Marco Ricorda is a communication expert, political communication blogger, public speaker and a twice nominated #EUinfluencer. He is the Communication Officer for the Mediterranean at ICMPD and formerly a Member of Cabinet for President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, Head of Social Media for the ALDE group and Guy Verhofstadt, digital communication strategist for the European Commission and the economic think tank Bruegel.
Academic background from the University of Bologna, Maastricht University, Universiteit Antwerpen and Queen's University Belfast.
As an amateur athlete, maintaining peak physical condition is essential for achieving optimal performance and enjoying the activities we love. Over the past 20 years, I have discovered the immense benefits of osteopathy, a holistic approach to healthcare that focuses on the musculoskeletal system, as a key component of my training and well-being. In this article, I will share my positive experience with osteopathy, detailing how it has helped me prevent injuries, enhance my athletic performance, and maintain overall health throughout my amateur athletic career.
Part 1: Discovering Osteopathy
My journey with osteopathy began two decades ago when I started experiencing recurring pain and stiffness in my lower back and neck due to the physical demands of my chosen sports. After trying various treatments with limited success, I was introduced to osteopathy by a fellow athlete who had experienced its transformative effects firsthand. Intrigued, I decided to give it a try and soon discovered the incredible benefits it had to offer.
Part 2: The Benefits of Osteopathy for an Amateur Athlete
Over the years, osteopathy has provided me with numerous benefits that have positively impacted my athletic performance and overall well-being:
Injury Prevention: Regular osteopathic treatments have helped me identify and address potential problem areas before they develop into injuries, enabling me to continue participating in my favorite sports with minimal interruption.
Enhanced Performance: By addressing muscular imbalances, improving joint mobility, and optimizing biomechanics, osteopathy has helped me enhance my athletic performance and achieve personal bests in various disciplines.
Pain Relief: Osteopathic treatments have consistently provided effective relief from chronic pain and stiffness, allowing me to continue training and competing at a high level.
Improved Flexibility and Mobility: Incorporating osteopathy into my training regimen has led to increased flexibility and mobility, which are essential for maintaining proper form and avoiding injuries.
Faster Recovery: Osteopathy has played a crucial role in speeding up my recovery process following intense training sessions or competitions, helping me return to peak performance more quickly.
Holistic Approach: As a holistic form of healthcare, osteopathy considers the whole body, not just the area of pain or discomfort. This comprehensive approach has led to improvements in my overall health and well-being, including better sleep, increased energy levels, and enhanced mental clarity.
Part 3: Integrating Osteopathy into My Athletic Lifestyle
Over the past 20 years, I have made osteopathy an integral part of my athletic lifestyle by:
Scheduling Regular Treatments: I have prioritized regular osteopathic appointments, whether it’s for preventative maintenance or to address specific concerns.
Incorporating Osteopathic Principles into Training: I have integrated osteopathic principles into my training regimen, focusing on proper alignment, posture, and movement to optimize my athletic performance and minimize the risk of injury.
Collaborating with My Osteopath: I have developed a strong relationship with my osteopath, working together to create a personalized treatment plan that meets my unique needs as an amateur athlete.
My 20-year journey with osteopathy has undoubtedly been a transformative experience, positively impacting my athletic performance, injury prevention, and overall well-being. As an amateur athlete, I am grateful for the many benefits osteopathy has provided me, and I wholeheartedly encourage fellow athletes to explore this holistic approach to healthcare as a means of enhancing their athletic journey.
This article is based on an intervention I gave at the Radicalisation Awareness Network Policy Support Western Balkans Thematic Research Meeting on “Foreign influence, aggression against Ukraine and the impact on ethno-nationalism and violent extremism in the Western Balkans: A P/CVE perspective”on 16 March 2023
As we have seen in recent years and months, artificial intelligence technology has gone through an enormous amount of development and most importantly accessibility. Apart from the ubiquitously talked about ChatGPT there are uncountable platforms that have made a splash into the communication market and consequently the influence and disinformation market.
Many commentators stress how this unprecedentedly fast revolution can be a double-edged sword. However, this has applied through history to every innovation milestone. Nuclear technology can be used to produce great amounts of energy, as well as very powerful weapons. Ten years ago Twitter was the propeller of many democratic revolutions across North Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine, and it is also a wide channel of information utilized by radical extremists including ISIS, or the Wagner military company.
Therefore, as an analyst of the future of communication technology, I tend to be very wary about building, promoting or feeding narratives that are overly simplistic and I prefer to look into what we as communicators, policy analysts, policy makers, governance experts can do to make the best out of the technology that happens to be at our disposal in a specific period of time and to analyse how malign actors may decide to use such technology to their advantage.
