Europe United – Germany and Estonia join forces to combat online disinformation
A participant of the Autumn School Resilience League, © Auswärtiges Amt
Germany and Estonia are working together to make the public more resilient to external disinformation campaigns. Supporting independent media and a free and critical civil society plays a key role in this.
Since regaining independence, Estonia, just like Latvia and Lithuania, has faced significant disinformation campaigns – a situation that has become worse since the Ukraine conflict. Hannes Krause is Head of Strategic Communication in the Estonian Government Communication Unit. He and his team aim to detect campaigns more swiftly, to inform the public about specific campaigns and to halt the dissemination of false information.
Krause is in no doubt that
the main dangers to Estonia come from sophisticated and orchestrated subversive activities, which are aimed not only at Estonia, but at all liberal and democratic societies. The goal is always to polarise and divide society and to undermine the reputation of democratic institutions.
Joint projects for a strong civil society and high‑quality media reporting
In a joint declaration by the German and Estonian Foreign Ministers, Germany has pledged its support in fighting disinformation. Almost 20 projects have been carried out this year with local partners in Estonia, with the focus on fostering independent media in Estonian and Russian. Promoting civil-society engagement and cohesion is just as crucial as media independence. One example of this is the Autumn School Resilience League, which is run by the project partner, the National Centre of Defence and Security Awareness (NCDSA), in cooperation with the Estonian think‑tank International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS) . This year, 70 young experts from the Baltic states and the Eastern Partnership countries attended the seminar. The focus is on strengthening resilience against disinformation and counteracting polarisation and radicalisation.
The two directors of the project partners, Dmitri Teperik and Grigori Senkiv, firmly believe that
“resilience in society cannot be ordered from above, but instead must be developed from below and supported by civil society. Events like the Autumn School are essential so that groups and experts from different countries and with different native languages can join forces and work together in a better way.”
Active partner in strategic communication and digital transformation
The Estonian Government is also active in the field of strategic communication in the European Union and NATO and has seconded experts to the European External Action Service’s East StratCom Task Force and the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence (NATO StratCom CoE) in Riga. The Federal Foreign Office has also set up a Strategic Communication Section in 2016. One of its key objectives is to counter disinformation in the media and internet by providing reliable facts. Hannes Krause and his team in Estonia are very close and important partners in this work, particularly as regards coordinating the EU Action Plan against Disinformation, which aims to improve the EU’s resilience in this field. Germany and the EU can learn a lot from the many years of experience held by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
A resilient Europe – fostering an informed and responsible approach to online content
Under the motto “resilient Europe”, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is planning an initiative for Germany’s Presidency of the Council in 2020 to foster an informed and responsible approach to online content. To this end, Germany intends to hold a dialogue with members of the public in Europe about the relationship between democracy and digital technology. The experiences of building resilience with Estonia will provide important input to this process.