Disinformation campaigns target Finnish speakers of foreign languages, NATO fears

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many news outlets – including BBC and Caretaker – have reported that targeted disinformation campaigns and rumors have flooded online spaces.

In response, platforms like and Twitter have enhanced efforts to counter the Russian disinformation that has spread on their sites.

At the same time, research by Ylen’s Kioski unit also revealed that -backed pro-Russian trolls have engaged in highly organized efforts to manipulate conversation among Finnish speakers online, while false rumors of an imminent Russian invasion have also raised concerns about influence efforts. People living in Finland.

However, there is less documentation of disinformation and misinformation in foreign-language spaces, which according to political figures and researchers has a growing potential to influence society in Finland and beyond.

New lies, old traumas

"It’s crazy right now. is incredibly active on Arabic TikTok" explained Suldaan said Ahmed for Helsinki of the left-wing coalition and the only Somali-born member of parliament.

Said Ahmed told Uutis that he has been "overtime" to meet voters who do not speak or understand Finnish, as many of them say that they have seen videos online claiming that a war will break out in Finland or that the USA will force Finland to join NATO.

"Minority MPs are bombarded with messages from voters who are panicking and seem to have a completely different idea of ​​what is happening in Russia." said Ahmed said.

He added that he will host press conferences "direct conversations" and correct misinformation and rumors people hear online.

Also a Member of Parliament recently met with diplomats and high-level politicians from several Middle Eastern and African countries at a UN event in Geneva that focused on the effects of the war in the Horn of Africa. Several participants raised the issue of disinformation in response to Said Ahmed’s messages from concerned voters with relatives living in Finland.

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Suldaan Said Ahmed (Left Alliance) in parliament.Petteri Bülow / General

The fear for the safety of Finns is not limited only to those living abroad. Tony Khalil Refugee Aid tells Yle Uutis that there are rumors online about an imminent attack "evokes feelings of insecurity and anxiety" among people who fled conflicts in their home countries to seek refuge in Finland.

Without greater efforts to reach people in languages ​​they understand, he added, unfettered disinformation could expose trauma in vulnerable populations, hampering integration efforts.

"Finland is no longer a country where only Finnish and Swedish are spoken"said Ahmed, adding that countering disinformation in these communities is an important part of preventing Russia from achieving its goals.

"Russia failed to divide Europe, so it is spreading its narrative to anyone who will listen. We need to be more present in these spaces and improve access to the facts to prevent Russia from ever succeeding anywhere," he said.

Disinformation machine

"Russia’s disinformation machine is at full power"by Gwenaëlle BauvoisA researcher at the University of Helsinki who has been monitoring misinformation online.

He added that Russia’s goal when targeting different communities is to create "maximum confusion" and undermines trust in local authorities.

People who speak little or no Finnish are more likely to rely on social media as a primary source of information, he added. Bauvois believes that Russia targets speakers of a foreign language because it is easier to influence them.

"If you are a foreigner in Finland, you already feel like an outsider and may not trust the mainstream media. Many people live in isolated information bubbles where the sense of community is stronger than facts," he said.

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University of Helsinki researcher Gwenaëlle Bauvois.
University of Helsinki researcher Gwenaëlle Bauvois.Gwenaëlle Bauvois

Bauvois and other researchers have described the information environment with a name "unilateral"Russia is aggressively attracting foreign language groups that the Finnish authorities cannot reach.

"I don’t think that the Finnish population is even slightly aware of the extent of the issues." he pointed out.

William sofaThe spokesperson of the US Embassy in Helsinki told Yle Uutis that the embassy is also "keeping tabs" on disinformation in foreign languages ​​after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th.

At first, their efforts focused on convincing the panicked American citizens that a Russian attack on Finland was not imminent. However, a more proactive strategy to combat Russian propaganda is now taking shape.

"We are not worried about Finnish-centric disinformation, because Finns have shown that they are less susceptible to fake news," The couch said.

With the help of the Global Engagement Center of the State Department in Washington DC, the embassy has focused on tracking messages from that reach Russian and Arabic speakers in Finland. The embassy has since begun publishing messages and video content in Russian and Arabic to directly combat specific disinformation in these spaces.

Although Couch noted that this content may have an impact "limited"he emphasized that it is important not to give Russia free reign in information warfare.

"I wouldn’t venture to guess what motivates Moscow, but their end game seems to be uncertainty and chaos. Our job is to meet them in these spaces and prevent them from controlling the narrative," he said.

Yle Uutiset contacted the Russian Embassy for comment, but had not received a response by the time of publication.

Not all fake news

When talking about people with a refugee background in Finland, fake news is not always the most effective tool. Said Ahmed pointed out that one of the most visible themes of social media is the talk of what is assumed "double standards" From Finland and European countries in terms of human rights.

"Much of the content people see is [questions] why is Finland concerned about human rights in Ukraine, but not in Palestine, or bringing up US military involvement in the Middle East, that Finland is drawn into superpower conflicts," he said.

Another central theme is related to the treatment of the refugees themselves, which plays with existing feelings that those who arrived from Iraq and Afghanistan in 2015 were treated much more harshly by the Finnish authorities than recently arrived Ukrainians.

This is something that is coming to dominate the conversation in refugee communities in Finland, Outie Popp said Yle Uutiset. He is a journalist at Refugee Radio, a non-profit group whose goal is to convey information about the rights of refugees in Finland. He says that disinformation is not the problem, but rather Finland’s treatment of these communities.

"If all refugees were treated as humanely as Ukrainians, there would be no problem. Afghans and Iraqis still waiting for their permits and told they are not “real” refugees don’t need Russia to tell them they are being treated unfairly"he said.

Another current concern is Finland’s large Kurdish refugee community, where anxiety is at its peak, as many fear being extradited to to meet the president. Recep ErdoganNATO requirements.

"The have not received guarantees of their safety here in Finland, and they are terrified"Popp explained. "Wouldn’t you?"

The Immigration Office (Migri) said to Yle Uutisten’s request for comment that Finland is constitutionally committed to not extraditing anyone to a country where they would be at risk of political or ethnic persecution.

The agency added that the huge number of arrivals of Ukrainians required faster processing of this group and that asylum applications were now being processed. "as normal" for all groups.

For Said Ahmed, the most powerful thing that Finland can do against Russian propaganda is to set an example.

"We must extend our compassion to the people of the Middle East and Africa. This is the best way to make it 100% clear that Russia is causing so much pain," He said and added that Finland and the West are not a problem, but "Russia is".

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Source: The Nordic Page

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