Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter has revealed that 77 Brigade is involved in countering misinformation online relating to Coronavirus.
It is important to note that this isn’t being directed at British citizens or at UK organisations, the effort is being directed at sources outside of the country.
At the daily UK Government coronavirus briefing on the 22nd of April, Carter said that they had been tackling false information about the pandemic. Discussing military assistance, he said (ignoring the slip up referring to RFA Argus as HMS Argus):
“And of course we’ve provided an Aviation Task Force that’s been able to support the communities from Scotland down to the Channel Islands, in Northern Ireland, and from Wales to the east coast of England. We’ve been involved in helping the Foreign Office with repatriations and supporting our overseas territories, where we have security advisory teams deployed now in several of them, and of course we’ve deployed ships, HMS Argus, to do just that. And we’ve been involved with the Cabinet Office Rapid Response Unit, with our 77 Brigade helping to quash rumors from misinformation, but also to counter disinformation.”
Last year, Scottish National Party politician Douglas Chapman claimed that 77th Brigade are “attacking and undermining” people in Scotland. Essentially, it was being claimed that the British Army were engaged in operations online against British citizens. When questioned on proof of this actually happening, Chapman removed his tweet.
77th Brigade specialise in “non-lethal” forms of psychological warfare, using social media including Facebook and Twitter to fight with information in response to external factors, like Russian misinformation.
Their target is Russian propaganda, propaganda that is notably very active around NATO troops deployed to the Baltics alleging that the soldiers there are criminals and rapists. The point of units like 77th Brigade is to counter this kind of threat.
Russia is at the forefront of information warfare in the modern age, utilising an array of organisations and strategies to spread disinformation to further national strategy but how are they doing it? The flood of inaccurate stories is so strong that both NATO and the European Union have established special offices to identify and refute disinformation, especially with coronavirus.
To this end, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace recently committed to supporting NATO’s efforts to combat COVID-19 misinformation in a video conference with Allied defence ministers.
“One current priority is combating the spread of harmful, false and misleading narratives through disinformation. To bolster this effort, the British Army will be deploying two experts in countering disinformation. They will advise and support NATO in ensuring its citizens have the right information to protect themselves and its democracies are protected from malicious disinformation operations used by adversaries. NATO can play a key role in the international fight against COVID-19, and Allied solidarity is more important than ever to ensure both the security and the health of our almost one-billion citizens.”
NATO also say that Russian officials have made false accusations about the role of the Alliance in the fight against COVID-19.
Russia’s Top Five Myths about NATO & COVID-19 are displayed below.
Myth 1: COVID-19 will break up NATO
Fact: For over 70 years, NATO has kept our countries and our people safe by continuously adapting to new challenges. NATO was created to deal with crises, and we are working to ensure that this health crisis does not become a security crisis. As in our societies, some of our civilian and military personnel have tested positive for COVID-19, but NATO’s core political and military work continues. Our ability to conduct operations has not been undermined. Our forces remain ready, and our crucial activities carry on, including in our multinational battlegroups in the east of the Alliance, our maritime deployments and our missions from Afghanistan to Kosovo. We continue to deliver credible and effective deterrence and defence, while supporting national and international efforts to deal with the pandemic. NATO Allies continue to support each other in responding to COVID-19 and stand together in solidarity.
Myth 2: NATO is failing to support Allies in the fight against COVID-19
Fact: NATO is playing its part to support Allies in the fight against COVID-19. This includes facilitating the airlift of crucial medical supplies and equipment, matching requests for support with offers from Allies and partners, and delivering innovative responses. Many Allies, including the Czech Republic, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain have benefited from this support. At the request of Allies, NATO’s top commander, General Wolters, is now coordinating the necessary military support to combat the crisis and using fasttrack paths through Europe’s airspace for military flights carrying medical supplies. Across the Alliance, our professional and highly trained armed forces are playing a vital role in supporting national civilian responses. This includes logistics and planning, field hospitals, the transport of patients, disinfection of public areas, and at border crossings. As we support Allies, NATO continues to deliver on its core mission: providing security and defence for almost 1 billion people.
Myth 3: COVID-19 is a weapon created by NATO
Fact: NATO is a defensive Alliance and serves to protect our almost 1 billion citizens. COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease. As confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO), all available evidence suggests that SARSCoV-2, the coronavirus causing COVID-19, has a natural origin in animals and is not a constructed virus. As the WHO makes clear, this new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. A recent analysis of the genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 found no evidence that the virus was made in a laboratory, or otherwise engineered.
Myth 4: NATO exercises spread COVID-19 virus
Fact: From the start of the outbreak, NATO has implemented robust measures to limit the spread of the virus and minimise risks to our personnel and the communities they serve. As we have communicated publicly, some NATO and Allied exercises have been modified or cancelled. These are sensible precautions, because the safety of our personnel is a top priority. NATO military medical staff remain vigilant. They are monitoring any potential impact for NATO troops deployed on operations. NATO continues to assess the situation and take all necessary measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Myth 5: NATO encourages defence spending at the expense of healthcare
Fact: NATO Foreign Ministers and the NATO Secretary General have expressed their sympathy and solidarity with all those affected by COVID-19, with the health care workers and others on the frontline, and with all those who are experiencing financial uncertainty or hardship. In democratic countries, setting the state budget is a complex political process reflecting social needs, as well as national political priorities. In times of crisis, our troops can play a vital public role. As we are now seeing, Allied armed forces are a crucial part of national responses to COVID-19, helping to support civilian efforts with logistics and planning, field hospitals, the transport of patients, disinfection of public areas, and at border crossings. Their health and safety is also essential to maintaining our readiness to deter threats and defend our nations. It is important that we continue to invest in our armed forces, not at the expense of public health, but to keep our people and our nations safe.
Read them for yourself directly from NATO: https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/2020/4/pdf/2004-Factsheet-Russia-Myths-COVID-19_en.pdf