April 18, 2022

Forgotten and Potentially Vulnerable: Why the Online Activity of Middle-Aged Women Matters During Global Information Warfare

Sven Simon / Scanpix
Sven Simon / Scanpix

This paper offers its readers a closer look at one particular aspect of global information confrontation – the variable vulnerability of different demographic groups to digital disinformation. In particular, it looks into the online behaviour of middle-aged women (those aged between 45 and 65 years), who are frequent recipients of disinformation messages.

The conducted pilot research identifies several concrete reasons why this segment of society is more vulnerable to disinformation messages and more likely to unknowingly assist in spreading those messages.

The overall idea of the policy paper is rooted in a combination of, on the one hand, everyday observations by the author of this paper of how middle-aged women consume politically relevant information, with, on the other hand, an understanding of the lack of scholarly and political attention to online experiences of this group in the context of information security.

The goals of this paper are to flag the vulnerability of middle-aged women to online disinformation; to fill the knowledge gap regarding this vulnerability that has a potential to significantly change politically relevant attitudes and behaviour of the studied group; and to raise awareness among the main stakeholders and to suggest ways of addressing such a challenging issue.

The paper presents an overview of the existing theoretical knowledge about recent changes in global information warfare and informs the reader about the basic peculiarities of female news consumption and the ways those peculiarities diminish women’s resilience to disinformation. The theoretical overview ends with the identification of the gaps in the existing knowledge, which are addressed in more detail in the empirical sections.

People from Russian-speaking minority groups are of special interest in the context of information security in Estonia, not least because Russian information operations are directed mainly at Russian-speaking minority communities. The paper’s findings, main conclusions, and recommendations are based on 24 interviews with Russian-speaking middle-aged women residing in the Tallinn metropolitan area. As a result, these findings will be of special value for those working in the field of Estonian (information) security as well as for researchers, journalists, and policymakers both inside and outside of Estonia.

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