On 22 February 2023, experts from a wide range of Ukrainian State agencies and ministries attended an online training entitled “Stop the virus of disinformation”. The training aimed to provide participants with techniques on how to detect and respond to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) disinformation, as well as communicate with the media following a CBRN event.
The training was organized by UNICRI in coordination with the United Nations Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization, and in cooperation with the European Union’s CBRN Centres of Excellence Initiative, with the support of the CBRN National Focal Point of Ukraine.
CBRN disinformation is especially pertinent to Ukraine, as false information and conspiracy theories on CBRN risks can cause confusion and mistrust among the population and even jeopardize the government’s response in an emergency. It is therefore imperative that national officers are equipped with training to understand common disinformation techniques, as well as knowledge on how to demonstrate the falseness of information or a conspiracy theory (debunking), to help ensure the population’s safety.
The training comprised a mix of presentations from experts from UNICRI’s Centre for Disinformation as well as its Centre on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. The European External Action Service also participated in the training, offering insight into its work on foreign information manipulation and interference, as well as the EU response to the issue. Existing technology options to detect and debunk false information (such as Artificial Intelligence tools and platforms to detect fake news online) were also discussed, including the advantages and limitations of each solution.
The training built upon UNICRI’s previous work in the area of CBRN disinformation. Since 2020, UNICRI has been monitoring the malicious use of social media and analysing existing technology options to detect and debunk false information, trying to understand the advantages and possible challenges of each option in the short and long term. The Institute recently published its findings as part of the Handbook to debunk CBRN disinformation, a practical guide designed for individuals or agencies working in CBRN risk mitigation at different levels.
Participants provided positive feedback on the training, highlighting the importance of opportunities for transferring knowledge. As a next step, UNICRI, with the support of Ukraine and the European Commission, will organize more advanced trainings adapted to specific agencies’ needs based on the feedback that was received.
UNICRI has, since 2011, worked closely with Ukraine and other countries in the Black Sea on mitigating the risks associated with CBRN material within the framework of the European Union’s CBRN Centres of Excellence and, more recently, through the project “CONTACT Black Sea: Enhancing capacities to prevent the trafficking of radiological and nuclear material in the Black Sea region”. In late 2020, UNICRI began to develop strategies to increase awareness of CBRN disinformation with several partner countries of the EU CBRN CoE Initiative, in strategic alliance with the World Health Organization (WHO) and in cooperation with UNODA, FBI, CARICOM, Johns Hopkins University and others.