“One clear lesson is that you can’t fight propaganda with propaganda,” says Tetiana Popova. “If you do that you lose credibility yourself and bring all facts into doubt,” adds the former Ukrainian deputy minister for information policy.
“And that is what the Russians want,” she said firmly.
Like many media experts in Europe, Popova worries that Russia is turning free speech against the West and using democratic information tools such as Twitter as weapons in a hybrid war.
“Now, they are more sophisticated, taking a real story or facts out of context and manipulating it, tailoring and shaping it for the audiences they want to influence,” she says.
Last May, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko issued a decree blocking access to some popular Russian-based social networking sites, including Yandex, the Russian equivalent of Google, and Vkontakte.
Popova is supportive of the TV ban, saying it doesn’t harm freedom of speech as Ukrainians can still watch the channels, if they use a VPN or have satellite, but she thinks media bans should be imposed by courts and not government and that open societies shouldn’t restrict freedom of speech.
“The thing that works best is letting journalists do their jobs,” she argues. “Universities and non-profits are doing a good job in monitoring the Russian output but more is needed,” she adds, citing the work of fact-checking sites in the U.S. and Europe, which are often funded by journalism departments and think tanks.
“In the longer term, educating the public to be more discriminating about media is crucial, and that needs to start at school with media literacy classes, but all of that will take time,” she says.