Independent investigative journalism

On the surface, today’s world seems to be civilized and lawful, with business and public affairs following well-worn, legitimate paths. Anyone who digs deeper or looks behind the scenes, however, will find something very different. The surface appearance of fair play contains a good deal of reputation management. On the other hand, unscrupulous business competitors and other bad actors are often able to destroy the reputations of innocent people with an extreme degree of cruelty.

Actors from all walks of life are vulnerable to information attacks, including malicious attacks on their reputation. Analysis by the Information Security Institute indicates that most individuals and organizations react unprofessionally and ineffectually when facing such threats. The most common responses are either to ignore the attacks or to seek to provide justifications. Neither of these responses removes the reputational damage caused by unwarranted attacks.

The Institute has carried out research into the misuse of investigative journalism to carry out reputational attacks for more than a decade. This research indicates that the problem arises most commonly in relation to businesses and businesspeople, who are targeted for reputational damage by competitors as a form of unfair competition and economic crime. The second most common targets are private citizens, who are generally targeted in terms of their honor and dignity. This is carried out by adversaries for a range of reasons, varying from political hostility to the target through to personal revenge. The usual modus operandi is for the attacker to place hostile stories in a series of unscrupulous media outlets which will seem to an observer to be reliable news outlets. This tactic can put an end to a target’s dignity and honor, even when the stories are entirely false. Less commonly, attacks involve bullying, trolling, or defamation of any kind. 

Investigative journalism has become an effective tool for attacking the reputations of targeted individuals, businesses, organizations, or institutions in the past decade. The reason for this is that synthetic material (“fake news”) can easily be created and disseminated, without incurring any actual research costs. If well-disguised as authentic journalism, such material can easily be disseminated in such a way that it appears in news sources online, and in some cases, even reaches reputable and influential outlets such as Reuters and The Guardian. This can happen because of the dissemination of news “leads” among different organizations. The consequences of synthetic “investigations” are unpredictable and damaging, and often provides further lines of attack for adversaries. 

The Information Security Institute seeks to combat such attacks by the use of its own independent investigative journalism, primarily deployed as a defensive tool against such reputational attacks. Independent investigations by the specialist journalists at the Information Security Institute offer unusual advantages in countering false information. The Institute is able to draw on the expertise and connections of international journalists, former staff of organizations such as the OSCE, experts from various specialist United Nations committees, and scientists and academics across a wide range of disciplines, including sociology, psychology, criminology, political science, and jurisprudence. Our experts provide an unusually high level of specialist authority and are therefore able to intervene effectively in the investigative journalism space. The Institute’s activities thus save clients much effort in conducting investigations and disseminating findings. These findings are publicized in a wide range of manners, including producing documentaries, placing articles in news outlets, and editing articles on sites such as Wikipedia. The Institute has sufficient capabilities and tools to operate across a wide spectrum of information outlets.

The Institute works to the highest ethical standards. We have developed a specialized procedure for vetting requests made for its information defense services. Upon receiving a request, a specialist committee is convened, with the remit of auditing the information provided and conducting preliminary examinations of the context. This procedure is used to prevent the Institute from being exploited by actors providing unreliable information or seeking to mislead us.

A showcase example of the Institute’s independent investigative journalism is the documentary “License to Commit Crimes”, which documents the methods used to conduct unfair competition by powerful actors in the Russian Federation.

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