CSA Round Table “End of secrets: Putin at war in an engagement age”
Maksymilian Czuperski, Digital Forensic Research Lab, Atlantic Council
The round table took place at the Center for American Studies and involved experts, sholars and institutional guests.
According to Czuperski, we no longer live in an Information age, in which the truth is determined by who can make the most verified statement. We now live in an Engagement age, in which we no longer passively receive information from traditional – and “authoritative” – sources, but there is a two way stream of information about everything that happens. Due to the incredibile quantity of information available in this day and age, the public selects information based on engagement, that is to say we tend to gravitate towards news that is somewhat attractive to us because we interact with it in some way. We move in what Czuperski calls digital engagement spaces, which can be both positive and negative. If the public’s questions are answered and needs are voiced online, we have a positive digital engagement space, while if these questions are not answered and the concerns not voiced, the space is negative. A negative digital engagement space creates a vacuum that is easily filled up by disinformation and “fake news”.
Using information from entirely open sources, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab used the power of digital forensics to study the details of Russia’s military engagement in Syria and Ukraine in the past two years and expose the false information spread by the Russian Defense Ministry. In particular the DFRLab studies what Czuperski calls “digital crumbs”, that is to say the incredible amount of data that is created by virtually everyone every second. Some of these crumbs were for example the selfies posted by Russian soldier Bato Dambaev, whose digital footprints were used to prove that Russian president Vladimir Putin was lying about Russian military presence in Ukraine in 2015. Other digital crumbs were disseminated by the Russian Defense ministry itself, when it posted videos of Russian bombings of alleged ISIL targets in Syria. Research from the Atlantic Council’s DFRLab using Google earth mapping and social media posts about the attacks was able to prove that the vast majority of the targets hit were not in fact ISIL targets.
In his closing remarks Czuperski noted that the work of the Atlantic Council’s DFRLab is only an example of the fact that information can be verified by correctly cross-checking data that is open source and easily available to everyone.
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