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The Disinformation Threat Posed to Democracies by Authoritarian Regimes

Updated: 4 days ago

Here at Wienot Films, we believe in supporting democratic ideals and working together to leave a healthy democratic legacy for our children. We understand that democratic processes are rarely neat and easy and that compromise often leaves neither side fully satisfied. Winston Churchill is famous for essentially saying that democracy is the best worst form of government: 

"No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time...." ~Winston Churchill

Democracy is hard work, but it's better than the alternatives. According to new findings by the Pew Research Center, about two-thirds of citizens within democratic countries prefer representative democracy to living under some form of authoritarian rule. We cherish principles like freedom of speech, the rule of law, a political opposition, and free and fair elections. Nonetheless, a study a few years ago by Pew showed that a majority of democractic citizens are frustrated with how their democracies are functioning. More needs to be done to improve and support the health of democracy at home and abroad.

Democratic principles, if implemented within authoritarian countries, would threaten their leaders' grip on power. By weakening democracies around the world, authoritarian leaders in countries like Russia and China can not only reduce the direct influence democracies like the United States and others exert on the world stage, they can also undermine democracy as an ideological threat to their own governments. Direct military conflict, however, would be risky and costly. Instead they pursue more sneaky subterfuge, employing Sun Tzu's guidance from over 2,000 years ago in his classic military manual, The Art of War:

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting." ~Sun Tzu, The Art of War 

The U.S. intelligence community’s Annual Threat Assessment this year once again highlighted efforts by Russia and China to sow discord and undermine U.S. and global democracies. If you're a policy geek, you might appreciate these details, taken word for word, from the Russia and China sections of the report.  

  • Russia will remain a serious foreign influence threat because of its wide-ranging efforts to try to divide Western alliances, undermine U.S. global standing, and sow domestic discord, including among voters inside the United States and U.S. partners around the world.

  • Moscow views U.S. elections as opportunities and has conducted influence operations for decades and as recently as the U.S. midterm elections in 2022. 

  • Russia’s influence actors have adapted their efforts to better hide their hand, and may use new technologies, such as generative AI, to improve their capabilities and reach into Western audiences. 

  • Beijing’s growing efforts to actively exploit perceived U.S. societal divisions using its online personas move it closer to Moscow’s playbook for influence operations.

  • China is demonstrating a higher degree of sophistication in its influence activity, including experimenting with generative AI. TikTok accounts run by a PRC propaganda arm reportedly targeted candidates from both political parties during the U.S. midterm election cycle in 2022.

Understanding these threats, and the importance of empowering the public with quality information, back in 2022 we were honored to produce an animated explainer video about this disinformation threat to America, in association with The Cipher Brief, Trust in Media, and Smetzer Associates. It was originally produced for their SXSW Interactive panel, How Spies Can Help Find Truth.

That first video about disinformation was just the beginning of the story. This latest explainer video, produced as a public service announcement by The Cipher Brief, goes further, giving more details about ways authoritarian countries are working to undermine democracies around the world and what we can do to counter the threat. You can read more about the background to the video in a piece written by The Cipher Brief's digital media producer. It's our hope that videos like these can help empower the public with nonpartisan information and be a part of the solution. Please watch the explainer video, like it, and share it far and wide. Let's work together to leave a healthy democractic legacy for generations to come!


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