Information policy expert Dmitry Zolotukhin: If there were no Arestovich, it would be much worse for everyone

Information policy expert Dmitry Zolotukhin: If it were not for Arestovich, everything would be much worse

The war between Russia and Ukraine is not slowing down. On the contrary, Ukrainians were urged to prepare for even more difficult times, as the war enters a protracted phase.

Ukraine resists military aggression not only on the battlefield, but also on the diplomatic, economic, volunteer, and informational fronts. I talked about the situation at the last “KP in Ukraine” with the head of the Institute of the Post-Information Society, ex-Deputy Minister of Information Policy Dmitry Zolotukhin.

War without military censorship is impossible , but we don't have it

– Dmitry, Ukraine is approaching the mark of 100 days of war. What were the main breakthroughs or defeats on the information front during this time?

– First of all, for the first time in world history, information resistance is carried out by the entire population of a country that has become a victim of aggression. Ukraine is a social phenomenon of the modern world and will remain so for a very long time. I don't think anyone has ever done this before us. And something tells me that no one will do it after.

In the first 15 days of aggression, several tens of thousands of people joined the information resistance to the enemy. This provided a breakthrough in the information bubble in which the population of the aggressor state lived. The result was the maximum “crackdown” and blocking of content in Russia, which only led to even greater destabilization in the information space of the enemy.

For the first time in world history, information resistance is carried out by the entire population of a country that has become a victim of aggression. Ukraine is a social phenomenon of the modern world.

In my subjective opinion, despite serious problems with hostile information and psychological operations (IPSO) in the first 2-3 weeks, Ukraine won this period outright. First of all, due to the number of volunteers who worked 24/7 online, distributing content on social networks and other sources.

An important role was played by the efforts of the leaders of the Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security – Igor Solovyov and his predecessor Lyubov Tsybulskaya. Their merit lies in the institutionalization of a volunteer society around the Center. This made it possible to ensure the network-centric management of the volunteer information-military forces.

– Were there any failures?

– Everything is simple here. What is our strength in one circumstance becomes our weakness in another. So, for example, none of the two centers for countering disinformation (under the National Security and Defense Council and the Ministry of Culture) has become a source of strategy for all bodies of the security and defense sector. Over and over again, I hear from many of my former colleagues in the communication departments of ministries and departments that “I would like more specific narratives”, “I would like more clear and understandable goals”, “Where are we running?”, “How do we explain the current situations?” < /p>

All these questions do not relate to information confrontation, but to routine system management of communications, which is still categorically absent in our state.

– It is clear that martial law implies the restriction of a number of rights and freedoms of citizens. How justified is the establishment of a monopoly of power on TV by a national telethon against the backdrop of the disconnection from the digital TV channels Espresso, Direct and Channel 5?

– In my personal opinion, a war without military censorship is impossible in principle. But we have another problem – we do not have this censorship. Because censorship is first and foremost a procedure. And procedure is a sign of a democratic society. If the Parliament or the Cabinet of Ministers adopted an appropriate law or a by-law document that would approve what can be said and what cannot be said, then I will be the first to support it. Of course, society would give such actions an appropriate assessment, which in the future would lead to the political responsibility of those who made such a decision.

But the whole point is that Arestovich and Podolyak assure us that censorship was deliberately not introduced because of the commitment to the principles of freedom of speech, even in war … But at the same time, neither Nikita Poturaev, nor representatives of the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting, nor representatives of the Concern Radio Broadcasting, Radio Communications and Television (CRRT) have not been able to explain to the public on what grounds the three TV channels you mentioned were excluded from broadcasting. And this means that someone here walks around with a cross on his chest, but at the same time without panties.

We must fight not for the “percentage of truth”, but for the absence of emotional swings

– By the way, about the telethon, how justified is the concept of such jingoistic patriotism? On the one hand, it’s good that Ukrainians are trying to raise morale by talking about our victories, the absurdity of the Russian army and soldiers. But, on the other hand, we are faced with the fact that in the “unified news” we are not always provided with objective information. Our relatives fighting on the front line tell a different truth… Is it really possible to convey 100% truthful information to people during the war?

The risk is that the telethon audience is constantly on an emotional swing. On TV, we have already taken the Kremlin, but in chats we are still collecting for plate carriers and turnstiles.

