A recent article by the New York Times (A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories) declared that Russia is now heavily involved in a variety of disinformation campaigns which are designed to divide and frustrate entire populations within countries, and even regions. This article specifically mentions how this has recently happened in Sweden. That country is currently in the midst of a nationwide debate of whether it should enter into the NATO alliance, presumably to cause Russia to rethink its threatening activities of late in the region. According to the article, social media in Sweden all of the sudden experienced a significant swell of distorted, and even completely false information which began to confuse and contort public perceptions on the NATO-or-not issue. Included in the false information were that if Sweden signed the deal that it would be required to stockpile nuclear weapons in secret facilities, that NATO could attack Russia from Sweden without government approval, that NATO soldiers would be immune from prosecution from any kind of crime, including the rape of Swedish women. This disinformation campaign was so successful that Sweden’s political leaders had to initiate a full-court press to counter the effects of the false information. No one could say for sure where the false information was coming from, but it was assumed to originate from Russia due to its interests directly being involved.
Also according to the article, Russia uses the English-speaking news channels RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik News, as its lackeys to deliver false or skewed information to an English-speaking public. It also uses other untraceable channels to deliver disinformation messages in order to further its interests around the world.
In an increasingly integrated world, with powerful nation-states, corporate interests and mega-wealthy individuals pulling the levers of power, the New York Times’ article really should not come as a surprise. Information, or the control and dissemination of it, is clearly a part of how powerful special interests move and shape the world. What should also not come as a surprise, is that the New York Times did not specifically mention how the U.S. is equally responsible for disinformation campaigns the world over in recent decades. In fact, it could very well be that the fervency of Russia’s disinformation campaign is directly proportionate to that of the one the U.S. employs to serve the interests of those who pull its levers.
If the above assertion is hard to believe, let’s look at some disinformation campaigns emanating from the U.S. in recent years. The biggest hoodwink of all within the last 15 years was the U.S. invasion of Iraq. All of the propaganda and disinformation spun and spewed from the Bush Administration to get us into Iraq was based on completely false pretenses. Of course, George Bush, Dick Cheney and all of their cronies were clearly tied to the oil and gas industry. Invading Iraq made their cohorts massive profit while externalizing the real costs to the American people, its soldiers, their families and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who suffered (and are still suffering) the for-profit motive to invade their country. Once the motive to invade was established, disinformation and propaganda were used through mediums exactly like the New York Times to muster the public’s resolve to back the motive.
What about the Gulf of Tonkin Incident? It is by now a part of the historical record that North Vietnamese torpedo boats never attacked the USS Maddox, but it was made to appear so in order to enrage the American public enough to merit the green light to enter into a protracted war resulting in countless casualties and suffering still experienced to this day.
Need a more recent incident where democracy itself was subverted in the U.S.? Look no further than Wikileaks’ recent disclosure that the DNC actively strategized to upend Bernie Sanders’s campaign with disinformation in order to get Hillary Clinton the democratic nomination for President. According to the leaked emails, the DNC’s top brass sought to falsely represent Sanders’ religious devotions, as well as create a false narrative centered around incidents of violence among Sanders’ supporters at his public campaign gatherings. Of course, in true spin fashion, the story quickly was warped into a ‘who leaked the classified documents’ (Russia) rather than actually scrutinize why the DNC would so shamelessly seek to derail democracy itself with its own disinformation campaign.
Recent American history is replete with examples of disinformation campaigns that, without exception, worked against the best interests of the general American populace, and for those who hold the levers of power the world over. This is not at all to excuse Russia’s disinformation campaigns, or how it is actively seeking to set entire populations against one another. And let’s not forget that China is in this mix as well. What we do need to remember is that information is used now, more than ever, to leverage to the benefit of the few, and to the expense of the many. This is critically important to remember when consuming information now-a-days. When reading the news, or anything that pops up in the social media sphere, it is imperative for informed minds to cross-reference that which they read against other sources. Blindly believing what you read through a singular news source will lead you further away from the truth. The more we remember this, and even seek to integrate our news consumption from sources from around the world, the less likely American or Russian disinformation campaigns will succeed.