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The Integrity Initiative
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The Integrity Initiative

The Integrity Initiative

Author(s):
The Integrity Initiative

Protecting Western societies against disinformation and useful idiots

Influence and information  

The second decade of this millennium has seen the emergence of information warfare on a scale and of a complexity unprecedented in history. The proliferation of means of conveying information in the digital age has been followed by a proliferation of means of conveying disinformation.

Undemocratic and semi-democratic states such as Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela are showing increasing sophistication in their use of multiple modern media to challenge the policies and undermine the societies of the West, which, despite flaws and fault lines, remain broadly democratic. 

Every state seeks influence. However, democratic states are subject to checks and balances which either keep the attempts within reasonable bounds, or expose and rectify them. Non-democratic states, having no such systems in place, are not subject to internal checks. It therefore falls to the democratic states themselves to keep the attempts at influence within acceptable bounds. At present, a number of hostile states appear to be seeking influence in a way which goes well beyond the acceptable. 

This initiative focuses on the attempts by such non-democratic states to influence democratic ones in ways which run counter to democratic standards and norms.

The concept of legitimacy

While the attempt to influence decision-making in third states is one of the key goals of diplomacy, it is important to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate forms of influence. 

Actions which constitute illegitimate influence, for the purposes of this initiative, include: 

Influencing decision-makers or the population through the conscious use of partially or entirely inaccurate information (disinformation) 

  • Influencing decision-makers through offers of direct personal gain (e.g. financial or sexual bribery)1 
  • Influencing decision-makers or the public through the threat of physical or financial suffering (blackmail or public threats) 
  • Influencing decision-makers or the public through the use of classified information (espionage) 

Actors who may be the vehicles of such illegitimate influence include: 

  • Foreign politicians and diplomats, if engaged in any of the activities listed above
  • Media partially or wholly owned by non-democratic state structures, if they knowingly broadcast disinformation 2
  • National academics, commentators and analysts who knowingly or unknowingly broadcast disinformation 
  • Foreign or national business people who engage in any of the activities listed above 
  • National politicians who knowingly or unknowingly broadcast disinformation 
  • National politicians who accept offers of personal gain from undemocratic states, regardless of whether the offer is explicitly made in exchange for policy decisions 

The purpose of the current initiative is to defend the integrity of public discourse and decision-making in the democratic world by identifying and making public the methods, arguments and channels by which non-democratic states attempt to influence them. 

Definitions

Democratic: States defined as 'free' in the Freedom House Freedom in the World index, https://freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-world 

Semi-democratic: States defined as 'partly free' in the Freedom House Freedom in the World index, https://freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-world 

Undemocratic: States defined as 'not free' in the Freedom House Freedom in the World index, https://freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-world

  • 1.  For the purposes of the current initiative, 'disinformation' is defined as the conscious misrepresentation, partial or total, of fact. Statements which are explicitly presented as the opinion of the speaker fall outside this definition.
  • 2.  Media which are privately owned can, and do, act on behalf of their owners, and conduct influence activities on their behalf. However, these are not the actions of a hostile state, and as such, fall outside the scope of the current initiative.

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