Visiting Hubert H. Humphrey Scholar Warns of Dangers of Disinformation
Ruslanas Iržikevičius is a busy man. The Founder, Editor-in-Chief of the Lithuania Tribune news portal and founder and Editor-in-Chief of EN.15min news portal also publishes LT Daily and LT Weekly newsletters. He is an associate of Visegrad Insight think tank in Poland and is a member of the International Advisory Board of Centrum Balticum in Finland. It's this level of engagement and this expertise in publishing news during a fraught time with former global superpower and nearby neighbor Russia that has brought Mr. Iržikevičius, one of this year’s Humphrey Fellows, to Northeast Ohio.
Named for the 38th Vice President of the United States, the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program "provides a year of professional enrichment in the United States for experienced professionals from designated countries undergoing development or political transition." Chosen for their demonstrated commitment to public service in their home countries and their potential to provide critical leadership in a range of fields, Humphrey Fellows are hosted by American universities noted for their excellence in their fields of study. Mr. Iržikevičius visited Kent State’s School of Media and Journalism, September 18-24, 2021, as part of his Humphrey Fellowship.
Growing up in a country annexed by the Soviet Union, Iržikevičius listened clandestinely to the BBC Russian Service and Voice of America broadcasts. This early experience, “living in the empire of lies” as he puts it, shaped him with a well-developed sense for recognizing propaganda and disinformation.
And a mission to combat the dangers he sees.
"The Russian disinformation operation, it is so so good...like a gas," Iržikevičius says. "You know that it's there. You know that it's damaging your brain, your well-being. You know that it's destroying parts of your body as a state, but you don't feel it, you don't see it."
Iržikevičius noticed around 2009 that there weren’t any firsthand sources of news about Lithuania for English speakers, and he began blogging about it. Around that same time, he also first recognized the growing threat of disinformation seeping into the Lithuanian media.
“They might get to know [Lithuania] from the BBC or from some Russian sources, but nothing coming from us,” Iržikevičius says.
Arriving at Kent State on September 18, Iržikevičius spent the next week visiting with the directors and faculty of the five schools that make up the College of Communication and Information (CCI) as well as other university partners. With them he discussed free speech, the First Amendment and how one counters disinformation without limiting citizens' freedoms; communication and terrorism; innovation in media business models; political polarization, propaganda and social media; ethics and issues in mass communication; as well as the history of Lithuania. Through these conversations, Iržikevičius hoped to “build networks and build relationships as a person and a professional…and share what [I] know and … learn what the host country knows.”
In between all of that, Iržikevičius also was interviewed by Dean Amy Reynolds for the Elevations program on WKSU, was featured on MDJ's newly launched podcast, Around the Sphere, was interviewed by a student reporter for Jargon magazine's relaunched online newsletter, had a pizza party with student media and took in an Akron Rubber Ducks game with MDJ faculty.