’t even have that opportunity. I collaborated with the Centre for East European political studies, where I know people personally have with the University. As our theme initially applies to the Internet, it was important for me to Delfi and other portals some interview came first. The Center for Eastern studies with their regular contacts with the media helped. Most importantly, now there are people who come to us.

— What have you developed criteria for selecting volunteers?

It would be nice to have a higher education, there are requirements about the Internet regularly if the person comes, is there a Facebook account, languages can be useful. Well, what about the filters — well, there are dubious people, we have received reports, some have to check other channels.

— Have you tried doing it yourself?

— Individually? Yes, I tried, but I didn’t see much point to, one is not a warrior in this space, you need a coordinated group effort.

— You talked with Lithuanian colleagues in person? They shared their experience with you?

Yes. They have a “news feed” in which members of the group post videos, texts, basically on the subject of Russia’s policy aimed against the Baltic countries, Ukraine, Poland. They have it for several years already exists, and to fight with “trolls” these people were engaged in blogging. They have a close relationship with the Lithuanian media, that more opportunities to share with the audience: there are journalists who keep track of their materials and sometimes use the informal enthusiasts. Richardas, I was talking to blogger since 2005-2006. He is a member of many groups in social networks.

— In the Latvian segment of the Internet there are popular bloggers with large numbers of followers who would support you?

Bloggers are, but I’m not sure what audience they big.

— You are going to work manually or allow the machinery work or copy-paste?

— Probably, at first, until we reach a level that allows fine to write by hand, nothing will remain how to republish or some passages or whole texts from our timeline.

— That is, someone will write lyrics in the tape, and someone to distribute?

Yes. We had already touched factchecking. In any case, what comes out, must be viewed by the editorial Board, whether it’s video or article somewhere, or a text that someone wrote. Then, when it becomes clear that people have gained experience in their specific fields, they can act themselves. I don’t see myself in the future a sort of a spider sitting on the web because they do not want to give this lesson. Much better when there are people who develop themselves and are attracted to the work of other people. As I understand the meaning of civil, social movement, there is no single leader and a strict hierarchical structure. The only thing is, is the General idea of what’s required and what to avoid.

— Do you know the origin of the term “elfing”, “elf”?

— They call themselves the Lithuanians, with whom we have established contact. We some measures may differ from the Lithuanians, something else to do, but the idea is the same. We can and other mythological creatures to be called, essentially it does not change. We have adopted the name to save this Association. In any case, we want to go in the same direction.