(Mis)Translating Deceit: Disinformation as a Translingual, Discursive Dynamic

A 3-year AHRC-funded interdisciplinary research project aiming to develop a new, holistic approach to a key global challenge  (runs from October 2023 to October 2026; total value: £1million)

Our Project

By reconstructing disinformation's multiple border crossings - temporal, linguistic, cultural - (Mis)translating Deceit (MD) will re-orient existing approaches to disinformation. It will interrogate common misconceptions about disinformation, treating it as a translingual, historically mutating phenomenon forged within the sociopolitically contingent realm of discourse.

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Context

The Ukraine war, Covid-19 and the Trump presidency highlight the threat disinformation poses to democracy. Yet the implicit persistence of Cold War binaries – pitting democratic 'truth-telling' against totalitarian 'deceit', even in relation to homegrown disinformation – has seriously hampered attempts to counter this problem in the multipolar, Big Data age.

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Methods

We will employ a 5-stage methodological toolset focusing on a discourse analysis of seven specific disinformation campaigns assigned Russian/Soviet provenance by one of the world's leading counter-disinformation units. We will pay special attention to the dynamic linking 'disinformation narratives' and the conceptual apparatus applied to them by disinformation monitors.

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01

Rethink conceptual framework

By rethinking the conceptual framework in which disinformation is understood, to develop innovative qualitative methods for studying it as a translingual, historically contingent discourse, laying the grounds for a transformative new Critical Disinformation Studies (CDS)

02

Fill major gap in the field

Through the application of this new conceptual framework and methodology, to improve our understanding of the mutation of disinformation discourses and narratives over time and across lingua-cultural and geopolitical divides, filling a major gap in the field and correcting the hitherto monolingual bias in its coverage

03

Promote importance of Modern Languages research

To facilitate a Modern Languages-led interdisciplinary investigation of a major societal challenge, generating a CDS toolset that enhances the ability of modern linguists to address this challenge by incorporating methods from Cold War history, translation studies, audience research, media studies, security, and cybersecurity studies (including their policy dimensions) and discourse analysis

04

Carry out contemporary and Historical Case Studies

To carry out a range of detailed historical and contemporary case studies reconstructing the full dynamic in which the relationship between the calibration of narratives by their producers, their public acquisition of disinformation status and their reception by target audiences shifts as they travel from one lingua-cultural environment to another

05

Illuminate Russia's role as disinfo producer

To shed light on how Russia's perceived role as a producer and disseminator of disinformation past and present should be understood within a comparative context, how these historically shaped perceptions continue to inform wider understandings of disinformation, and how they have been reshaped by Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine

06

Pioneer new model of knowledge production

To construct a pioneering model of collaborative knowledge generation in which academics, policy analysts and counter-disinformation practitioners tackle conceptual and methodological issues pertaining to the identification and countering of information-manipulation activities, and incorporating simulation models developed by Chatham House to test the efficacy of policy responses to disinformation in diverse local contexts

07

Support democratic integrity

To help stakeholders support democratic integrity, information resilience and good governance, improving their appreciation of the importance of the different lingua-cultural and historical contexts in which disinformation is produced and consumed, their tools for detecting manipulated information and their understanding of the relationship between counter-disinformation theory and practice, thus ensuring a more reflexive and dynamic approach to the problems at stake

08

Offer career development opportunities

To offer career development opportunities to early career researchers by inducting them into the project's intellectual networks, providing opportunities for publications, impact work and training, and building capacity in Language-Based Area Studies, Communication Studies, and Cold War History

09

Produce major outputs

To produce a co-authored monograph, a series of refereed journal articles for academic beneficiaries in media studies, history, translation studies, area studies and medical humanities, and a REF Impact Case Study.

10

Generate policy reports

To produce reports, co-authored with policy community members, for our non-academic collaborators and partners, including the WHO, the FCO, OFCOM and DCMS, summarizing the relevance of our findings and proposing transformative new approaches to countering disinformation which will bolster UK information resilience and deepen policymakers' understanding of a key threat to UK security.

How do definitions of disinformation change across time and geopolitical setting?

What role do cross-cultural mediations of the Cold War and post-communist transformation periods play in these mutations? What, if any, shared attributes do they manifest and how do we theorise them?

What do Soviet disinformation and reactions to it reveal about current disinformation and counter-disinformation activities?

