After launching mid 2020, 2021 was the Centre for Information Resilience’s first “full” year. It’s certainly been a year of evolution and growth. For a start, we’ve gone from a team of four to nearly sixty – which hopefully represents how well our efforts have been received. And we’ve launched several new initiatives to help us counter and expose disinformation and influence operations.
We launched the Global Investigations Unit – a team of OSINT experts to expose, document and counter malign activities online. This in turn led to the launch of our flagship project, Myanmar Witness. MW investigates and documents the horrific human rights incidents in the country. We’ve partnered with several international outlets on investigations, including the BBC, Washington Post, AP, Reuters, Sky News, NHK. And John Reed did a brilliant profile of the MW team and our work in the Financial Times Magazine
We also launched Afghan Witness following the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. AW will help hold the new government to account for its assurances around human rights and monitor incidents across the country. The team have already done some brilliant work in geolocating ISKP attacks, investigating gender-based violence and giving a voice to former journalists forced from their work and homes.
We’re incredibly proud of the work both Witness programmes do. What not everyone will see in our reporting is the best bit: international teams working brilliantly together on really difficult topics. We never underestimate, for example, how difficult it is for our colleagues from Myanmar to work on graphic, distressing investigations, including the recent village burning incidents. For us, one of the key lessons of the year has been the importance of putting in place emotional and practical support – whether that’s Visual Trauma Training or cyber security training. Next year, expect at least one more “Witness” project to be launched.
CIR also launched two major reports exposing influence networks – one supportive of the Chinese government, and one supportive of India. Both reports were covered in detail by the BBC, and both networks were taken down by the relevant social media companies. These large-scale investigations are something we’ll be doing more of next year, with investigations into the far-right, ethnic minority intimidation online, Iranian disinformation efforts, Russian mercenaries and more coming up.
We’ve also worked on researching the January 6th insurrection, UK and international antivaxxers networks, the international far-right, tackling disinformation in the Mediterranean, collaborated with European countries to counter ultranationalist disinformation, had some brilliant results in helping countries to build resilience against hostile state disinformation, and even investigated far-right disinformation within online gaming communities!
For us and our brilliant, dedicated team, it’s been non-stop. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. Bring on 2022.
Adam, Ross and the CIR team.