– Once again I emphasize that, from my subjective point of view, such an approach is absolutely justified in wartime. But you are absolutely right when you say that it is this approach that simultaneously produces a huge number of risks. Since the audience of the telethon is constantly swinging on an emotional swing – up and down. We have already taken the Kremlin on TV, but in chats we are still collecting for plate carriers and turnstiles.

However, in my opinion, the problem here is not in the telethon, but in the very one that I have already mentioned … There is no system of public administration in the field of communications. And this means that there is no one to recognize, evaluate and correct behavior for these risks that you have highlighted.

Our inescapable illusion lies in the false judgment that reporting 100% truthful information is generally physically achievable … Where do we get that ruler or caliper to measure whether we have reached 100% or are we still 99%?

I believe that the task of the state is not the “percentage of truth”, but the absence of emotional swings that provoke destabilization in the information space. To convey the most objective information is the task of a journalist. The task of the state is the maximum survival of the people. Let everyone just mind their own business.

– Is it necessary to set some limit for journalists in detailing the stories of witnesses of war crimes of Russian soldiers? Is it necessary, for example, to tell the ombudsman in the smallest detail how Russian soldiers raped the local population in the occupied territories? Psychologists advise not to disclose the detailed details of these atrocities, as this negatively affects the mental state of society.

– Unfortunately, in these matters we again lump everything together … We will definitely not solve the problems this way . Let's take it one by one…

In my opinion, we are talking about three different categories of restrictions: the security of the state, the issue of ethics and professionalism of responsible civil servants, and freedom of speech. As for journalists… I am sure that the restrictions and moral norms of the dissemination of heard human stories must be mandatory. However, it is up to the journalistic community to formulate such restrictions and monitor their observance. Unfortunately, today many factors indicate that the community does not want to do this. And this means that the state will try to impose such restrictions on him, and this will lead us into another conflict.

As for civil servants, in particular the ombudsman… I read about the problem of extreme naturalistic descriptions of Russian atrocities on the territory of Ukraine in Facebook posts. I am not an expert on exactly how to talk about this … But I would definitely invite an expert, before writing such things on the Internet, to explain to me what is possible and what is not. It seems to me that this has not been done. Therefore, the problem is again not in the posts themselves and naturalistic descriptions. The problem is the lack of public administration procedures.

And this, in turn, leads to the fact that you and I do not know what motives the civil servant used when he wrote something like that. We can argue about the style of description and involve psychologists for evaluation. But first, every government message must have a specific purpose. And what about these naturalistic descriptions?..


– The authorities are trying to counteract fakes and information manipulations of Russian propaganda. There are several questions in this regard. Is it enough to lay out the plot of a fake and declare that it is a fake? Perhaps you should explain in detail why this is a fake?

Second. The situation with the evacuation of the “Azovites” from “Azovstal”: our authorities say that there will be no detailed information so as not to harm the negotiation process, at the same time, the Russians are giving out a ton of disinformation that Ukraine has surrendered Mariupol, the “Azovites”. And it turns out that, without clear information from the Ukrainian authorities, our citizens become hostages of Russian propaganda.

– And again I ask you to go step by step and not lump everything together. First, from my subjective point of view, spending public resources on debunking fakes is currently an absolutely harmful activity. This is my position, which I have been trying to explain to the expert community for more than two years now.

Expenditure of state resources to debunk fakes is currently an absolutely harmful activity. It doesn't work.

In my opinion, existing research shows very clearly that the process of debunking fakes does not work. This is a topic for a separate conversation.

Azovstal's communication problem appears where an information vacuum is formed. The information space is like the floor in your bathroom. If it is leaking somewhere, then you are definitely flooding the neighbors from below, regardless of whether you washed in the shower or not.

Where there is a lack of information, the enemy's narrative appears. Details are not needed… Because they can really interfere with the negotiation process. I saw it with my own eyes, even during the capture of the Faina and Marathon ships by Somali pirates. However, it is categorically impossible to allow an information vacuum, because the enemy will attack informationally in any case. To get out of this trap, again, the state system management of the communication sphere is necessary. We need competent people with authority who will look for a way out of such situations. And now citizens are indeed becoming hostages of enemy propaganda, because we have “quotation marks” and Arestovich.

– By the way, about Arestovich. He became one of the main wartime speakers. Do official war speakers have to abide by certain ethical rules? His dressing up during an interview, his weird, pointless trolling at the car wash… Is this allowed?

