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Tactics and tools How Russian propaganda uses the “40 to 60” method to achieve its own goals

“40 to 60” or “60 to 40” is a propaganda method in which 60% of the information is true, and 40% is manipulative. Propagandists create media that work on this principle and position themselves as an objective, independent or alternative source of information. By spreading true news, propaganda media ingratiates themselves with the reader, which encourages him or her to turn off critical thinking and swallow the other 40% of misinformation. It is often presented as something that the authorities are hiding from society and conspiracy theories. The proportion of truth and misinformation can vary in one direction or another depending on the media.

During World War II, this method was used by Joseph Goebbels, who headed the Ministry of Propaganda and Public Education of the Third Reich. On his instructions, an “anti-Nazi” English-language radio station was created, the announcer of which was William Joyce (a British man who supported Nazism and fled to Germany with his wife). At the time, radio was vital to the British public and the BBC was heavily censored, so English-language radio was seen as an alternative. William Joyce began broadcasts with the phrase “Germany is calling, Germany is calling”, read out genuine news from newspapers purchased in neutral countries (60%), and disseminated information about the dizzying successes and victories of Germany (40%). He reported that Germany wanted peace and was not going to bomb women and children in Great Britain, but the British left no choice and forced the Reich to violence. He also ridiculed Winston Churchill and tried to convince the British public that only the destruction of the British Prime Minister would save them from violence and give them a chance to reach an agreement.

This method is used by media that position themselves as independent, but from time to time they disseminate Russian propaganda. Meduza, which positions itself as an independent and reliable international Russian-language publication registered in Latvia, does not support Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and provides truthful news. However, in July 2022, analysts at the Pylyp Orlyk Institute for Democracy conducted a study of Meduza media publications for the presence of pro-Russian narratives, and they were found in 47 publications (more than 55%). The online publication disseminated messages that “Ukraine has betrayed the residents of Donbas”, “The Ukrainian army is shelling civilian targets in the occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, “The drama theater in Mariupol was blown up from the inside”, and also repeated statements by the Russian authorities about a “preemptive strike on NATO”  and the narrative “not only Putin, but also Western politicians are to blame for the war”. Such statements were balanced with actual true news. So, consciously or unwillingly, journalists from the Latvian media help Russia justify its crimes. Consumers of the content that Meduza creates may have the feeling that “everything is not so simple” and they will not try to find a truthful version of reality.

Just like the media, some opposition Russian bloggers and politicians, whose content is consumed by Ukrainians, also pose a danger. Maksym Kats, a politician and blogger who left Russia after the start of the full-scale invasion and posts supposedly counter-propaganda videos on YouTube every day, expressed the opinion that “the Russian opposition does not owe anything to anyone, especially the Ukrainians” or “we need to share blame and responsibility. The one who shot and who gave the orders is to blame. The one who did not overthrow Putin is not to blame”. His colleague, politician and blogger Illia Varlamov, who is also watched by Ukrainians, denied Russia’s 2014 invasion of the Luhansk region and Donbas, traveled to occupied Crimea and filmed videos from the annexed peninsula, and made a film against Ukraine, where he distorted historical facts.

Bloggers in opposition to the Putin regime appeal to emotions and create the false impression that they were persecuted by the regime, they are for justice, against war and support Ukraine. For external audiences and some Ukrainians, they look like victims of global injustice, but they continue to broadcast, in measured doses, like supposedly independent media, consciously or unconsciously Russian narratives that can be picked up by content consumers.

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