RIGA - In an interview on Latvian Radio this morning, Janis Sarts, director of the of the Riga-based NATO Strategic Communication Center of Excellence (NATO StratCom), said that Russia and China are the most active in producing and circulating misinformation at the moment.
He acknowledged that the prevalence of fake news is currently very high and that there is a huge variety of misinformation about Covid-19, as well as targeted misinformation. "Basically, it's happening almost all over the world," he said.
According to Sarts, what China and Russia have in common with misinformation is that they are both disseminating information about the origin of Covid-19, for example, with China disseminating or helping to spread various conspiracy theories, including that it is a US-made biological weapon.
Meanwhile, Russia is spreading disinformation how badly Europe is dealing with Covid-19. Recently, it has also been highlighting how bad the United States is dealing with the crisis, Sarts said. At the same time, against this background, efforts are being made to show how well Russia is doing in combating the spread of Covid-19.
He also admitted that in recent weeks Russia's disinformation volumes have been decreasing, but China has seen an upswing.
At the same time, there is no country-specific misinformation being circulated as well, Sarts emphasized. Namely, there are players who are trying to generate income for themselves on the basis of an anxious population. For example, there is fake news being circulated about products that can prevent you getting sick, or there are attempts to attract clicks from readers with seemingly sensational headlines.
Another group is the spreaders of conspiracy theories - they try to construct various conspiracy theories of what is "happening in reality" and disseminate them in the social media environment, the expert said.
According to Sarts, major social networks have taken various measures to ensure that fake news about Covid-19 is not being widespread. However, these platforms have become so huge that apparently even the administrators of Facebook are not able to keep track of everything that is happening in their system, the expert said.
Sarts admitted that Latvian society, which has already been widely exposed to fake news on a daily basis, is better prepared than the populations of many other countries. However, there are still some here in Latvia who ''fall'' for this.
He therefore called on residents to be critical, think about what they are reading, check sources, compare data and rely on well-known experts.
Sarts also warned that people who have "fallen" for fake news can directly endanger themselves and their loved ones by doing things that they believe do not pose a threat.
''The media plays a crucial role in this situation. We must all be thankful about the active journalism that is taking place during this emergency, which has also contributed to the fact that the situation in Latvia is relatively calmer than in other countries," said Sarts.
He noted the need to find solutions to support the media in this situation, emphasizing that without them it will be very difficult to overcome emergencies or simply implement normal democratic practices.