While AI has the potential to, and certainly will, revolutionize many aspects of our lives, not only our communication and the content we consume, and create new opportunities for economic growth, it can also be used for malicious purposes, particularly in the realm of disinformation and aggression campaigns.
In Ukraine, for example, Russia has been waging an aggressive campaign to destabilize the country for many years. These campaigns include the use of sophisticated disinformation tactics, such as the use of AI-powered bots and social media platforms to spread false and misleading information. Actually, allow me to say that Russia has perfected the art of disinformation throughout the years.
For over a decade, Russia has been at the forefront of disinformation farms that spread all over the world. Their main goal is to destabilize countries and meddle with election processes where they have a certain level of interest. But using technology to create artificial intelligence is a whole different ball game nobody expected. As it turns out, Russia is already creating A.I.-generated personas with full profiles and a human face.
Last year, NBC News journalist Ben Collins wrote a thread about two specific people who are spreading disinformation from the city of Kyiv. But not everything is what it seems, both of these profiles are not recognized by any system as real people. As it turns out, they were both created by a Russian troll farm in order to spread fake news about Kyiv.
The first one Collins introduced is Vladimir Bondarenko, a blogger from Kyiv who despises the Ukrainian Government. Watching his artificially created face is down right scary when you see how real his picture is. But he does have some interesting flaws that are not that difficult to spot. On the Ukraine Today website, Vladimir has an entire backstory as if he was a real human being. He studied to become an aviation engineer but he was later forced to become a blogger when the Ukraine aviation infrastructure collapsed. In the picture, this man has strange ears, which is a major giveaway his face isn’t real.
Russia also created an A.I. profile of a woman, Irina Kerimova from Kharkiv. She used to be a private guitar teacher but she eventually became chief editor of this Russia propaganda website that is presumably founded by the RT company (the Kremlin). She also has a strange mismatch on her earrings.
Facebook revealed to Collins that these two profiles are part of Russia’s new propaganda operation that was identified by the State Department back in 2020. They are called News Front and South Front and were both created by Alexander Malkevich, the same man who ran the St. Petersburg troll farm after 2016. To those who aren’t aware, this is the same troll farm that has ties to the infamous Cambridge Analytica. Just another way in which Russia uses fake news to influence entire countries.
The use of AI in these campaigns allows Russia to create convincing fake news stories that are tailored to the specific interests and beliefs of their target audiences. By leveraging social media platforms, chatbots, and other AI-powered tools, they can create highly targeted disinformation campaigns that can quickly gain traction and influence public opinion.
One example of this is the use of AI-powered bots to spread false information about the conflict in the Donbas region. These bots create fake news stories that exaggerate the actions of Ukrainian forces and downplay their own aggression, which are then disseminated through social media channels. By doing so, they can create the illusion of a popular movement in support of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, while undermining support for the Ukrainian government and its efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully.
Apart from AI generated images, allow me to open a parenthesis on the so called “deep fakes” videos of a person in which their face or body has been digitally altered so that they appear to be someone else, typically used maliciously or to spread false information.
Three weeks had passed since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The world and global organisations were expecting Kyiv to fall soon, finding it difficult to believe that the war-hit nation can sustain even a month of offensive. At such a crucial point, a video appeared in which Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his signature green attire, was seen addressing his soldiers from behind a podium on which the Ukrainian state emblem was present.
In the video, Zelensky was seen asking his soldiers to lay down their weapons and go back to their families. “There is no need to die in this war. I advise you to live,” he was seen as saying. The video was massively circulated on social media and briefly ran on Ukraine’s television which suggested that the leader had fled from Kyiv.
The one-minute video clip shared was called a ‘deepfake’ – a term to define the sophisticated hoax in which artificial intelligence is used for creating a fake image and most commonly fake videos. The video which was posted by the hackers was instantly removed from social media platforms and debunked. Zelensky dismissed it as a “childish provocation,” and mocked Russia for desperately spreading fake news.
In the Western Balkans, Russia has also been using similar tactics to sow discord and undermine democratic institutions. These efforts have included the creation of fake news stories that play on ethnic and religious tensions, promoting extremist views and undermining social cohesion.
These campaigns are often carried out in secret, using sophisticated AI algorithms that can evade detection by traditional monitoring methods. This allows Russia to spread disinformation and influence public opinion without being detected, making it difficult for policymakers and civil society organizations to respond effectively.
So, what can we do to combat this growing threat?
One important step is to invest in better AI-powered tools that can detect and track disinformation campaigns in real-time. This requires developing advanced algorithms and machine learning techniques that can identify and neutralize these campaigns before they have a chance to do significant damage.
Another important step is to work more closely with social media companies to ensure that their platforms are not being used to spread fake news and disinformation. This means developing new policies and guidelines that can help identify and remove these types of posts, while still respecting freedom of speech and expression.
