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Scholarly panel discusses information war over Ukraine

Scholars from the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, USC Center on Public Diplomacy, USC School of International Relations and the Warsaw School of Economics discussed the information war over Ukraine today at an online panel hosted by USC.

A photo of an announcement about the panel on the information war over Ukraine

Many narratives are being pushed out about the assault on Ukraine from many angles. Ukraine and Russia have used unprecedented communications campaigns to try to tell the stories they want the international public to believe so a lot of information - and misinformation - comes our way. Today USC Annenberg hosted a panel discussion to try to show how to separate real news from fake.


Today’s Annenberg panel brought together four experts with knowledge ranging from public diplomacy to media history. Professor Katarzyna Pisarska joined the panel from Warsaw, Poland. She founded & directs the European Academy of Diplomacy in Poland.

KATARZYNA PISARKA: I think the next 48 hours are truly critical. What I would want to, however, say when it comes to narratives is that in the last 24 hours, we have seen an unprecedented attack of propaganda narratives in Central Europe and in the West. I have been personally approached by dozens of my colleagues, Polish colleagues who would you would think that would know better with is stories they’ve been receiving from a number of channels claiming that the US Congress has recognized looking scandal yet back in 1956 and that Russia is simply recognizing what the United States has already recognized. Of course, this is absurd because the United States you have never recognized something inside of what was then the Soviet Union.

But technology has changed fundamentally since 1956 and propaganda has whole new outlets. Nicholas Cull is a media historian and a USC professor of Public Diplomacy whose research focuses on public engagement in foreign policy

NICHOLAS CULL: We’re at a moment of new media disruption where the world is getting used to social media channels, and this has been very much exploited by Kremlin media working to confuse the situation. I think we can expect over the coming days that there will be further confusion.

There’s confusion abroad, and there’s confusion at home.

ROBERT ENGLISH: Well, my job has changed a lot since yesterday the day before.

Robert English is a USC Associate Professor of International Relations, Slavic Languages and Literature. He’s also the co-director of the Central European Studies Program.

ROBERT ENGLISH: I’m supposed to analyze the Russian side of the information war underway over Ukraine. And it’s become particularly difficult to do so because Russia’s strategy and its efforts to influence public opinion and make its case both at home and abroad has become so confused and contradictory. I’m not addressing its accuracy or balance here, not for the moment, but simply its effectiveness, which is undermined by this bizarre incoherence. And that’s something which seems rooted not in a singular media strategy to persuade others. But in the prejudices and grievances of one person, Vladimir Putin.

People in power can work to control the narrative, but when it comes to journalists, they have to work to see through this and report what is true says Annenberg Media Center Fellow Adam Elrashidi.

ADAM ELRASHIDI: Media systems are only as good as the journalists doing the work. And if journalists are fundamentally more interested in and just in the prestige of being a journalist and the romantic version of being the journalist as opposed to telling the truth, being accountable, being independent and minimizing harm the best they do, those those values we teach in the classroom every day, then you’re going to keep seeing the same misinformation, the same disinformation and the same problems that cause us to have debates for three weeks about whether the COVID problems we’re experiencing are because of some guy’s, you know, Acid Trip podcast that he hosts.

Elrashidi says the next few weeks will be very telling.

ADAM ELRASHIDI: This situation right here and this crisis is going to really lay the groundwork for and how media covers it will will really sort of inform how we do cover any sort of similar situation going down the line.

The internet brought hopes of clarity and easier ways to find the truth, but that’s not always been the case. As global tensions persist, the importance of sorting through misinformation will only grow.