Where then, and now, is their presumed deceit located, and with what implications: in their truth claims; their narrative frames; or their perpetrators’ self-representation?

What linguistic trajectories do disinformation narratives follow?

How are they adapted for different contexts and how well do they ‘translate’ for their audiences? What is the role of inter-state, translingual collusion in their generation? How does the perceived primacy of global English affect the dissemination, camouflaging and deconstruction of disinformation?

In what socio-political environments are these narratives rooted and how does this affect their formal attributes?

How are their truth statuses bolstered? How do communication strategies change across platforms and genres, and from digital to traditional media?

How are disinformation narratives appropriated by different audiences?

How are they used to draw Self/Other distinctions and how do they relate to different news sources and diets?

How do we develop policy responses that address the challenges posed by disinformation’s various mutations?

How might we test the efficacy of lingua-culturally calibrated counterdisinformation strategies? Can we account for their interaction with disinformation narratives?

Stephen Hutchings

Principle Investigator

Stephen Hutchings is Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Manchester and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.

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Vera Tolz

Lead Co-Investigator

Vera Tolz is Sir William Mather Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Manchester and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.

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Neil Sadler

Co-Investigator

Neil Sadler is Associate Professor of Translation Studies, University of Leeds.

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Sabina Mihelj

Co-Investigator

Sabina Mihelj is Professor of Media and Cultural Analysis at Loughborough University.

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Patricia Lewis

Co-Investigator

Dr Patricia Lewis is Research Director of Conflict, Science and Transformation and Director of the International Security Programme at Chatham House.

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Robert Yates

Co-Investigator

Rob Yates is the Executive Director of the Centre for Universal Health at Chatham House, and Director of its Global Health Programme.

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Nicolas Hénin

Project Consultant

Nicolas Hénin is an experienced French author and journalist who has covered numerous conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.

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Alexandr Voronovici

Research Associate

Alexandr Voronovici is a project research associate at the University of Manchester.

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Maxim Alyukov

Leverhulme Early-Career Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Manchester

Maxim joined the University of Manchester as a Leverhulme Early-Career Fellow in October 2023.

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Maksim Markelov

PhD Candidate

Under the supervision of Professors Stephen Hutchings and Vera Tolz at the University of Manchester, Maksim is carrying out research using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods for a PhD project entitled: 'Transforming Meaning: Russian Trolls in Social Media’s Changing Linguistic Landscape'.

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Natalie Hall

Postdoctoral researcher

Dr Natalie-Anne Hall is a postdoctoral research associate on the Everyday Misinformation Project at the Online Civic Culture Centre, Loughborough University.

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“Sportswashing” as Disinformation. Part I: The Power of “Spin” through Popular Sports Events

The first part of Vitaly Kazakov's two-part blog post examining “sportswashing” as a form of disinformation, and reflecting on the role of audiences and the reception of “sportswashing” narratives.

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Video Interview with Stephen Hutchings and Vera Tolz

Stephen Hutchings and Vera Tolz discuss our project in this video interview with Digital Futures network at the University of Manchester.

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Transnational Right-Wing Populism Online: Lessons from the Pro-Brexit Facebook Milieu

In her blog, Natalie-Anne Hall discusses the engagement of the pro-Brexit Facebook users with transnational right-wing populist discourses. The essay is based on Dr. Hall's recently published book 'Brexit, Facebook, and Transnational Right-Wing Populism' (Lexington Books, 2023).

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(Mis)Translating Deceit: A New Perspective on Disinformation

This blog gives a handy overview of our project. It is published on 'The Russia Program' website at George Washington University and is available at: https://therussiaprogram.org/page37253323.html

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(Mis)Translating Deceit: A New Perspective on Disinformation

(Mis)Translating Deceit: A New Perspective on Disinformation

This short article, authored by Stephen Hutchings, appeared in the Russia Program Journal. It outlines some of the key ideas and ambitions of our project.