– I will allow myself to answer with the words of the great Ukrainian classic Les Poderevyansky: “In vain do you think about Valka, starting from anthropomorphism” (c). Undoubtedly, the fact that in the managerial situation that has developed in the field of communications, we have Alexey Arestovich is our great happiness. He may or may not like it. But he performs the function that he took on. Whether it is right or wrong is debatable. However, as one fan of our president said, “the result is on the scoreboard.”

I also disagree with you that Arestovich is the official speaker. He is not a civil servant in the classical sense. A voluntary adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine from the point of view of the state function is, excuse me, nobody. But I assure you… If there were no Arestovich, it would be much worse for everyone. There is a war – you need to fight with what you have.

– IPSO during the war: did Ukraine learn how to conduct such operations? What is the secret of successful IPSO? Does the veracity of the information provided during the IPSO matter? One has to hear criticism that from time to time Ukraine loses in the jurisdiction of the IPSO. For example, a month ago, telegram channels and even TV disseminated information that the head of the Russian General Staff, Gerasimov, was seriously wounded in Ukraine. And a few days later he came out to the public – safe and sound …

Ukraine has always been able and is able to conduct operations of high complexity. The success of IPSO lies in its naturalness and secrecy. In this case, it is important to be able to manage the galaxy without attracting the attention of orderlies …

– With all due respect, the IPSO is a special reconnaissance event, which is carried out in conditions of strict secrecy. If I knew the answers to the questions you asked, I could not answer. And if I answered, then according to the new, thank God withdrawn, bill of Maryana Bezuglya, my commander would have shot me for this.

Ukraine has always been able to conduct operations of high complexity, and such skills are constantly being improved. The success of IPSO lies in its naturalness and secrecy, when the target audience itself wants to believe in what they are trying to feed. However, the dissemination of information about the injury of Gerasimov is, in my opinion, not IPSO, but some kind of shit.

In this case, it is important to be able to manage the galaxy without attracting the attention of orderlies. So just trust that we are doing well with the IPSO.

Journalists should reprioritize topics during the war

– How do you assess the current attempts of the authorities to disown uncomfortable questions? recent examples. When asked about Shkarlet's plagiarism, the president replies that he is out of time. When asked why the population was not prepared for the war, NSDC Secretary Danilov replies that he signaled with the black color of his clothes. Should the authorities publicly admit their mistakes?

– I am very grateful to the Supreme Commander for what he has done for the country and for me. I respect and fully support him. But in situations with Shkarlet, Getmantsev and other characters, it pains me to watch Zelensky shoot himself in the foot again. If I prayed to God, I would ask him to reason with the president… However, I pray to Valery Zaluzhny. And unlike God, he hears my prayers more often and fulfills them successfully.

In situations with Shkarlet, Getmantsev and other characters, it pains me to watch Zelensky shoot himself in the foot again.

– Your advice to journalists: what should be paid more attention to when covering the war, and what should be talked about and shown less?

– If I had a magic wand, I would made it so that during the period of martial law journalists would stop writing about political topics, about the potential of the elections, about who has what rating and who mowed down the enemy more …

Every day I see at least 7-8 topics that are vital for every Ukrainian. Starting from where and how to buy gasoline (and such information will be relevant daily for a very long time), ending with how to communicate with government agencies during martial law … Hundreds of topics that people really need, instead of daily sucking, fake or not fake . Journalists can rule the agenda of this state instead of politicians. And during the period of martial law, they not only have the right to do this, but are obliged to moderate how the media reality of every Ukrainian looks like. But for some reason they don't.

Infopolicy expert Dmitry Zolotukhin: If it were not for Arestovich, everyone would be much worse

Dmitry Zolotukhin Dossier KP

2003 – received a diploma in jurisprudence at the National Academy of the SBU.

2009 – graduated from the Ukrainian State University of International Finance and Trade, received a second higher education and a master's degree in the specialty “management of foreign economic activity”.

Since 2003, he worked in the national security bodies of Ukraine. Since 2007, he has been studying and popularizing in Ukraine the branches of competitive intelligence technologies, methods of information and analytical business support, protection of commercial structures from “black” PR, negativity and information aggression. He became the first Ukrainian speaker at an international conference on competitive intelligence organized by the German Institute for Competitive Intelligence.

From July to December 2014, he advised the National Security and Defense Council Information and Analytical Center on issues of verifying information and using online investigative tools, and also establishing cooperation with such research teams as Ukraine@War and Bellingcat.

From March 2017 to September 2019, he worked as Deputy Minister of Information Policy of Ukraine. After that, he founded the Institute for the Information Society.

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