Meeting Russia Blog

We don't need consensus, we need compromise

June 10, 2024
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Author - Ulrike Reisner, political scientist, Vienna, Austria. Original publication on picreadi.com

The EU institutions are working hard to identify and remove allegedly harmful and destabilizing foreign content. Projects such as EUvsDisinfo serve as production centers for the simplest opinion-forming, which is based on simple friend-foe dichotomies. However, what the societies of a reorganizing multipolar world need are compromises. In addition to coordination and cooperation, these require one thing above all: a common language as a basis for understanding.

During a visit to Copenhagen in mid-May, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised a “European democracy shield” against foreign interference. Specifically, the aim is to further expand the technological and regulatory tools to identify and remove "harmful content from abroad".

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Fight against disinformation

Let's make one thing clear in advance: there is no such thing as disinformation, there is only information. The concept of disinformation in itself already contains a value judgement that reveals what it is actually about - politics as a power game to enforce one's own values and interests exposes the concept of disinformation as a means of enforcing one's own political power.

The Digital Services Act (DSA), which also contains rules on combating disinformation, is already in force at the EU level. However, there is also a law on artificial intelligence, which is intended to combat the spread of so-called "deepfakes" and thus - according to von der Leyen – fight back destabilizing attacks in social media, especially around elections.

By contrast, the East StratCom Task Force has been working largely unnoticed by the general public for eight years, with which the European Union is attempting to strengthen its response to the threat of information manipulation and influence peddling from abroad. In 2015, the heads of state and government of the then 28 member states decided within the framework of the European Council to take action against “Russia's ongoing disinformation campaigns”. To this end, a team of experts was set up in the Strategic Communication and Information Analysis Unit of the EU Diplomatic Service. At its heart is the EUvsDisinfo project, which identifies and analyses so-called disinformation in its various forms and publishes corresponding articles, campaigns, databases, and analyses. The content generated in this way is then fed back into the work of think tanks, political parties, non-profit organizations, and the media.

The effort put into the defense against alleged disinformation is enormous. On the one hand, the Task Force relies on the resources available in the EU institutions and the Member States, including the staff of the institutions and seconded national experts from the Member States. On the other hand, the Task Force works within the existing budget for EU strategic communication. In 2021, the total budget of the EEAS Strategic Communication and Information Analysis Division for countering disinformation and manipulative interference and for strategic communication capabilities amounted to EUR 11.1 million. It can be assumed that this budget has continued to grow in the meantime.

The basis is a common language

In our globalized, digitalized world, technology and media companies are working on the monopolistic dissemination of opinions with the help of the platform economy. This approach can also be seen in the East StratCom Task Force. Likemedia groups, it serves as a production center for simple opinion formation.

Artificial intelligence is used to optimize the multiplication, modification, and selection of information according to the logic of the new digital platform economy. The EU institutions are also utilizing enormous technical and financial resources to produce and disseminate one-sided, highly abbreviated messages. In doing so, they are playing into the hands of two essential characteristics of the human brain to which propaganda has always owed its success: the laziness of thought (to save energy) and “kicks” to constantly stimulate the reward center in the brain (infotainment). In addition, political communicators exploit another basic human need, namely that of the dichotomies in the form of “us-them” formations (friend-foe scheme).

One of the foundations for the evolution and development of all life in this world is the exchange of information as well as coordination and cooperation. Successful cooperation requires that the information for communication has a counterpart. No matter, who we are and what we want: we must first of all find a “common language”. Anything else would be dysfunctional and would nip cooperation in the bud.

There are countless examples from nature and evolution of how misinformation or the pretense of false facts is used as a weapon or to gain competitive advantage (camouflage & deception). The East StratCom Task Force or other European Union measures to combat alleged disinformation are not about sharing information for coordination and cooperation. It is about the dysfunctional dissemination of information to assert one's own hegemonic claim to power.

The Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han writes in his book “What is Power?” that political practice is the active shaping or influencing of interaction, which, however, does not merely serve communication orientated towards understanding, but the assertion of interests or values. The EU's measures to combat “harmful foreign content” must also be seen against this background.

However, Han also says: “It is not consensus, but compromise as a balance of power that constitutes political action.” Any form of political compromise requires coordination and cooperation. To achieve this, we must overcome the friend-foe scheme and find a common language. What we all need in the reorganizing multipolar world is a compromise - consensus is not required for this.
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