Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

The disinformation age: a revolution in propaganda


Good article by Peter Pomerantsev, author of “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia“.  When I read the book, my head literally hurt from the cognitive dissonance I experienced. 

Peter makes a good case for why we need to counter “malign information”.  

His approach should be inculcated with a far broader and deeper strategy, however, at every level of government and society – international and national, down to the individual.  Our current band-aid approach is like spitting into the wind, it will not be at all effective. Information is a source of national power and we are wasting it. 

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Troll farms, bots, dark ads, fake news … from Putin’s Russia to Brexit Britain, new methods are being used to change politics and crush dissent. It’s time to fight back

by

Father came out of the sea and was arrested on the beach: two men in suits standing over his clothes as he returned from his swim. They ordered him to get dressed quickly, pull his trousers over his wet trunks. On the drive the trunks were still wet, shrinking, turning cold, leaving a damp patch on his trousers and the back seat. He had to keep them on during the interrogation. There he was, trying to keep up a dignified facade, but all the time the dank trunks made him squirm. It struck him they had done it on purpose, these mid-ranking KGB men: masters of the small-time humiliation, the micro-mind game.

It was 1976, in Odessa, Soviet Ukraine, and my father, Igor, a writer and poet, had been detained for “distributing copies of harmful literature to friends and acquaintances”: books censored for telling the truth about the Soviet Gulag (Solzhenitsyn) or for being written by exiles (Nabokov). He was threatened with seven years’ prison and five in exile. One after another, his friends were called in to confess whether he had ever spoken “anti-Soviet fabrications of a defamatory nature, such as that creative people cannot realise their potential in the USSR”.

Forty years have passed since my father was pursued by the KGB for exercising a citizen’s simple right to read, to listen to what they chose and to say what they wanted. Today, the world he hoped for, in which censorship would end – as the Berlin Wall would fall – can seem much closer: we live in what academics call an era of “information abundance”. But the assumptions that underlay the struggles for rights and freedoms in the 20th century – between citizens armed with truth and information and regimes with their censors and secret police – have been turned upside down. We now have more information than ever before, but it hasn’t only brought the benefits we expected.

More information was supposed to mean more freedom to stand up to the powerful, but has also given the powerful new ways to crush and silence dissent. More information was supposed to mean a more informed debate, but we seem less capable of deliberation than ever. More information was supposed to mean mutual understanding across borders, but it has also made possible new and more subtle forms of subversion. We live in a world in which the means of manipulation have gone forth and multiplied, a world of dark ads, psy-ops, hacks, bots, soft facts, deep fakes, fake news, Putin, trolls, and Trump.

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