Certainly, training government officials to counter disinformation-led narratives and increasing their media literacy is another important solution that can be employed to combat the threats of foreign influence, disinformation, and aggression campaigns in Ukraine and the Western Balkans.
Government officials, particularly those working in the areas of foreign policy, defense, and security, need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to recognize and respond to disinformation campaigns. This includes developing a deep understanding of the strategies and tactics used by foreign actors to spread false and misleading information, as well as the ability to identify and analyse online sources and social media trends. Moreover, increasing the media literacy of government officials can help them to recognize and counter the spread of disinformation more effectively. This can involve providing training on critical thinking skills, such as the ability to identify bias, propaganda, and false information. It can also include training on how to engage with traditional and social media effectively to counter false narratives and promote accurate information.
Another important solution to combat the threats of foreign influence, disinformation, and aggression campaigns in Ukraine and the Western Balkans is to generate an enabling environment where anti-disinformation start-ups in Europe can thrive and be coordinated for maximum efficiency.
Start-ups that focus on developing innovative solutions to detect and counter disinformation campaigns are critical to addressing the challenges posed by these threats. By generating an enabling environment that supports and encourages these start-ups , we can harness the power of innovation to create more effective and efficient tools to combat disinformation. This can be achieved through a number of measures, including providing financial support to start-ups, creating networks that facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing among start-ups, or via attractive fiscal policy and establishing regulatory frameworks that encourage the development of innovative solutions.
In addition, establishing a coordinated approach to combat disinformation across Europe can help to maximize the efficiency of these start-ups. This can involve the creation of centralized platforms that provide a one-stop-shop for access to anti-disinformation tools and expertise, as well as the establishment of regional hubs that facilitate the coordination of activities and the sharing of best practices. By creating an enabling environment for anti-disinformation start-ups in Europe, we can encourage the development of innovative solutions that are tailored to the specific challenges faced by Ukraine and the Western Balkans. This can help to build a more resilient and effective response to the threats posed by foreign influence, disinformation, and aggression campaigns.
It is clear that the impact of artificial intelligence technology on foreign influence, disinformation, and aggression campaigns in Ukraine and the Western Balkans is a serious threat that requires immediate attention. By working together, we can develop the tools and strategies needed to combat this growing threat and ensure that these regions can continue to thrive in the years to come.
Paul, C., Matthews, O., & McCants, W. (2017). Winning the Information War: Techniques and Counterstrategies to Russian Propaganda in Central and Eastern Europe. Atlantic Council.
Džankić, J., & Jovicic, M. (2018). Russian Influence and Information Operations in the Western Balkans. European Union Institute for Security Studies.
Rid, T. (2018). Active Measures: The History of Disinformation and Political Warfare. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
There is growing concern among policy makers and practitioners alike about the potential security impact of the war in Ukraine on the EU and its Member States. With the propagation of mis- and disinformation about the war, the large scale migration of refugees to neighbouring countries, the flow of ‘foreign volunteers’ to Ukraine to fight on both sides and a growing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, many experts believe it is giving new opportunities for extremists and terrorists to radicalise and recruit.
In this Spotlight, leading experts analysing the conflict and practitioners from the RAN network, share their insights about first-hand experiences of the war and its potential consequences for preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) across Europe. This Spotlight includes content on community sentiments towards the war, emerging narratives around migration and refugees, evolving disinformation narratives and the foreign volunteer challenge
I was happy to contribute to this publication with an article on “Migration narratives and their governance: Essential to understand for better communication”
The European Digital Advocacy Summit recently took place on 7 December 2022, gathering experts and industry leaders from the fields of public affairs, digital communications, and artificial intelligence. Among the notable speakers I was in an esteemed panel that included Maria Linkova-Nijs, Communication Director at CEFIC (European Chemical Industry Council) and Philip Weiss, CEO of ZN Consulting who shared valuable insights on the advancement of AI and social media in public affairs in Brussels and beyond. The panel discussion was skillfully moderated by João Sousa, Managing Director of the Public Affairs Council in Brussels.
During the panel discussion, I emphasized the growing impact of AI and social media in public affairs, not just in Brussels but across the globe. With the ever-evolving digital landscape, public affairs professionals now have access to innovative tools and strategies to help them understand their target audience, engage with stakeholders, and shape public opinion more effectively.
The panel shared their experience using AI-driven analytics to monitor public sentiment and social media trends. This information has proven crucial for effective advocacy campaigns, as it allows organizations to tailor their messaging and outreach strategies to better resonate with their audience. Furthermore, the panel spoke about the importance of utilizing social media platforms to reach key decision-makers and stakeholders highlighting the significance of influencers and thought leaders in shaping public opinion and policy, noting that digital advocacy must be an integral part of any public affairs campaign.
