The war in Ukraine is being fought on two fronts: the battlefield, where Ukrainian soldiers have been holding their own for nearly a year, and the media, where the Russian government has a distinct advantage.
This fall, Ecaterina Miscisina, of Moldova, came to Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism (SoCJ) through a U.S. State Department program to study Russian misinformation and gain a better understanding of how that information flows into and through the United States.
“Russia is attacking democracies with disinformation, and it is the job of these countries to help their citizens undermine this information warfare campaign,” said Miscisina, who works for Watchdog.MD, a Moldovan non-governmental organization that combats Russian propaganda.
During her three months at the SoCJ’s Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting, Miscisina analyzed five of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speeches since the Ukraine invasion began for overarching narrative trends that favored Russia and denigrated “the West,” a term that Miscisina argues almost always refers to the United States.
“Putin divides the world into two groups,” she said. “He blames the ‘dark forces’ in the West for everything: for any coup d’étâts, for the annexation of Crimea in 2014, for genocides and for weaponizing Ukraine. He claims the invasion of Ukraine, inflation and the war’s negative consequences are not his fault.”
Her analysis is available in the report, “Mapping Russian Narratives about the War in Ukraine: What Putin wants us to hear. How his message gets through in the US.”
Miscisina also tracked how Russian propaganda spreads throughout the United States, mostly through Fox News personalities like Tucker Carlson and Republicans who support former president Donald Trump. She discussed these findings in a talk for Stony Brook faculty, staff and students, using her own country as a cautionary tale.
“Propaganda is still very present in Eastern Europe,” Miscisina said. “We have had very little time to prepare for any kind of Russian interference. We have a lot of pro-Kremlin media in Moldova. Their propaganda is trying to expand by any and all means possible in the region but also in Europe and the U.S. and more.”
Miscisina came to the SoCJ’s Colvin Center through the IREX Community Solutions program that is affiliated with the State Department. The program aids human development by empowering youth, cultivating leaders, strengthening institutions and extending access to quality education and information. It facilitates intercultural and cross-border exchanges to foster more inclusive, just and prosperous societies.
“Ecaterina has been a wonderful addition to the Colvin Center,” said Sarah Baxter, Colvin Center director and journalism instructor. “Having worked on the front line against Russian disinformation in Moldova, she put her expertise to great work here by exploring the impact of Vladimir Putin’s propaganda in the U.S. and came up with some fascinating examples of common themes and messaging aimed at undermining U.S. support for the war in Ukraine.”
“Misinformation, disinformation and propaganda spread faster and convince more people because so much information is spread via algorithms that prioritize reach and engagement over accuracy,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School of Communication and Journalism and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “As creators and consumers of content, we all need to be aware of these distorting narratives, and having Ecaterina here helped us take a wider view of a problem that can significantly impact culture, democracy and the world order.”
Back in Moldova, Miscisina will use what she learned at Stony Brook to improve WatchDog.MD social media accounts with the aim of boosting engagement and more effectively countering Russian propaganda.