The Integrity Initiative: Defending Democracy against Disinformation

Stephen Dalziel

This international project brings together in a network of clusters across Europe and North America people who understand the threat posed to Western nations by a flood of disinformation, deception and lies which is being put out by those opposed to Western concepts of liberalism, freedom and democracy. Countries such as Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela and entities such as Daesh are showing increasing sophistication in their attempts to influence the policies and undermine the societies of the West, which, despite flaws and failures, remain broadly democratic.

These countries and movements have grasped the possibilities presented by social media rapidly to spread false versions of events in order to confuse and sow doubt among politicians and the public in Western nations. Frequently, it is sufficient for the aims of these less-than-democratic countries and entities that their target audience become so confused by the number of different versions of an incident that they simply refuse to believe any version of events.

Two glaring examples of this are the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner MH17 over Ukraine in July 2014; and the chemical attack by the Syrian air force on its own people in April 2017. Despite conclusive evidence to show that a Russian missile shot down MH17 and that the Syrian air force did use chemical weapons in the attack, many of those who simply read the headlines of disinformation refuse to acknowledge the truth.

Through The Integrity Initiative, The Institute for Statecraft has drawn together a network of well-informed specialists who have studied the phenomenon of disinformation, and see it as one element of a serious effort by undemocratic regimes to weaken the resolve of Western peoples to stand up for the freedoms guaranteed by their democratic systems. The very existence of such freedoms represents a threat to the frequently dictatorial and non-democratic ways in which these countries and organisations are ruled. Members of the Integrity Initiative clusters actively engage with policy-makers and the wider public in their own countries to show them the damage which can be done to their societies by disinformation. They also share information and experience across the region to help society to understand the varied and pernicious nature of the threat and to counter it.