1.2 Narratives and their use in disinformation and propaganda 

Cristina Ivan


Narratives refer to the stories that are told and the ways in which events and characters are framed in particular narrative contexts. Given their public appeal and their intrinsic focus on plot, they have become an instrument of choice for disinformation and propaganda. The present section explores the ways in which narratives can be weaponised by disinformation and propaganda campaigns and how and why the audience is captivated by them.

Main research questions addressed

● What are narratives?
● How can narratives be employed in disinformation and propaganda?
● What functions do narratives play in disinformation and propaganda? 

Narratives and their use in disinformation and propaganda.

Narratives have been generally studied within the field of literary studies. For obvious reasons, they have been linked to art and literary works and associated with the cultural heritage of a society.

A shift occurred in this perspective with the poststructuralists that, for the first time, highlighted the universal character of narratives which are articulated in a multitude of vehicles such as: spoken or written discourse, pictures, movies, gestures, graffiti, art and street performance etc. In this larger context, Roland Barthes insisted on narratives’ “infinite variety of forms…present at all times, in all places and all societies” and on their universal character, as international, trans-historical and transcultural, started “with the very history of mankind” (Barthes and Duisit, 1975). Their universal character and fundamental function of articulating reality makes narratives in this broader social and cultural sense the main vehicle of identity formation and dissemination. Whether we refer to individual or collective identities, their sense making is inseparably linked to narratives. Hence, narratives’ main function is that of representation and they are generally perceived as accurate reflections and expressions of what we see, how we are and what we cherish as individuals and communities. However, with postmodernism and poststructuralism, and especially in the works of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, narratives were also revealed as inextricably linked to power formation and projection, hence acquiring social and political value. In the words of Somers, “it is through narrativity that we come to know, understand, and make sense of the social world, and it is through narratives and narrativity that we constitute our social identities” (Somers n.d., 606).

Furthermore, by the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, narratives have already made their way into social sciences, political philosophy, psychology, organisational theory or cultural anthropology and their understanding deepened into even more complex forms. Hence, from representations of reality, they came to be perceived as carriers of ontological meaning and linked to identity formation and vehicles of power projection. Narratives were associated to influence and manipulation, and last but not least, also perceived as powerful tools of community resilience. It is again Sommers who remarked that “all of us come to be who we are (however ephemeral, multiple, and changing) by being located or locating ourselves (usually unconsciously) in social narratives rarely of our own making” (Somers n.d., 647).

The social implications of narratives reside in the fact that they are collectively created and embraced. Once paying allegiance to our values and traditions, one cannot evade the power of narratives that come to inhabit our mind-world and dictate the framework into which we understand reality. It is in this context that narratives have been employed by in information operations, being preferred tools of propaganda, disinformation and covert information manipulation.

Firstly, we shall decipher the use and functions of narratives in propaganda. When thinking of the stories used by the propaganda machine, one first must relate to the obvious persuasion function. All state propaganda is linked to conveying stories of legitimate power. Hence, from government sites to media state outlets, propaganda channels will tend to build stories of legitimacy, efficiency and purpose. However, the most obvious and openly declared propaganda is, the less efficient it turns out outside its close circles of followers. Adverse receptors will most likely tend to dismiss all propaganda that goes in favor of the adversary. Hence, the most effective propaganda is that which cannot and will not be attached to its agent and transmitter. And some of the most successful examples in history that illustrate the value of narratives in creating successful propaganda come from culture and have been revealed by the work of cultural historians. David Monod, for instance, discusses the case of the Porgy and Bess musical under the interpretation of the Gershwin Opera, that was used by the American State Department as a tool of propaganda in Europe in the 1950’s. As Monod observes, the declared objective of the State Department announced 3 months in advance of the tour was “to counteract propaganda of two kinds related to the United States: First, that this country has no real culture, (or) native artists of creative vitality. Second, that the colored people have no opportunity to develop their abilities beyond a slave status”. What this historical example hints at is that narratives circulated via fine artistic productions, beyond their esthetic value, can be instrumentalized in the propagandistic exchange of adversary states and in ways that appeal to the minds of the target country’s citizens. “In short, Porgy was an opera which, while admittedly good art, had been re-fashioned by the Department of State to serve as even better propaganda” (Monod 2010, 2). The promotion of art as cultural diplomacy and outreach towards friend and adversarial countries alike is definitely not new and has been used many times in history before. Moreover, the use of culture as propaganda also hints to the conceptualization of the famous “soft power” term coined by Joseph Nye (1990).

Yet, as cultural historians often argue, cultural products will always bear a potential for subversion, their complexity making them ambivalent, unexpected interpretations assigned by different readers occurring at any time. A special part in creating powerful narratives has to be acknowledged especially in the case of performative arts, those that in the framing imposed by the director, can channel understanding of narratives in less ambivalent terms and in favor of a preferred interpretation - that being the case with music videos, theater plays, and especially movies. The “war on terror” master narrative created post 9/11 is another globally known example of how understanding of major historical events can be shaped not only by political discourse and strategic communication, but also in cultural productions reflecting the events - books, movies, TV series, documentaries, all in a diverse plethora of explanations that go beyond the event and into the making of history. And while the majority of cultural productions do not serve as propaganda tools, their significance can mainstream politically loaded statements and can attach a particular meaning to an entire epoch.

A comparative analysis of Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane, published in 2003 and the British drama film directed by Sarah Gavron launched in 2007, reflects the tension created between different viewers of the New York Twin Tower fall as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attack. Both underline the interplay of love and death, hope and revenge, whom are given precedent distinctively by the different characters and lead readers and viewers into searching for a more deep insight of jihadism and the underlying social and psychological grievances that trigger it. They will serve as an ambivalent narrative of terrorism as an extreme and violent response to social injustice and discrimination, while both works of art turn the spotlight on human agency and love as providing alternative personal pathways. Dozens of other film productions, from Zero Dark Thirty (2012) directed by Katryn Bigelow to 9/11: One Day in America (2021) individualize the story while taking a narrative that could easily shape perceptions of viewers worldwide.

While the most visible and easily recognizable, state media outlets and cultural productions are not the most powerful channels instrumentalized to create preferred significances to events. Narratives have in history been used also quite extensively in gray and black propaganda operations. And if high art can play a significant part in the soft power apparatus, one should not overlook the role played by popular art, by memes, podcasts, YouTube video channels, documentaries and mockumentaries, citizen journalism and any other form of collective, grass root formation of narratives as stories we tell each other about ourselves as individuals and communities.

Main challenges in addressing disinformation narratives

The main challenges in addressing propaganda and disinformation use of narratives is that authors and purposes of such narratives remain most often concealed and a specific link is difficult to trace. Illustrative examples available for study remain those offered by state affiliated channels. But to better understand the role of narratives, let us first define what propaganda and disinformation represent.  


Propaganda represents the intensive manipulation of information to influence perceptions and the ability of the target audience to make objective decisions. The overall aim of propaganda is to obtain strategic advantages, political and financial capital brand and image promotion etc.

Propaganda was used historically in order to legitimate political regimes, advance certain ideological causes, and also as a way to mobilize the masses in case of armed conflict. For Lenin, propaganda had, at the beginning of the XX century, two main functions: to inform and mobilize own military troops and to undermine the morale and the trust of the opposite army forces (Lenin 2018). Lenin associated propaganda with the need to adapt the message to the historical, cultural, and social environment and with “agitation measures”. In order to understand the functions played by narratives in complex information operations though, propaganda and disinformation included, one needs to refer to historical examples, documented in the archives.

Discussing the British – Indonesian – Malaysian confrontation in the 1960’s, which lead to the destruction of the Indonesian Communist Party, David Easter shows that enemy sides operated black radios, black newspapers, spreading of rumours and writing slogans on walls, simply to try and influence perceptions of adversarial sides (Easter, 2010, 9). The specificity of unattributable, disavowable or black propaganda is that it targets key segments of the target population (young army conscripts, students, minorities etc.) that could be influenced through subversion and psychological warfare to act in the benefit of the propaganda agent. And narratives again play an important part here, being the main leverage of influence and persuasion. More recent examples, such as the use of conspirational theories during the Covid 19 pandemic, also show this difficult attribution task which remains most of the time unaddressed.

While in white propaganda the producer of the material is clearly indicated, in the gray propaganda the producer remains unclear, and in the black propaganda it can be totally covert and the public deceived to belief in a fake author. (Nabb Research Center Online Exhibits, n.d.) (American foreign relations, n.d.) Nevertheless, all kinds of propaganda make use of narratives to persuade.


Building on the definition previously given to disinformation in section 1.1, we add that disinformation refers to an entire array of tactics and strategies used to propagate false, inexact or out of context information (therefore hijacked from their real meaning). Its intention is to provoke damages and/or profit. Continuous disinformation can severely affect democratic processes, national security, and social cohesion. In the long run, it undermines citizens’ trust in legitimate authorities, the democratic system and the benefits of the information society, thus diminishing citizens’ permeability to information, knowledge, and progress (see also 2.3). Hence, in this case too, the role of narratives is to politically loaded, subversive, aimed at creating multiple “truths” and hence sow distrust and confusion. Furthermore, studies dedicated to social media fake accounts and stories have shown that consumers tend to isolate in alternative realities, conspirational bubbles and post truth ecosystems, where an us vs them perception of reality is consolidated. Hence, disinformation in the social media age has become a powerful weapon waging war by manipulating perceptions (see also section 1.1).

In a public statement published on its official site, the Global Engagement center of the US State Department affirms that “Russia has operationalized the concept of perpetual adversarial competition in the information environment by encouraging the development of a disinformation and propaganda ecosystem. This ecosystem creates and spreads false narratives to strategically advance the Kremlin’s policy goals. There is no subject off-limits to this firehose of falsehoods. Everything from human rights and environmental policy to assassinations and civilian-killing bombing campaigns are fair targets in Russia’s malign playbook.” (Global Engagement Center n.d.) Needless to say, Russian propaganda and disinformation are not the only ones using powerful narratives to advance strategic objectives. Other states, and especially autocratic regimes, have developed similar tools and means. However, the Russian ecosystem propaganda its narratives across the Internet and viralising content when needed to weaken the adversary is a telling example. 

Case study 1 - The Russian Playbook

A comprehensive timeline of the first hundred days of the Russian war against Ukraine, drafted by EU vs. Disinfo shows a telling pattern of the fake narratives used in the information war. At the beginning of the aggression, mid-February 2022, the Russian propaganda machine advanced the idea that there is a Ukrainian crisis caused by the disregard of the West towards the “neo-Nazi crimes” of the Ukrainian government associated forces. Later on, EU and NATO were made responsible for the support of the Neo-Nazi movement, allegedly having organized a coup d’état to create a militarized Nazi state in Ukraine and install what was labeled as illegitimate government. Poland and Romania were accused of attempting to occupy part of Ukraine, while the Ukrainian military “was denounced” to be behind the actual Russian inflicted attacks (Kramatorsk station) or crimes (Bucha, Irpin etc.). In April 2022, US was already accused of operating biolabs to develop toxins that target the Slavic genotype while Ukraine was repeatedly accused of preparing attacks with biological, nuclear, or dirty bombs etc. (source: euvsdisinfo.eu).

The pattern shows a sequence of narrative that attempt to persuade audience by denying facts and blaming the opponent for own deeds: Russia did not attack and does not wage war, the Ukrainian population is decimated by its own government forces, attacks are inflicted by third parties and imagined enemies aspire to conquer Ukrainian territories. Denying the own crimes and justifying war through the existence of imaginary enemies seems to have been a preferred narrative themes used to confuse, detour attention or simply create as much as possible plausible deniability. By the end of 2022, Russian propaganda and disinformation seem to have focused on two main areas: (1) to control domestic audiences, maintain support and persuade that the Russian government is waging a just war against an imminent threat against Russian borders and identity and (2) to undermine support for Ukraine in European countries and the US.

Kiev regime controlled by West, neo-Nazis, Lavrov says.
   ● Publication/Media - tass.com
   ● Reported in: Issue 273
   ● Date of publication: 25/02/2022
   ● Article language(s) English

MOSCOW, February 25. /TASS/. The current Kiev authorities are being controlled by Western states led by the US, and by proponents of neo-Nazism, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a press conference Friday.

"Nobody intends to attack the Ukrainian people; nobody intends to treat Ukrainian Armed Forces service in a manner that humiliates human dignity. We are talking about preventing the neo-Nazis and those who promote methods of genocide from ruling this country," he said. "Because the Kiev regime is currently subjected to two mechanisms of external control: the West, led by the US, and the neo-Nazis, who promote their ‘culture,’ which blooms in the modern Ukraine."
Answering a question from an American reporter, Lavrov recommended the Western media to meticulously examine official statements made by Russia.

"I drew the attention of two previous reporters to what President Putin said. I understand that you have other things to do than read the statements that describe the Russian position in minute details, but I invite you to do it nevertheless. Maybe, you will advise your Ukrainian colleagues, representatives of Ukrainian Armed Forces first and foremost, to read them."
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised address on Thursday morning that in response to a request by the heads of the Donbass republics he had made a decision to carry out a special military operation in order to protect people "who have been suffering from abuse and genocide by the Kiev regime for eight years." The Russian leader stressed that Moscow had no plans of occupying Ukrainian territories.
When clarifying the developments unfolding, the Russian Defense Ministry reassured that Russian troops are not targeting Ukrainian cities, but are limited to surgically striking and incapacitating Ukrainian military infrastructure. There are no threats whatsoever to the civilian population. 

The key narratives used to systematically mock and devaluate Ukraine since 1991 have been also researched in a series of articles published by Inna Polianska, and listed below:

  1. "Ukraine is a failed state which never existed before the USSR’s creation.’ 
  2. ‘Ukraine is not a sovereign state, but an “anti-Russia project” financed by the West to destabilise Russia.’
  3. The Ukrainian language is an artificially created dialect of Russian with Polish influences.’ 
  4. ‘Ukraine is one of the most corrupt states in the world so it will never be ready for EU membership. Even Western weapons are stolen and sold to Russia.’
  5. ‘The Ukrainian government is not self-sufficient and is just following the instructions of Western leaders.’ 
  6. 'Ukraine must be de-Nazified for infringing the rights of the Russian-speaking population and then integrated into Russia’

A closer look at these narratives also shows that they can equally be flagged all across the ex-Soviet bloc, evidence from media content in e.g. Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, the Baltic countries or Romania showing similar opportunistic use of the 6 narratives every time the social and political context allowed it and if the historical background matched the potential use. This leads to the conclusion that what we face is rather a set of templates populated with updated content and used repetitively to create feelings of inferiority, distrust, confusion, fear.
In a similar vein, larger, more complex narratives have been employed to attack the liberal world and Europe in particular. Another EU vs. Disinfo article references the following adjacent storytelling frameworks:

  » The elites vs. the people, a populist frame for numerous conspirational theories dedicated to Big Corporations, Jews, Muslims, Financial elite etc.
  » Threatened values (and traditions o.n.) - a framework often used against minorities
  » Lost sovereignty or threatened national identity
  » Imminent collapse (of Europe)
  » The hahaganda narrative (using sarcasm to annihilate evidenced accusations in e.g. the Skripal case) 

Case study 2 - Analysis of the flows of information and disinformation which shape the conflict in Ukraine

The Road to War: Propaganda and Disinformation Narratives
Since 2014 (Revolution of Dignity, annexation of Crimea and war in Donbas), there has been an increase in the pressure of propaganda and disinformation flows by the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory. Russian state-controlled media and second-tier politicians focused on spreading narratives about the new government's collaboration with neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist groups and the oppression towards Russian-speaking inhabitants.

After the annexation of Crimea and the success of the propaganda launched from Moscow-sponsored TV channels (Maschmeyer, 2021), the Ukrainian authorities became fully aware of the need to control their information space. In order to prevent Russians take control, the Ukrainian government ordered to close the Russian TV channels – In 2016 the number of closed channels amounted to 73- later in 2017 the measure was complemented by the blocking of Russian social networks, Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki (Gretskiy, 2022).

Due to these actions, it was possible to limit the penetration of the Kremlin's information influence campaigns within the Ukrainian space. Within this scope, there are logical differences in their impact according to the ethnolinguistic characteristics of Ukrainians, with greater acceptance of disinformation narratives among those with ties to Russia and barely noticeable among citizens without such connections (Ercher and Garner, 2022). On the other hand, there is evidence that the themes also affect the acceptance of malicious content, giving less credibility to those related to political, historical or military issues (Ibidem).

Narratives identified during the run-up to the invasion 
The propaganda activity carried out since 2014 included statements from senior Kremlin officials mentioning narratives aimed at reinforcing Russia's aspirations over Ukrainian territory by creating a favourable breeding ground for attracting public opinion. These narratives became part of the agenda-setting of the official media apparatus of the Russian state but also began to spread from unofficial channels (foreign outlets, bots and trolls’ networks, agents of influence…).

According to Gretskiy (2022) the main narratives by chronology and context prior to the invasion of Ukraine:

⁌  2014- Kyiv's new government is penetrated by ultranationalist and neo-Nazi groups. Ukrainian citizens with Russian ethnolinguistic ties are being oppressed and there is a plan to conduct a genocide of Russian inhabitants. Firstly, this narrative was disseminated by state-controlled media and second-tier politicians.
⁌  2018- After the new presidential re-election, Putin began to assert that eastern and southern Ukraine were “originally Russian”.
⁌  On 30 June 2021, for the first time, during his annual televised call-in show, Putin accused NATO of the “military incorporation” (военное освоение) of Ukraine (p.2) Previously, Lavrov and some military and special services top officials stated that the “expansion of NATO” to the CEE countries would lead to “military incorporation by the Alliance of the territory of new states” (p.2). After this Putin's statement, anti the NATO narrative was adopted by members of the government and high politicians. TV channels launched special programmes on NATO's “military incorporation of Ukraine”, and state-owned online outlets ended each news report or expert commentary in Ukraine by mentioning Putin's statement on NATO.
⁌  July 2021- In an article signed by Putin on the website of the Kremlin stated that Ukraine was not a true and sovereign state and again accused NATO of the military incorporation of the territory of Ukraine.
⁌  October 2021- In an article published by Kommersant former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev lashed out at Volodomir Zelensky and accused him of weakness, absolute dependence and lack of principles. The article ended to warned that Russia would only negotiate with a pro-Russian president.
⁌  30 November during his intervention at the Russia Calling! Investment Forum, Putin referred to the Russian control in Donbas as “thus far unrecognised republics”. This was an evident sign that Moscow would soon recognize its independency (p.3). 

Propaganda, soft power and grey area
The Russian invasion of Ukraine supposes the consummation of the imperialist foreign policy that had been brewing since the late 2000s and that has been mediated by a process of historical revisionism in intimate relation to the doctrines of Near Abroad, the Ruskii Mir and the neo-Eurasianist theory of Alexander Dugin. Although there are different nuances between these formulations, all of them aim to expand the borders of the federation by annexing territories of the former USSR.

Justifying Russian foreign policy has been a central element of the Kremlin's propaganda and influence actions. Within its borders, since the second half of the 2000s, the Kremlin has been carried out the implementation of a patriotic policy (Kratochvíl and Shakhanova, 2020) aimed at favouring nationalism in the new Russia attracting the support of public opinion to the Putin regime and showing the West as the enemy of Russian people. The idea was to show the grandiosity of the achievements of the Putin regime but also of the Russian/Soviet tradition (Afanasiev, 2007 cited by Vázquez Liñan, 2010) where Putin is presented as a main guarantor following the steps of Catherine I or Petter I. It was also important to give continuity to the mythology of the Great Patriotic War forged in the Soviet period by which the USSR is presented as a guarantor of the free world, continuing with the great story of the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Red Army (Sherlock, 2016). Among the instruments used to materialize this policy, we must mention the revision of history textbooks, in which the West presented as antagonistic, the creation of several historical institutions -the Memorial, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Military Historical Society-, as well as the establishment of the Council for the Development of the Russian Film Industry financed by the state for the production of patriotic films where family values are promoted (Vázquez Liñan, 2010).

Abroad, numerous state-funded think tanks were created, notably the Russian Council on International Affairs (RSMD) and the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI, RISS) that joined the aim of the Gorchakov Foundation (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) in the performance of public diplomacy tasks. These soft power activities have taken place in parallel with other types of actions that are part of the framework of soviet active measures (Kux, 1985), such as the creation of fronts - some continuers of the Soviet period-, media outlets, agents of influence, or political parties and groups.

In relation to the information manipulation campaigns conducted by the Kremlin in the West, there is a large investigation focused mainly on the volume of messages, analysis of content, actors and technologies involved in production and dissemination. However, it is difficult to determine the real impact – behavioral changes – of a campaign in the absence of existing research in this field that works with real data. It is possible to venture greater confidence and credibility in these messages than that held by Ukrainians, also considering the ethnic-linguistic particularities of each country, its history, as well as geopolitical issues. This set of factors determines that populations are more or less receptive to malicious content since they are more or less sensitive to disinformation depending on the ties maintained with Moscow.

Information flows and disinformation: information treatment, characteristics and trends observed in the war in Ukraine
Since the start of the invasion on February 24, EUvsDisinfo has registered more than 5,000 pieces of disinformation targeting Ukraine. The narratives put forward to present a continuation with respect to the pre-conflict period – Ukraine is not a truly sovereign and independent state, NATO has carried out an "active military incorporation of the territory of Ukraine", the aim of the West is to isolate Russia – along with others related to the course of events itself. The main novelty that occurs once the invasion began was that for the first time, the top official Russian explicitly called the Ukrainian government neo-Nazi (Maschmeyer, 2021). This direct attribution would be used to justify the invasion -see Putin's speech- and would connect with the narrative already used by the Soviets since the end of WWII to present the USSR as a bulwark of the struggle against fascism and defender of the free world (Luxmoore, 2019).

It is also important to mention the particularities existing in the selection of content and the informative treatment carried out by the Kremlin, its adaptation to the target audiences -external and internal-, as well as the selection of the dissemination channels. We can thus find different approaches to the treatment of the same event. Sometimes the same treatment of content can be given, although pursuing different objectives according to the public -e.g., presentation of images of Russian bombings to demoralize the Ukrainian side and on the other hand motivate the own audience-. Other times, the information is presented differently according to its audiences, for example, before the shipment of weapons to Ukraine by the West, the messages are contradictory, while the West is warned not to make shipments under the threat that the Kremlin will respond with nuclear weapons, the Russian population has transmitted the message that Western weapons are scrap, but it also takes advantage of the situation to encourage recruitment.

It has also been observed recently with the missile attack on Dnipro and other cities (January 15 and 16, 2023) how Russian TV has avoided broadcasting the images. As we have already pointed out, these images are used to encourage their own audience, although the version given is – as is the case – that it is a mistake of the Ukrainian forces that usually carry out attacks against their own targets, either for lack of professionalism or for carrying out false flag operations. Omitting the images is therefore incoherent and allows us to point more to express order, given the scope of the attack and number of victims, and the authorities don't want splashing across the media landscape Russia.
On the alteration and construction of alternative versions of an event, it is worth mentioning the response of the Kremlin media apparatus on the Bucha Massacre (February 27-March 30, 2022), denying its responsibility for the events and accusing the Ukrainian side of having falsified the images. To confuse audiences Russians propagated on social media bad quality videos played in slow motion, giving the viewer the idea that the Ukrainians had created a fictional show and the corpses were actually actors playing a role. Similar explanations were given for the attack on Mariupol Maternity Hospital (9 March 2022).

Another trend observed during the conflict has been the decontextualization of content - a common technique in information influence operations - observed not only with images but also in content created from short videos of other events, something that has been seen in the social network TikTok. Likewise, Deep fakes technologies have contributed to the creation of false content, being notable a high-quality video where Zelenski appeared asking Ukrainian soldiers to surrender their weapons (Stănescu, 2022).
As a novelty not identified so far within the modalities of disinformation, videos have been observed explaining the steps that have been followed to debunk videos allegedly attributed to the Ukrainian side. This is another step-in disinformation since it is not about attributing one's own action to the opposite side, now the issue of disinformation is the discrediting itself. A phenomenon that Patrick Warren, a professor at Clemson University and co-director of the Media Forensics Hub, has referred to as a "false flag disinformation operation."

As for the social media ecosystem, there has been a boom in disinformation activity, configuring Telegram and TikTok as preferred networks. With the ban on RT and Sputnik within EU member countries, the presence of Russian politicians and military tiers increased, as well as embassies on social networks, mainly on Telegram. The choice of TikTok, on the other hand, is explained by its orientation to the short video.

Control of freedom of the press and expression
The Kremlin's control of freedom of the press and expression has contributed favourably to the spread of fake news and propaganda among domestic audiences but has also made it difficult for Western media and the public to obtain alternative versions to the official version manufactured by the Kremlin's propaganda apparatus.

Russia enacted shortly after the invasion a new law restricting the freedom of speech and press that sets sentences of up to 15 years in prison for anyone who reports information not in accordance with the official position of the regime. According to the law, the use of the term war to refer to the conflict in Ukraine was prohibited, the term being the term of the choice of the special military operation. (Pavlik, 2022)
The new law led to the closure of the few remaining independent media outlets in Russia and the adaptation of Western media based there to the legal requirements imposed by the government. The Committee to Protect Journalists (2022) reports that at least 150 Russian journalists have fled in the aftermath of Putin's war on information. (Ibid.). 

Case study 3 - The Ukrainian Response to the Russian Playbook

In selecting our relevant case study material on inspiring practices using narratives to create resilience to propaganda and disinformation, we have opted for cultural productions that emerge out of the participatory digital culture, where creation is often anonymized, while co-production and non-attribution are widely shared behaviors. At the same time transgressive and empowering, these cultural productions derive their force from the amount of user interaction generated and the real time meaning making process they foster and encourage with digital users. Most rely on a media account of real life events only to then transgress into the symbolic regime and start generate meaning(s) by the engagement of the audience. The reason behind this choice is that within the larger framework of cultural productions, these are the ones that record changes while in the making and offer a great opportunity to the researcher to observe grass root shifts in the social world. Such environments offer most prolific X-rays of every day communication and interaction within communities, also linking up individuals at a global scale.
In the image – text analysis we shall focus our attention on the language, the interpretative frames that build up on the primary event and its manifold constructed significances, and the cultural repertoire used to translate experience into a viable, forceful meaning. Finally, by making appeal to archetypal analysis, we shall attempt to prove that collectively produced stories engage the full force of a protective factor and create mechanisms of resilience at community level. We shall analyse images, memes, videos games and cartoons in order to uncover the ways in which grassroot resilience to disinformation is constructed through the narratives they put forth.

In conclusion, narratives can be used as a potent tool not only for the proliferation and weaponisation of propaganda and disinformation, but also as resilience-building instruments. Propaganda narratives reflect the concerns, weaknesses, insecurities of a target audience and as such could be used to enhance feelings of anxiety, anger, hopelessness, resentment. However, narratives can also empower, give hope, unite communities around their message, based on common values, interests, desires and dreams. It is a matter of understanding the cultural characteristics of various communities in order to create meaningful and attractive narratives that would prevent disinformation and propaganda from taking hold in those environments. The case study analysis of the resilience-building narratives is a brief insight into the power that narratives have which is both inspiring as well as restorative and cathartic.

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Project: DOMINOES Digital cOMpetences INformatiOn EcoSystem  ID: 2021-1-RO01-KA220-HED-000031158
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Ivan, Cristina; Chiru, Irena; Buluc, Ruxandra; Radu, Aitana; Anghel, Alexandra; Stoian-Iordache, Valentin; Arcos, Rubén; Arribas, Cristina M.; Ćuća, Ana; Ganatra, Kanchi; Gertrudix, Manuel; Modh, Ketan; Nastasiu, Cătălina. (2023). HANDBOOK on Identifying and Countering Disinformation. DOMINOES Project https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7893952