AI’s Role in Shaping Public Policy
During the panel discussion, I discussed the transformative role AI plays in public policy development. AI technologies, such as natural language processing and machine learning, have opened up new possibilities for analyzing vast amounts of data, including legislative documents and public feedback. As a result, public affairs professionals can now better understand the impact of policies and legislation on various stakeholders and fine-tune their strategies accordingly.
The European Digital Advocacy Summit served as an excellent platform for experts to discuss and share insights on the rapidly evolving field of AI and social media in public affairs. The panel, offered valuable perspectives on the opportunities and challenges presented by AI, emphasizing the need for responsible use, transparency, and ethical considerations. As public affairs professionals continue to navigate the digital landscape, the insights shared at this summit will undoubtedly shape their strategies and contribute to more effective advocacy efforts in Brussels and beyond.
The Euro-Mediterranean Migration Narratives Conference is the flagship event of the EUROMED Migration V (EMM5) and Mediterranean City-to-City Migration (MC2CM) programmes, two projects implemented by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), on communication on migration in the Euro-Mediterranean region. The Conference took place on 10 and 11 November and once again provided an excellent opportunity to migration communication stakeholders to take stock of the latest developments in this field by bringing together the most reputable experts and to consolidate a community of practice of Euro-Mediterranean governmental communicators.
Although it is a multi-faceted phenomenon with countless realities, challenges and opportunities, migration in the Euro-Mediterranean region is perceived as a controversial and polarizing topic that is too often associated with the “crisis communication” rather than “strategic constant communication”, thus causing serious difficulties for policy makers. Understanding the full range of perceptions, narratives and communication technologies used at international, national and local level is essential to promote comprehensive and balanced discourses that can facilitate the implementation of evidence-based policies. Properly communicating and explaining migration as a vast and multi-faceted phenomenon, which cannot be summed up in a simplistic way, is paramount to avoid mistrust in policy makers and promoting effective implementation of migration policies.
This year’s theme revolved around the governance of migration narratives. The governance dimensions of migration narratives (local, national, regional, global) have received considerable attention in recent years from academia, paving the way for a number of dedicated fora, such as the Working Group of the Global Forum for Migration and Development (GFMD) on migration narratives. Nevertheless, much remains to be done to understand how migration narratives are formed at different levels of governance, interrelate with each other, and affect policy-making. This edition of the Conference brought together experts and practitioners at different levels of governance to investigate, debate and present best practices on how professionalization, modernization and capacity partnerships can enhance the promotion of balanced migration narratives and serve as tools to improve the development of migration policies.
The event included rhe 5th EUROMED Migration Workshop for public communicators “Understanding the governance of migration narratives in the Euro-Mediterranean region”, which I had the pleasure to conceive and run as Master of Ceremony and the High-Level Event “The governance of migration narratives in the Euro-Mediterranean region within the framework of capacity partnerships” which I moderated.
I really enjoyed being part of this important conference in the beautiful frame of Rabat and I look forward to organising next year’s edition with ever more food for thought on an issue that has been at the core of my work for the past few years.
In migration policymaking, as in other fields, narrative is one of the main drivers of public behaviour, a powerful shaper of perception and a determining factor in the process of shaping public opinion.
The way migration phenomenon is communicated has a direct influence in society and the attitudes and opinion of individuals. Language can be used as an instrument of power and through discourse certain behaviours can be induced or recipients can be persuaded. Attitudes and beliefs around migration are often temporary and change rapidly depending on new developments or external circumstances. The narrative can help to generate understanding and counteract hatred, discrimination and xenophobia. Or, conversely, they can be used to foster such hatred or discrimination.
With this in mind on 1 December 2022, I spoke at the European Migration Network meeting in Madrid called “The importance of narratives in the migration discourse: analysis, impact and good practices” where I explained the concept of the governance of migration narratives.
Although it is a multi-faceted phenomenon with countless realities, migration in the Europe and the Mediterranean is perceived as a controversial and polarizing topic that is too often associated with “crisis communication” instead of “strategic constant communication”, thus causing serious difficulties for policy makers. Understanding the full range of perceptions, narratives and communication technologies used at international, national and local level is essential to promote a comprehensive discourse that facilitates the implementation of evidence-based policy.
As long as migration is dealt with as an ad hoc “crisis” rather than a continuous set of phenomena, policy makers will always be in difficulty in a sort of run to put down a fire after another rather than building a solid a firefighter station. So how can we make this happen?
One of the answers that is to move from “Capacity building” towards “Capacity partnerships.” In Europe and its neighbourhood, countries have increasingly invested in development of capacities to address challenges, including, but not limited to, irregular migration, reintegration of returning populations and human trafficking. At the same time, cooperation on migration seeks to address expectations for comprehensive partnerships that deliver benefits to the economy, development, stability and security.
