Disinformation and authoritarian internet propaganda

On my sixth birthday, my father gave me a globe. It was the best birthday present I ever received. I grew up in a cramped apartment in Baku, Azerbaijan. Even in our little space behind the Iron Curtain, when my father and I read Stefan Zweig’s book about Ferdinand Magellan together, I could dream of a vast world. Night after night, we touched the endless oceans of this sphere with our fingers, and I marveled at everything that existed.

Ondrej Vlcek (Avast CEO) and I grew up under the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union. We read the same ads in the history books and learned never to believe the misinformation that was fed to us. The empire of evil is built on a castle of lies: even as a child we both understood. Our childhood experiences gave us a solid basis for our conversation in Paris at the VivaTech conference in June 2022. In the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine and the rise of authoritarian aggression against free and open speech on the Internet, Ondrej and I felt it was more important than ever to warn our audience to the dangers of today’s ad networks.

The year my father gave me the globe, I started playing chess. Ten years later I won my first international tournament. When I started traveling abroad to compete, I realized that I was one of the few Soviet citizens privileged to see the outside world in person, unfiltered by propaganda and disinformation, even though I was always under surveillance by the heads of the Soviet secret police, the KGB

In 1983, I personally saw my first home computer, at a competition in London. In 1986, I signed a contract with Atari and received 53 computers from them as payment. I brought those computers to Moscow and used them to create the first youth computer club in the Soviet Union. I saw beyond the propaganda, with my own eyes. I hoped that these tools could show bright children that they too can imagine the bigger world, the real world. This worked for a while. But I hardly imagined that the borderless world would become a powerful force of misinformation. The war is not over, but the battlefield has become exponentially larger.

Since Vladimir Putin took power in Russia on the last day of 1999, he has steadily cut the country off from the free world, including access to information. The Internet was initially sidelined, as most Russians got their news from television, which became fully state-controlled in 2008. But as the crackdown on rights and civil society continued, news sites and social networks came under scrutiny and scrutiny. My own news site, kasparov.ru, was blocked in Russia in 2014. However, censorship was not enough. Hundreds of propaganda sites with thousands of employees have polluted every aspect of the Russian online sphere with propaganda and disinformation. People were arrested for counter-tweeting, while all of Russia was locked behind a digital wall of propaganda.

Ondrej’s team at Avast began to monitor the development of the Kremlin machine, and Ondrej and I watched the spread of ad networks. First in Russia, then in Russian-speaking areas, and today in many languages ​​around the world to spread disinformation.

Putin’s disinformation botnets, malware factories and cyber gangs are more sophisticated than any international mafia. Russian troll factories dominate social media and comment sections, smearing dissidents around the world and spreading misinformation. I never thought that one day I would see an American president repeating Russian propaganda about information provided by his own intelligence community. How can we fight it?

Public pressure can push companies to take a stand in the battle of good versus evil. And we all need to do what we can in our daily lives to protect ourselves from fake news, be responsible internet citizens, and stand up for the truth. When authoritarians deal with lies, only the truth will set us free.

Garry Kasparov is a chess grandmaster and security ambassador for Avast

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *