Edit Wars is a project using the analysis of media publications accompanying the growing militarization and manipulation of mass consciousness in Russia for a better understanding of the mechanics of state propaganda and ways to build resilience towards it. The project focus on the use of aggressive narratives in the government-controlled media that isolate public perception from the real state of affairs.
The aim of our project is to deconstruct, debunk and artistically interpret the narratives of Russian propaganda. We see this as the key to raising awareness and resilience against misinformation among international audiences. Our team consists of 6 media artists, journalists and developers from Germany and Georgia. Some of us are native Russian speakers, with language research and media analysis background. Our personal experience of being subjected to propadanda and fighting against it in Russia for years makes us feel responsible as we see the very real consequences of a growing state propaganda apparatus.
Our project consists of the following components:
– Data research of media headlines during the beginning of the war and the editwars.org media platform for publishing English-language analytical reviews and interactive infographics (ten narrative reviews, we have published three)
– Exhibition with an interactive installation. It includes elements of visualization and sonification of data and tracking of body position in space. It will take place in Bremen, Germany, at the beginning of February 2023.
– Launch of a discussion platform in the exhibition space.
Art can counteract propaganda using non-standard creative interpretations and should not stand aside. It can be a carrier of an anti-war message and a tool to promote critical thinking.
Our project contributes to the following:
– Raising awareness and drawing the audience’s attention to the problem of manipulating mass consciousness.
– Spreading awareness of the importance of critical thinking and media literacy.
– Neutralization of propaganda through deconstruction. We explain in clear language what narratives are and how they work.
– Prevention of stigmatization and dehumanization of Russian society – to reduce the hatred and bring more clarity.
The first iteration of the project is based on data analysis of propaganda narratives created and reproduced by the Russian digital media from January to July 2022. The methodology we developed allows us to replicate the results of our research and contains algorithms for working with data from the source to the end result. We encourage stakeholders to use it as a basis for their own research on propaganda narratives. Link to full methodology https://docs.google.com/document/d/1C-l0Eehe_5LkzkVgGjkDR78s6Fi4z-BOFgKY5JUEinQ/edit
By using GDELT Global Difference Graph (GDG) databases, we analyzed more than 250,000 newsheaders of Russian-language media publications. We used machine learning tools (in particular, the BERTopic algorithm) to thematically clusterize data and to obtain relevant topics with the dynamics of their change. Additionally, we also applied Tableau to discover typical words and phrases of propaganda. Finally, we extracted word connections in headlines and visualized the resulting network graph using Spacy library.
GitHub Repository https://github.com/EditWarsTeam
Context about the project:
* In Russia in 2022, amid a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, all independent online media have been destroyed or blocked. The monopoly of information allows the state to be a sole storyteller, and to create a distorted picture of the world without any alternative point of view. It displaces any public counterpoint to a cultivation of enemy image, imperial resentment, justification of aggressive war, and “Newspeak” of the state propaganda.
* We consulted with independent media representatives to determine the study’s content (organized a meeting in Tbilisi in August 2022)
* Our high concept is that we can place the data research results in an artistic interpretation frame by creating an interactive installation. We draw the attention of other artists to the possibilities of such research through scalability.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
We explored which key themes, messages and propaganda techniques formed a parallel reality for the Russian audience after the invasion of Ukraine. Using the GDELT open database, we analyzed more than 500,000 headlines with machine-learning tools to understand how the war in Ukraine is covered in the Russian-based state-acceptable media. Using clusteriztion, we extracted 150 relevant topics and grouped them around 10 propaganda narratives. These include toxic ideas about the continuation of the Cold War, accusing the enemy of genocide and supporting neo-Nazism, and the degradation of Western culture.
Narrative as a communication tool which offers an alternative form of history that can be used to interpret reality. It embellishes the causes and development of an event. It creates characters and their features and is built on underlying myths, cultural imperatives and traditions.
We evaluated the narrative dynamics and their interrelation with events taking place, compared them with media reactions and were able to build contextual networks from the popular word combinations.
After receiving significant input from experts in the fields of art, data analysis and independent journalism, we found important to create a concrete tool to fight misinformation and generate awareness. Therefore the online platform for publishing analysis of propaganda is not only an artistic expression, but also the research media. Our methodology is open-source and can be applied for further research, as well as our Git repositories.