Moving towards a mutual acknowledgement of partners’ competences, capacities, resources and needs is essential to ensure that migration partnerships deliver on the call to address challenges of irregular migration and forced displacement while facilitating safe and legal pathways. This spirit is embodied in the joint leadership and shared responsibilities approach put forward through capacity partnerships.
a multi-dimensional governance to bridge the engagement and capacity gaps between migration stakeholders;
a professionalisation of concerned stakeholders to establish mutually acknowledged industry standards;
a modernisation of resources and optimisation of investment to upgrade infrastructures, equipment and services;
a communication on migration because the success or failure of migration partnerships greatly depends on stakeholders’ capacity to drive migration narratives that provides the space to pursue partnership priorities.
The governance of migration narratives
How do actors operating at the different levels craft and disseminate narratives? How do these actors interact with one another? How does this interaction impact policymaking?
During his visit to Malta, Pope Francis spoke in favour of migrants and in particular encouraged Europe’s embrace of Ukrainian refugees. Drawing a comparison with Saint Paul’s shipwreck on the island in 60 A.D., the Pontiff said
“… we see another kind of shipwreck taking place: the shipwreck of civilisation, which threatens not only migrants but us all. How can we save ourselves from this shipwreck which risks sinking the ship of our civilisation? By conducting ourselves with kindness and humanity. By regarding people not merely as statistics […but] for what they really are: people, men and women, brothers and sisters, each with his or her own life story.”
In this evocative address, the Pope highlighted a very important element of migration policymaking: migration narratives, communication and related storytelling. What are narratives and why do they matter?
In migration policy, narratives the most important determinants of public attitudes and behaviour, and powerful shapers of (mis)perceptions. Narratives can be defined as selective representations of reality across at least two points in time that include a causal claim. They are necessary to decipher, explain and simplify complex realities. A simpler definition might be “how migrants and migration are perceived and spoken about.” A fact that may surprise you is that, in Europe, attitudes to immigration are not becoming more negative. Rather, they are notably stable and, in recent years, have actually become more positive. The recent outpouring of support for Ukrainian refugees in Europe seems to be a clear manifestation of these compassionate attitudes.
Narratives are complex. They can be produced and reproduced, crafted and revised. They can include assumptions about causality, good and bad, responsibility and consequences.
But who constructs the migration narratives that prevail?
The international level
International organisations, operating at the intersection of nation states, tend to reflect their vision of how cross-border or internal mobility should be managed. Their approach to narratives includes diverse, intertwining elements, such as, for instance, a positive appreciation of migration as a natural, human, historical phenomenon; reference to universal principles (namely, human rights); and an emphasis on the benefits of migration for both host societies and migrants.
In this realm, migration narratives are often strongly influenced by the “silo effect” within international organisations (such as among directorates working on migration or development cooperation). More controversially, narratives may stem from “communication bubbles” where like-minded, international staff working in specific neighbourhoods of certain cities hosting IOs (Brussels, Geneva, Washington) create narratives that may be detached from the realities of the majority and seem unable to analyse, conceive or even acknowledge how alternative narratives develop.
In my view, there are two main reasons why the migration field is so susceptible to communication bubble distortion. Firstly, the non-attachment or temporary attachment felt by the implementers of such narratives to their host cities (frequently espousing the label “expat” rather than “migrant”); secondly, this group tends to have been given the opportunity to make the most out of migration, and therefore may underestimate value-based communication with audiences that do not share their values of universalism and benevolence and are less equipped to communicate with groups valuing tradition, conformity and security concerns.
The national level
National governments are central actors in the storytelling on migration. Within this frame, migration in Europe is mainly depicted as a challenge – in response to which quick and practical solutions must be put forward. This dynamic allowed a marked contrast to be observed in regard to two recent migration influxes, the 2015 migration crisis and today’s Ukrainian refugees crisis.
The increased salience of migration in political discussions contributes to such emotional activation. And this is why state narratives tend to be securitarian, which has of course a very specific impact on policy. Security narratives tend to be shaped by irregular (uncontrolled) migration, not by migration as such. The more distorted and polarised the narrative, the deeper policymakers back themselves into a cul-de-sac, where they no longer dictate how the narrative frames their policies, but rather it becomes the narrative that is driving them and dictating their policies.
Faced with a gloomy demographic future, continuously presenting migration as an existential threat creates a context wherein reversing such an approach (and attracting migrants) with each day becomes more complicated, and the sheer scale of the task a deterrent in itself – posing as it does short-term risks that are too high, long-term political benefits that are too distant, etc.
