The KGB-engineered rumour that the US government created the AIDS virus - Operation Infektion - was very successful. Not only did it undermine the US and benefit the Soviets, but it remains today a dramatic, and frightening, example of the power of political manipulation, a power that has grown exponentially in influence since the widespread use of the Internet. (For those interested and able to access the NYT site, these short videos on ‘disinformation’ also include much about Operation Infektion, and were, I thought, riveting).
I work with a lot of well-informed, intelligent people and have yet to hear anyone bring up the topic of, or allude to, disinformation. When I make reference to it, no one seems terribly interested, and certainly not nearly as interested or worried about it as I am. I get the sense that people think ‘well both sides do it’ and stop at that.
Now, it’s true that they may simply think I am a conspiracy theorist, or find me boring, but as my OP here shows (as have others), I think they are misguided. I believe disinformation is THE political issue of the day and, what’s worse, will become even more important in the future. Domestically, disinformation is used for control and influence. But internationally, it really is more a form of warfare. And everywhere it’s available to anybody: governments and individuals, liberals and illiberals, progressives and anarchists.
Am I right in believing it to be the major issue of the day? Some will say that rumors and rumor-mongering have always been part of politics and societies but it’s only the Internet and its amplifying power that is new. And I would say, fine, the point is that there is still a powerful new force affecting both politics and society. A novel force that is a combination of the ancient and the newly-invented.
If ‘both sides do it’, if both sides create false ‘facts’, when is it appropriate to support one side on the issue at hand? Ultimately, I suppose it is a matter of values - the values you hold and the values you believe the other side comes closer to supporting.
Obviously I can’t prove that disinformation is the singular political issue of the modern world, but surely more needs to be done to promote awareness of it. To appreciate it for what it is, and ultimately, I hope, to lessen its impact.