COVID-19: the Western counternarrative against disinformation coming from East

A video published on NATO’s Youtube channel outlines the Alliance’s strategy to counter Russian-Chinese disinformation. But the “fluid truth” of our times does not lend itself to being locked in the cage of ideologyOriginally published in Italian by

by Andrea Monti – Adjunct professor of law and order – University of Chieti-Pescara

The role of the media in the information war that broke out between the US and China and fought on the COVID-19 field is well highlighted by the video published on May 12 on the NATO Youtube channel titled How is NATO responding to disinformation on COVID-19?

In (chrono)logical order, the video establishes the first rule of the Western counter-information strategy: ignore the opponent’s propaganda to avoid “acknowledging” it and amplifying its circulation.

The second is to create a joint information base: with a somewhat naive game of graphic emphasis, the video (minute 0.53) specifies that

Nato regularly shares information and insight with allies and partners

and then adds

and counters false narratives.

The use of logical connective ⋀ instead of building a cause-effect relationship changes the overall meaning of the message: “NATO shares information AND fights false narratives” means something different from “NATO shares information TO fight false narratives”. The difference is subtle but substantial: information sharing is presented as a value in itself and not as a tool for an end (which, in reality, it is).

The third rule is to provide “facts” to journalists. After graphically enunciating this slogan, the video leaves the floor to NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, who states

I believe that the best response to disinformation and propaganda is free and independent press, is the work of journalists. When they ask the difficult questions, then disinformation and propaganda will never succeed.

Having “authoritative” and unquestionable sources at their disposal allows journalists to give consistency to theses that, otherwise, would only be artificial reconstructions of unrelated facts. Self-attribution of the power to affirm “the truth” through the selection of facts to present to the public opinion is the central element of the entire communication strategy: it is the hook on which the whole information chain hangs.

The fourth is the control of the spread of disinformation through “research groups” to measure the impact of disinformation, identify the fake-news spreaders and “vaccinate” the public against the propaganda virus… of the enemy. In other words: the aim is to make sure that people believe the propaganda of the “good guys”, to defuse the deflagrating effects of the enemy one.

In this case, as in that of the press conference of the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on China’s responsibility in the spread of the Coronavirus and the Chinese response entrusted to a cartoon, we face a skirmish in which both parties use the “Goebbels doctrine” and what I have called “the second law of propaganda”.

The hammering repetition of a narrative to the point of making it perceived as “true”, is flanked by the proliferation of more or less reliable “sources” from which flows a deluge of news. An overabundance of information males a phenomenon difficult to understand and induces the public to an act of faith: I don’t understand, but if “the experts” say so, it must be true.

Media play a crucial role in this game, both in terms of open support to a party and as the victim of a more or less unacknowledged instrumentalisation of their role. “Partisan” articles, therefore, are flanked by “investigations” and “scoops” made possible by “confidential documents” and other information “escaped” by the strict control of the institutional structures. Sometimes it is so, as in the Snowden case, sometimes it is a matter of holes left voluntarily open to let out what is necessary to start an “exclusive” journalistic investigation.

Media strategic role y is clear: lack of evidence is compensated by a counternarrative about the scarce Chinese transparency and media “credibility” amplifies this position, thus making the audience resilient against external threats.

It is apparent, then, that on both sides of the Iron Curtain methods and objectives are the same. Regardless of its calibre, a bullet always does the same job, whether it is fired from the East or from the West.

COVID-19: the fear of a Police State created a State of policemen

Originally published in Italian by

The Italian controversies on contact-tracing highlights a cultural failure: the misunderstanding of privacy and how to protect it. In short: for fear of an abstract danger of a Police State, we have accepted the concrete fact of having transformed Italy into a State of policemen. A State where the concrete and immediate application of the law protecting public order and (health) safety is entrusted with confusing rules applied arbitrarily. Continue reading “COVID-19: the fear of a Police State created a State of policemen”

Coronavirus: how does Chinese propaganda work

by Andrea Monti – originally published in Italian by

How and why the Chinese satirical video is a masterpiece of propaganda, that contrasts with a factual and calm narrative American action based on illations and not on facts. The analysis of Andrea Monti, adjunct professor of Order and public security at the Gabriele d’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara

China officially responds with a video titled Once upon a virus to the accusations launched by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an interview with Abc. This video is a masterpiece of propaganda that counters with a factual and calm narrative the American action based on illations and not on facts. But this is just the tip of the iceberg because Once upon a virus is an incredible PsyOps exercise. Continue reading “Coronavirus: how does Chinese propaganda work”

COVID-19: the Italian Scientific Committee and the Fake Goebbels’ Second Law of Propaganda

The Italian Government decided to “manage” the Lockdown exit-strategy based on an “Evaluation of reopening policies using social contacts and occupational exposure risk“. This risk analysis, being based on a statistical model, is supposed to provide a “scientific” ground to support the operational choices to return to the (a)normality.

“It’s about time!” you could say, “finally someone decided to use the numbers correctly, instead of calculating percentages on unreliable data and deducing “trends” of mortality and lethality based on confused and unclear definitions!

The enthusiasm for a newfound rigour in policing-by-numbers, however, ends immediately after reading the first pages of the report: Continue reading “COVID-19: the Italian Scientific Committee and the Fake Goebbels’ Second Law of Propaganda”

COVID-19: Contact-Tracing in Italy between Science and Religion

The public debate in Italy on contact tracing is  rightly focused on the “obscurity” of how the Government has chosen the software, how does the software works and on concerns – more than about “privacy” – about the way citizens’ data are selected, collected and managed.

There are, however, two issues that would have needed a preemptive consideration.

Firstly, about the technological solution identified – or rather, “blessed” by the Italian Government: Bluetooth.

For days and days, the more or less technically competent narrative had crowned the Bluetooth as the only tool capable of achieving effective contact tracing. Then, some Jiminy Cricket (in English, and therefore unfortunately not intelligible in Italy where the “no spik inglisc” is a boast and not a shame) advanced some doubts about the fact that, for example, the range of the Bluetooth is excessive and therefore can generate unreliable results. The thing is so evident that Google has included the possibility to attenuate the signal strength among the features that can be managed via API by third-party programmers.

class? ?MatchingOptions? {? ?/**
* The signal strength attenuation value that must be reached within the exposure * duration? ?before the match is returned to the client. Attenuation is defined
* as the advertiser's TX power minus the scanner's RSSI.
* This value must have range 0-255.

If using Bluetooth has issues, and before Google allowed a way to mitigate it, this was not possible, how did the Government decide that software A was better than software B?

How did the Government decide that this particular software was fit for the job?

Which brings us to the second issue, which is related to providing answers without knowing questions.

In theory, contact-tracing software could:

  • allow one to understand ex-post, once one was infected, whom they came into contact with,
  • warn in real-time if somebody is close to an infected person
  • enable people to avoid dangerous places due to the presence of infected people, crowds or both,
  • inform the authorities if someone is violating the mandatory quarantine,
  • allow everything, nothing or maybe anything else – like sharing data with medical-scientific research.

Deciding which options to pursue is not a technical or “privacy” issue but a matter of public policy, i.e. of the definition of public health protection objectives. But since there is no trace of this debate – at least publicly – it is difficult to disagree with the aforementioned Jiminy Cricket when he concludes:

All that said, I suspect the tracing apps are really just do-something-itis. Most countries now seem past the point where contact tracing is a high priority; even Singapore has had to go into lockdown. If it becomes a priority during the second wave, we will need a lot more contact tracers: last week, 999 calls in Cambridge had a 40-minute wait and it took ambulances six hours to arrive. We cannot field an app that will cause more worried well people to phone 999.

Which brings us directly to another important and neglected issue: the relationship between science, technology and the ability of the policymaker to understand to decide. As I write in an (I hope) forthcoming article,

In principle, looking at science as a constituent element of a political choice poses four orders of problems:
– not everything that is called “science” is science;
– science offers explanations and not certainties with limited validity;
– being a good scientist does not imply also having political sensitivity;
– a political decision can diverge from a scientific evaluation by way of opportunity – or ignorance.

In the case of the Italian contact tracing software (which yet another nudging application led Google to rename in a less threatening “Exposure Notification”) there are no elements to understand how the software was selected.

This happens not only and not so much because you don’t know how it works, there is no evidence of what data it collects and how it manages them, but because, precisely, who decides continues to give answers to questions that are not there.