The local level
What is the role of cities in forging migration narratives? Is it possible to scale-up local narratives by giving them prominence at the international level?
Local authorities actively contribute to reducing the gap between perceptions and reality. Cities, due to their proximity to citizens, are in a unique position to foster a pragmatic, evidence- and rights-based debate on migration – imperative not only to raising local awareness but also to adopting effective inclusion policies. Local initiatives can successfully resonate at the international level, and the expertise of cities can bring added value for all.
An interesting example of local-level engagement is the #ItTakesACommunity campaign, launched in 2020 by the Global Forum on Migration & Development. The campaign brings together national governments, cities, businesses, civil society and international organisations to promote balanced narratives on all forms of human mobility by sharing stories about social cohesion and the positive impact that migration and diversity can have on communities.
Speaking with one voice
A multitude of issues impact migration narratives, one central issue being the problematic cleavage between the international, national and local levels of governance, making for a fragmented discourse where stakeholders talk past each other. This is why specific attention should be paid to this matter, fostering fruitful discussions among the different actors involved in telling the migration story.
How can this be done? Firstly, spur investment in thematic research specifically focused on how different levels of governance craft migration narratives and interact. Secondly, promote fora with the aim of enhancing common understanding among the actors involved while improving multi-level governance, mainly through designing common strategic plans. Thirdly, monitor, evaluate and revise joint efforts according to current events.
The ongoing Ukrainian refugee crisis has triggered an unprecedented outpouring of support among European policymakers and citizens alike. Indeed, the palette of attitudes and tones used in relation to Ukrainians fleeing the war appears to be somewhat aligned across the international, national and local levels. Even mainstream media coverage seems to have adopted a different nuance than that employed when reporting on other recent refugee crises. However, this does not mean that positive attitudes are guaranteed to prevail, since European hospitality may wear out over time, and tensions may arise. This is all the more reason why promoting solid understanding among the actors involved in migration storytelling, as well as developing a common knowledge framework on the diverse implications and effects of migration narratives on policymaking, must be encouraged and pursued at all levels of governance.
The Seminar on “Challenges for government communication in times of crisis: capacity building, delivering, interacting and inclusiveness” organised by the Club of Venice and Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU on 14 October 2022 was a great opportunity to discuss ways how governments and institutions are organised with regards to crisis management, integrating #crisiscommunication as a key component. A vast array of best practices of crisis management strategies and tools, and possibilities for cross-border cooperation at various levels was presented to an active audience of European public communicators in the astonishing setting of the Liechtenstein Palace.
A particular focus that triggered my interest as a passionate analyst of public engagement, was given on the issue of young people and citizens’ inclusion within the context of the European Year of Youth and implementation of the Conference on the Future of Europe (COFE). Participation of citizens, especially young people, in public deliberations and decision-making process of the European Union has been a long debate, probably dating back to the foundation of the European Community, and it is true that more recently the rapid advance of innovative and community-based communication has created certainly new incredible opportunities for engagement as well as challenges for public communicators such as the application and control of social media platforms algorythms, privacy, disinformation and a reduced attention spam of information consumers. Therefore, it was quite interesting to see and discuss the specifics of communication to different target groups and within different media and platforms while drawing practical lessons learnt from COFE events that have taken place so far.
As part of most of the recent Club of Venice meetings, the seminar also covered issues related to the communication of the European and global response to the war in Ukraine. This is a very important and current topic for which the Club is an extraordinary ambassador. Other parts of the seminar covered ways to communicate the implementation of the resilience and recovery plans for Europe following the economic consequences of the cornova virus pandemic and the current European recession and high inflation. As part of a wide-ranging response, the aim of the Recovery and Resilience Facility is to mitigate the economic and social impact of the coronavirus pandemic and make European economies and societies more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the green and digital transitions. This included analyses on how to communicate directly with citizens affected by rising energy prices and on how to ease the related tensions in the public opinion on major issues.
As it seems that Europe and most Western democracy are experiencing periods of high polarisation, the Club of Venice keeps offering extremely valuable opportunities to acquire important knowledge and skills that enable public communicators, and not only, to pursue their mandate at best. For this reason, I thank Secretary General Vincenzo Le Voci for his strenuous dedication and coordination of such a remarkable network of professionals.
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited by my friend Mark Azzopardi to be a guest on Frekwenzi, a great talk show hosted on NET TV to discuss current events and debates in Malta. In the episode we discussed one of the most talked about topics in this small and beautiful Mediterranean island: the relationship between foreigners and locals. In the show I was accompanied by three other guests: Lorena from Mexico, Annija from Latvia and Jason from the UK. On top of sharing our thoughts on the issue, I was pleased to bring to the table some broader discussions about migration narratives, public attitudes, perceptions and attitudes which I have been working on over the past few years.