The article is available at: https://online.flippingbook.com/view/65937120/6/

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'Truth with a Z: disinformation, war in Ukraine, and Russia’s contradictory discourse of imperial identity'

'Truth with a Z: disinformation, war in Ukraine, and Russia’s contradictory discourse of imperial identity'

This article by Vera Tolz and Stephen Hutchings offers a qualitative analysis of how, by adopting identity-related discourses whose meanings resonate within a given culture, Russian state propaganda strives to bolster “the truth status” of its Ukraine war claims. These discourses, we argue, have long historical lineages and thus are expected to be familiar to audiences. We identify three such discourses common in many contexts but with specific resonances in Russia, those of colonialism/decolonization, imperialism, and the imaginary West. The article demonstrates that these same discourses also inform war-related coverage in Russophone oppositional media. Russian state-affiliated and oppositional actors further share “floating signifiers,” particularly “the Russian people,” “historical Russia,” “the Russian world,” “Ukraine,” “fascism/Nazism,” and “genocide,” while according them radically different meanings. Overall, our findings highlight the importance of studying how state propaganda works at the level of discourses, and the acutely dialogical processes by which disinformation and counter-disinformation efforts are produced and consumed.

Available via Open Access at: 

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Projecting Russia in a Mediatized World: Recursive Nationhood

Projecting Russia in a Mediatized World: Recursive Nationhood

The book by Stephen Hutchings presents a new perspective on how Russia projects itself to the world. Distancing itself from familiar, agency-driven International Relations accounts that focus on what ‘the Kremlin’ is up to and why, it argues for the need to pay attention to deeper, trans-state processes over which the Kremlin exerts much less control. Especially important in this context is mediatization, defined as the process by which contemporary social and political practices adopt a media form and follow media-driven logics. In particular, the book emphasizes the logic of the feedback loop or ‘recursion’, showing how it drives multiple Russian performances of national belonging and nation projection in the digital era. It applies this theory to recent issues, events, and scandals that have played out in international arenas ranging from television, through theatre, film, and performance art, to warfare. The first three chapters relate directly to disinformation.


For further details, see: https://www.routledge.com/Projecting-Russia-in-a-Mediatized-World-Recursive-Nationhood/Hutchings/p/book/9780367263904

This book is now available via Open Access at: https://www.routledge.com/Projecting-Russia-in-a-Mediatized-World-Recursive-Nationhood/Hutchings/p/book/9781032201221#

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‘(Mis)Translating Deceit: Disinformation’s Hidden Translingual, Journey’

‘(Mis)Translating Deceit: Disinformation’s Hidden Translingual, Journey’

This short introductory piece, authored by Stephen Hutchings and Vera Tolz, appeared on the Modern Languages Research Blog hosted by the Institute for Advanced Study in London on October 6, 2021. It is available at: https://modernlanguagesresearch.blogs.sas.ac.uk/2021/10/06/mistranslating-deceit-disinformations-hidden-translingual-journey/

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‘Performing Disinformation: a Muddled History and its Consequences’

‘Performing Disinformation: a Muddled History and its Consequences’

This brief introduction to the history of uses of the term, disinformation, was authored by Vera Tolz and Stephen Hutchings. It appeared on the LSE Politics Blog (Media@LSE Blog) on 10 August, 2021. It is available at: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/medialse/2021/10/08/performing-disinformation-a-muddled-history-and-its-consequences/

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Fragmented Narrative: Telling and Interpreting Stories in the Twitter Age

Fragmented Narrative: Telling and Interpreting Stories in the Twitter Age

With the rise and rise of social media, today’s communication practices are significantly different from those of even the recent past. A key change has been a shift to very small units, exemplified by Twitter and its strict 280-character limit on individual posts. Consequently, highly fragmented communication has become the norm in many contexts. In his book Neil Sadler sets out to explore the production and reception of fragmentary stories, analysing the Twitter-based narrative practices of Donald Trump, the Spanish political movement Podemos, and Egyptian activists writing in the context of the 2013 military intervention in Egypt. Sadler draws on narrative theory and hermeneutics to argue that narrative remains a vital means for understanding, allowing fragmentary content to be grasped together as part of significant wholes.

For further details see: https://www.routledge.com/Fragmented-Narrative-Telling-and-Interpreting-Stories-in-the-Twitter-Age/Sadler/p/book/9781032036762

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Data sets

Our project will generate various datasets relating to our work on disinformation. These may be of use to other researchers

 

Reports

We are planning to co-produce various short reports summarising our findings, but aimed at the policy-making community and/or a wider general audience. They are available here.

 

Media

We hope to make available links to online media resources relevant to our research interests. They will be found here

Bibliography

Bibliography

Over the course of our project we will build an extensive bibliography capturing other useful research items dealing with those aspects of disinformation of interest to us. It will be available here