2 Refugee Crises—and Their Dark Lessons for the Coming Famine

The tendency of authoritarian regimes to learn from each other is particularly worrisome when combined with previous threats from Libya. Libya, long a preferred departure point for refugees and other migrants seeking to reach Europe from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, is likely to be a destination for many fleeing famine conditions, especially in the Horn of Africa, where there are 18 million people. they are now food insecure. Since 2019, security researchers have warned of the possibility of Russia using control of the Libyan migration route to terrorize and coerce the EU.

If there are numbers of migrants as a response to the food shortage, it is very likely that Russia will try to use the threat of a new migration crisis on the southern flank of Europe along with a flood of disinformation and amplified fears online. A new influx of refugees, and heightened fears about them, could serve not only to distract attention from the conflict in Ukraine, but also to draw attention to the costs of supporting existing Ukrainian refugees in Europe. Combined, they could undermine the EU’s resolve and fracture the currently unified opposition to its invasion of Ukraine, as officials try to quickly resolve the previous crisis to focus on a new one. Russian state media have been surprisingly transparent about their intentions to exploit the looming crisis, with RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan telling Russian state television that “all our hope is based on hunger.”

As the Ukrainian experience demonstrates, however, the mere existence of large refugee populations does not guarantee a crisis. Instead, the public must first be emboldened through narratives of existential threat, often supported by state-sponsored disinformation campaigns. But we have the means to disrupt these campaigns.

One of the most effective tools is a technique called prebunking. An extension of work pioneered by social psychologist William McGuire in the 1960s, prebunking, as the best-known debunking strategy, aims to reduce the spread and effectiveness of misinformation. Critically, however, prebunking works to counter such campaigns before individuals encounter false claims. This makes prebunking much more effective, as disinformation can be “sticky” and much harder to refute once it has been accepted.

Prebunking works by introducing a watered-down version of false claims that people can find, for example, “refugees aren’t actually fleeing conflict, they’re looking for benefits in European countries,” followed by a full refutation of that same claim. In this case, prebunkers could cite the current risk to people in conflict zones and the refugees’ true reasons for fleeing.

The technique is highly adaptable to different media, from billboards to pre-roll video ads, and has been proven in lab conditions to be effective against a wide range of false narratives, from election disinformation to vaccine skepticism.

Proactively protecting the information environment is essential not only to counter Russian efforts to crack down on opposition to its assault on Ukraine, but also to ensure the safety of vulnerable refugees, both those likely to escape imminent starvation and the Ukrainians who are currently taking refuge there in Europe. . As early as May, locals told me that rumors of Ukrainian women “stealing” Polish men had begun to circulate, and concerns have begun to mount over the financial costs of supporting the displaced population, both major issues for the campaigns of Russian disinformation.

For now, however, the most immediate threats are to the refugees who will be forced to flee starvation in the coming weeks and months, the obstacles to their security posed by Russian interference and disinformation campaigns and the potential ‘these fear campaigns. NATO’s unity in defending a future rules-based international order. To defuse this threat, it is critical that we act now to counter the threat narratives that will emerge soon.

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