In particular, a point I wanted to get across is that certain phenomena of uneasiness or fear of something new when welcoming a sudden influx of newcomers is common to most places. Back in 2005 I lived in Ireland for a period of time and I could still see back then some of the same rhetoric I see, read and listen to in Malta today. This is pretty customary to any country that experiences fast economic growth thus becoming attractive to a wider variety of people from different parts of the world. It is therefore fundamental to work to understand what draws evolving public attitudes and how to drive narratives that foster policy making to the benefit of all.
When it comes to my experience, it seems (based on the show and on my exchange with peers) that I am living an unusual, maybe even exceptional situation. I feel fully integrated in Malta and into Maltese society. I live in a relatively rural area where very few foreigners live and where my wife and I feel extremely well-received by the locals. I go to the most local and iconic gym on the island: the unmissable Bertu’s Gym where mostly old-school weightlifter and body-building enthusiasts go. I took Maltese lessons, although I am still significantly far away from actually speaking this beautiful yet very difficult language, I play 5 a side once a week with a group of Maltese-only friends from the gym, who are all super cool, friendly and welcoming.
When I explain my experience here in Malta, many, if not most expats watch me in disbelief, but I’m sure that with time there is going to be more and more interest among locals who need to understand, accept and conceive the many changes that the island is going through economically, infrastructurally and culturally.
Semantically, there was a specific point that raised André’s (the co-host) attention. The “overpopulation” matter. I worked a lot on this point as I strongly believe that words still matter, in a world where meaning seems something more and more malleable. If you say that a country is “overpopulated”, you must have the intellectual honesty to be able to draw a red line on where exactly something becomes “over” or “under.” Often Malta is described as overpopulated but I find this semantically, ideologically and politically wrong unless it is backed up by an exact estimate of how many people can be received in the country or in a region or a city.
Let me give you an example, overpopulated is a common term to describe reception centrse for migrants and refugees such as that of Lampedusa or Lesvos. In this case, a reception centre has a specific capacity. When that capacity is reached and more people are received, than we can say that the centre is over-populated. However, the point I raised in the show is that overpopulation is always about infrastructure more than people. If a country, island or city is infrastructurally unequipped to receive new tenants, than yes it will get overpopulated as a specific capacity to reception is identified by, for example, the amount of houses, rooms, kitchens, toilets available in that very moment. Henceforth, I explained how Malta currently has a significant infrastructural issue which manifest itself in the form of very heavy traffic, very high cost of housing (considering local salaries) and great need for specific working profiles (such as healthcare professionals) which are not present on site and that take years to train.
While I explained this principle in the case of Malta, I made it clear that this applies to any place facing the same circumstances (high GDP growth, scarcity of housing, scarcity of specialized workers, sudden influx of people, unequipped infrastructure) and it is not in any way a Maltese unicum. Certainly, being Malta a very small country, the situation is highly exacerbated in terms of perceptions since population distribution occurs across a small territory.
Apart from what I shared above, it was a real pleasure to talk to Mark and the other invitees about their Maltese story and I hope the show was of interest to the audience.
It is all around us. All day, all night (like the song goes…). While our cookies serve us the content we supposedly expect to be served, it is undeniable how the so-called “motivational content” pervades our scrolling thumb, whether it is on Instagram, TikTok or Linkedin. While with different nuances per each platform, the “do more or you’re useless” type of content is omnipresent today.
Leadership, mentoring, getting better, outshining, doing more, sleeping less, making more money. While the business of up-lifting is undebatably positive for society and for individuals, the establishment of impossible vital and human KPIs is seriously creating the opposite effect, hence contributing to creating more anxiety, depression and regret to “scrollers.”
Extremely well curated polished content is not real life, at least not for most of us who can’t afford a graphic designer, a video maker, a make up artist, a social media manager and a PR representative that gets us interviews and gigs to tell the “plebs” how they succeeded and how they should pull themselves up their bootstraps, otherwise they are utter failures.
Picture yourself at the end of the day. You woke up, got dressed, prepped for work, worked hard, ate within a specific interval of time, prepped your work for the next day, commuted, and run to maybe get food for you and your family to finally get home.
Perhaps stressed, perhaps happy, perhaps a little burnt out, perhaps uncaring, you have a peek at your socials to release your mind, just to be reminded that if you haven’t worked out for two hours, run your side-hustle, invested in stocks, generated passive income, regimented your intermittent fasting, gone vegan and got your chakras aligned, you are a miserable failure, and for sure the guy who’s telling you that already knows that you hate your life and you are stuck (contrarily to him) in a place you don’t wanna be.
Funny enough, all of this content is uber popular only in the wealthiest parts of the world where we forget, way too often, how good we have it.
