Friday, March 10, 2017

Some Background on Russian Fake News

“Psychological warfare has existed as long as man himself.” . . . “Propaganda needs to be smart, competent and effective,” (Russian Defense Minister) Shoigu said.

White propaganda has clearly attributed source and discernible motive. For Americans, prominent examples include the broadcasts of Hanoi Hannah during the Vietnam war. The North Vietnamese propagandist was famous for her “go home G.I.” refrain, encouraging soldiers to lay down their arms by telling them their cause was unjust.

Gray propaganda is information that has no obvious source, and uses a mix of proven and unproven facts to promote a favorable narrative or trick the enemy into believing one thing over another. The GRU textbook cites U.S. efforts to convince the world that the Soviet Union shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983 in cold blood as an example of this approach.

Black propagandamost insidious form of information warfare is a a false flag operation. During the Chechen conflict, Russian psychological warfare experts spread rumors that foreign fighters had raped the 13-year-old daughter of a Chechen village elder. The rumors helped sow discord between Chechen fighters and Arab Islamist volunteers, undermining the unity of the rebels. (Source: The Moscow Times).

Atlantic Council has a good article explaining the difference between today's Russian Dezinfomatsiya and Soviet era propaganda. Here’s Why You Should Worry About Russian Propaganda. 

In the Cold War years, the Soviet disinformation machine produced and spread lies that aimed to damage the United States’ reputation as a value-driven and principled nation. . . A binary battle between good and evil. 

New “news” sites with legitimate sounding names but no editorial boards or journalistic credentials pop up like mushrooms after a storm to skew the message on any geopolitical event by “reporting” an alternative point of view. They mix facts with fiction to obfuscate reality and undermine the very notion of truth. On social media, Russian trolls and bots attack critics, confuse the objective narrative, and drown out reason with noise. New think tanks and research organizations with vague names but without a transparent funding structure or recognizable expertise appear with “analysis” ready in support of a pro-Kremlin view. 

And once a seed—be that a meme, a lie, or some mix of truth and fiction—is planted, it travels across media platforms at astounding speeds. This is the third difference between now and then: disinformation spreads at lightning speeds thanks to our highly-connected societies. What used to take months or years of constant hammering at the same topic in newspapers and television broadcasts, now takes minutes or seconds to find its way across the globe. 

And once a story goes viral online, it’s only a matter of time before it’s picked up by a mainstream news network, now completely devoid of its original source, and reported as fact by journalists and editors forced to work on increasingly imposs
ible deadlines to keep up with the news cycle and doesn't wait for fact checking. 

Three kinds of propaganda, and what to do about them describes Russian disinformation (as) a "firehose of falsehood." This tactic involves having huge numbers of channels at your disposal: fake and real social media accounts, tactical leaks to journalists, state media channels like RT, which are able to convey narrative at higher volume than the counternarrative, which becomes compelling just by dint of being everywhere ("quantity does indeed have a quality all its own").

We're not disagreeing about facts, we're disagreeing about epistemology. The "establishment" version of epistemology is, "We use evidence to arrive at the truth, vetted by independent verification (but trust us when we tell you that it's all been independently verified by people who were properly skeptical and not the bosom buddies of the people they were supposed to be fact-checking)."

The "alternative facts" epistemological method goes like this: "The 'independent' experts who were supposed to be verifying the 'evidence-based' truth were actually in bed with the people they were supposed to be fact-checking. In the end, it's all a matter of faith, then: you either have faith that 'their' experts are being truthful, or you have faith that we are. Ask your gut, what version feels more truthful?"

And as this NYT article explained, no one cares if the president (or anyone else) is lying.


  1. Thanks for these notes, BF. Now, all I have to do is out whether you've given us "fake new" or useable info. I suspect this is the real stuff, which we can take as useful information. I certainly will.

    Blessings and Bear hugs, big guy!


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