The Art of Disruption

The Art of Disruption

Project title
The Art of Disruption
Digital PropagandaSocial Media
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Image by Sven Sivertssen via Flickr ( CC Licence )

Russian interference is often framed as an existential threat to democracy.

The challenge

Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, tensions between Russia and the West have grown, leading to a stalemate with long-lasting conflict zones in Europe and the Middle East. A recent internal report of the European External Action Service states that even during the global COVID-19 pandemic, Russia continues its efforts to sow panic in the West with disinformation campaigns on social media that spread rumours about the virus. However, in all of these cases, it remains unclear in what way exactly social media has been utilised and whether or not these instances are part of Kremlin’s coordinated strategy.


Existing approaches either focus on disinformation campaigns, cases of the so-called ‘fake news’ or study means of dissemination of disruptive content via bots or trolls. Much less in focus is the method of interpreting and re-interpreting facts.


This project proposes a hypothesis: How Russia seeds confusion in Western societies and undermines democratic norms is best explained by counter-framing dynamics. Russia consistently deconstructs frames that are established in the West. However, the underlying norms (e.g. democracy, freedom of speech) are not challenged but are rather tactically used to provide ad hoc justifications for certain actions. Thus, Russian propaganda efforts do not attempt to overturn the existing normative structure in Western democracies but play by the rules of the current order, exploiting the existing vulnerabilities of the social media ecosystem.

Working Paper

Kuznetsova, E (2019) ‘Normative Change and Democracy: Russia’s Digital Messages Find its Way into the International Public Sphere’. Winter School on ‘Digital Epistemics in International Relations’, Groningen, Lausanne, Oslo, Bruxelles, and Erfurt (GLOBE), Leysin (Switzerland).