The Hybrid Wars of Information

Research question/goal: 

The war for hearts and minds among the great powers is at least as important as conflict fought with conventional weapons. One of its most recent incarnations is the hybrid propaganda war, levied by Moscow against the West. This is a sophisticated, well-funded and multipronged attempt to bring domestic publics in the West around to the Russian regime’s viewpoint. Prior research identified and described attempts at hybrid propaganda war. In this project, we seek to analyse the prevalence and the effectiveness of these attempts in Western societies. We build on theories of international relations, public opinion formation, and psychology to examine which strategic use of (mis)information from abroad is effective and which is not. The project will also explore conditioning factors at the individual and contextual level. In terms of methodology, it relies—among others—on experiments included in surveys, which will be fielded in several Western countries.

Current stage: 

Current developments in political communication have brought conspiracy theories back into the mainstream in many countries around the world. The project examines why and when conspiracy theories are promoted. Our point of departure is that conspiracies can be strategically pushed by political elites when evidence on an issue is against them, as a way of preventing policy change in a direction they do not favour. In contrast to misinformation, conspiracies, however, destroy the credibility of all sources of information, which helps explain why they are not always adopted. In 2018, we developed a base model of the strategic use of conspiracy narratives and collected data on a number of illustrative cases of conspiratorial discourse used by Russia in the West. A paper manuscript was completed; a proposal for a research grant is planned for 2019.

Fact sheet

Funding: 
MZES
Duration: 
2016 to 2019
Status: 
in preparation
Data Sources: 
Surveys
Geographic Space: 
Europe, United States

Publications