I’ve been in communication analysis for over a decade and I seriously worry of the effects that the supposedly “motivational content” business is doing to us.
What can we do about it?
Go on a break with your phone. I’m currently trying to follow the instructions of the amazing “How to Break Up with Your Phone” guide. There’s seriously nothing good from spending any time linked up to unrealistic motivational entertainment on your latest iPhone. It pollutes your brain and takes time away from people that matter in reality, not virtually. Technology is extremely useful, as long as it serves a purpose, not takes away “life purpose.” Spoiler alert: this is not an easy thing to do when on the other side of the screen you have teams of algorithm specialists that dedicate their working hours to hook you up to your scrolling feed. Therefore, accept that such behavioral change won’t happen overnight, nor easily.
Adjust your feed. “Purpose” is the keyword. Eliminate toxic accounts that produce toxic content from your toxic feed and think carefully about which accounts give you value rather than anxiety. This is very personal advice but you know the answer better than anyone. Spring cleaning your feed is time well-spent.
Accept that resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure. Working adults have a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be resilient. Yes, resilience involves working hard, but it also requires one to stop, recover, and then begin the hard work again. Recovery is key to maintaining good health, but also preventing lost productivity. Instead of falsely recharge you, binging on motivational content during a burnout will give you more anxiety, fatigue and regret. It will be hard to let that phone go, but it’s crazy worth it.
Redefine purpose. Redefining your life purpose is often a means of redefining your life trajectory. Motivational content is hyper focused on money, assets, performance or impossible aesthetics. While that can work for some incredible individuals, our real purpose is personal, spiritual and tailored to us. You don’t need to fit in the purpose stereotype scale. You need to find your own, in your own personal way.
Life is not linear. We should work, be healthy, keep active, get knowledge as well as loiter a little bit, enjoy what we have, and spend quality time with people that matter to us. We must accept that some days are great, and others aren’t, and not because an “influencer” (I hate this word), that we don’t know tells us otherwise, that we should even care.
To sum up, motivational content is to be taken in drops otherwise it becomes demotivational for no good reason, and in our frenzied times of digital pervasiveness, it’s the last thing we need.
The latest Club of Venice plenary took place in Florence at the stunning facilities of the European University Institute. At the event, I had the opportunity to introduce the Migration Capacity Partnerships for the Mediterranean (MCP Med) concept. As an overarching framework that aims to bridge cooperation agendas between Europe and its southern neighbours, MCP Med is as an innovative, scalable and operational capacity framework for migration cooperation for Europe and its Southern Neighbourhood partners. MCP Med aims to fully operationalise the partnership concept, promote cooperation based on equal grounds and following the principal of joint leadership and shared responsibilities, where all parties jointly develop, design and deliver accordingly to their own industry standards and through a bespoke modus operandi approaches and modalities.
During the plenary I also had the pleasure to moderate a session on communicating climate change and gave a speech about crisis communication and challenges for strategic communication and possible inter-governmental synergies.
When it comes to communicating the current Ukrainian refugee crisis that is putting significant pressure politically, logistically and humanitarianly on the European Union, public communicators need to be ready to explain the situation clearly to citizens and stakeholders. Some of you may remember the intervention of the Polish Ambassador to the UK whom last winter in London at the Club of Venice StratComm meeting talked of “our Ukrainian guests.” While that is certainly a laudable effort, in a recent discussion in an advisory group on migration campaigns run by an international organization, with over 30 experts, there was agreement across the board that “solidarity is high at the beginning of crises but wears out fast.”
One thing that is quite certain is that as long as migration is dealt with as an ad hoc “crisis” rather a continuous phenomenon, policy makers will always be in difficulty in a sort of run to put down a fire after another rather than building a solid and functioning firefighter station. So how can we make this happen?
One of the answers is to move from “capacity building” towards “capacity partnerships.”
In Europe and its neighbourhood, countries have increasingly invested in development of capacities to address challenges, including, but not limited to, irregular migration, reintegration of returning populations and human trafficking. At the same time, cooperation on migration seeks to address expectations for comprehensive partnerships that can deliver benefits in the economy, development, stability and security and among others.
To achieve better partnerships with its Southern neighbourhood, as called for in the new Agenda for the Mediterraneanand the EU Pact on Migration and Asylumlaunched respectively by the EU last year and the year before, the EU needs to meet rising expectations from migration stakeholders and strive for a coordinated approach to migration governance. Migration communications are too often relegated to tactical response to crisis. There is untapped potential for strategic communications to be proactive and pre-emptively pave the way to migration governance actions. Thanks to the work of the Club of Venice to bring together institutional actors from different levels of governance, I am confident that these priorities for public communicators will be addressed within the most appropriate fora.