A spread from Moldova: The Disinformation Handbook.
A spread from Moldova: The Disinformation Handbook.

Taylor Swift, Vladimir Putin and Kids Identifying as Cats

IWPR guide explores how malign actors use gendered narratives to disrupt societies – and lays out techniques to counter them.

Thursday, 21 March, 2024


Institute for War & Peace Reporting

In a year that will see an unprecedented number of people vote in elections around the world, a new IWPR handbook, Moldova: Gender Disinformation Handbook, looks at how gender disinformation affects the democratic process.

A sister publication to IWPR’s disinformation handbook, the guide explores how gender identities are being used to create stories designed to infuriate and stoke hatred, as well as laying out techniques to counter them.

IWPR’s Cyber Resilience Guidebook is aimed at activists, peacebuilders and advocates in Armenia, Georgia and Moldova.

Some of the topics illustrate how apparently trivial stories can be used by malign actors to sway public opinion and fight wider culture wars. This in turn impacts national security and challenges good governance. 

For instance, the handbook highlights an entirely false report about school children identifying as cats that was amplified to make Western liberals look gullible and to ridicule gender movements. This feeds into the Kremlin narrative that contrasts Europe - where the Kremlin claims that gay propaganda and gender ideology are forced on children - with traditional, Orthodox Russian values.

Other aspects of gender disinformation use astroturfing techniques – fake grassroots campaigns – to whip up outrage about fringe or divisive topics. Then there are new and emerging technologies: this year, X (formerly known as Twitter) blocked searches on pop singer Taylor Swift due to deepfake porn. Female politicians and journalists are also targets of online abuse, harassment and false stories. 

“We asked ourselves what happens if 50 per cent of the population doesn’t feel safe to engage in a political career because of what happens to them online?” democracy and gender activist Lucina Di Meco of #ShePersisted was quoted in the handbook. “What type of democracy do we then have?”

Co-authored by journalist Nick Raistrick and IWPR Eurasia editor Monica Ellena, the handbook was produced as part of IWPR’s work in Moldova. The country is seen as particularly vulnerable to Kremlin-sponsored disinformation as a small state bordering Ukraine and with significant Russian speaking populations.

Women in public life also often face gendered abuse and disinformation online and in the media. Notably, when pro-European politician Maia Sandu became the country's first ever female president four years ago, a relentless campaign against her focused on the fact that she was not married and had no children. 

Countering Disinformation Moldova: Collaboration and Defence (CDMCD) is supported by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), aimed at strengthening the capacity, collaboration, and effectiveness of local Moldovan organisations to build resilience of the Moldovan public to disinformation and interference from hostile actors. The project is led by IWPR and implemented with 11 CSOs working at a local and national level across the country.

This publication was prepared under the “Countering Disinformation in Moldova Project”, implemented with the support of the United Kingdom's Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF).

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