Germany’s best tool against Russian disinformation

The answer to Moscow’s cyberattacks on German politicians is to counter one of Russia’s false narratives: that the political system is rigged against young people.

People watch the leader of the Green Party, Annalena Baerbock, speak in Frankfurt, Germany, Sept. 8.

In a rare rebuke of Moscow last week, Germany accused the Russian security services of mounting “wholly unacceptable” cyberattacks on several members of parliament. It claimed the attacks were aimed at collecting personal information on the politicians for a disinformation campaign to influence Germany’s Sept. 26 federal election. With the outcome of the election uncertain, German leaders took the attack more seriously than previous ones.

Since 2015, Germany has been the main target of Russian disinformation in the European Union. Russia’s goal, according to an EU report last March, is to cultivate distrust and “convince citizens that their participation in the democratic process is meaningless.” One particular target group is young people, whose low voter turnout reflects their widespread disillusionment. According to a 2020 survey by Vodafone, 73% of young Germans do not feel sufficiently represented in politics.

Like other democracies, Germany realizes it cannot be mainly defensive against foreign disinformation. Hackers are moving targets able to penetrate the tiniest openings in computer systems. A better course, says German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, is to pursue a “positive agenda” that builds up social resilience to disinformation.

One of Germany’s new “positive” tools is the use of nonprofits to promote democratic participation among young people. The nonpartisan group called Unmute Now uses bus tours to survey young people about their top issues, which include climate change, drug policy, and social justice. It also helps project young people into the current election campaign – literally. At night, it projects the faces of young people onto the facades of prominent buildings as a message for politicians to take them seriously.

The idea of such campaigns is to counter one of Russia’s main false narratives: that Germany’s democracy is rigged for the elite. If more young people join in politics and turn out to vote, they will realize the truth that the political system is available for them, too.

Western democracies, states a recent report by the Center for European Policy Analysis, must play “to the greatest strengths of free societies dealing with authoritarian adversaries: the inherent attraction, over the long run, of truth.” In Germany, a truth-affirming strategy has begun, focused first on its youngest voters.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Germany’s best tool against Russian disinformation
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today