The year 1989 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and the symbolic end of the Cold War.
Growing up at that time, we most feared the threat of nuclear holocaust. Hollywood thrived on big mushroom clouds and the big red button. Hope revolved around the MAD doctrine, or Mutually Assured Destruction. Neither country would destroy the other country, as both would be destroyed.
A much less Hollywood part of the Cold War was something called “active measures,” defined by Wikipedia as a “term for the actions of political warfare conducted by the Soviet and Russian security services to influence the course of world events, in addition to collecting intelligence and producing revised assessments of it. Active measures ranged from media manipulations to special actions involving various degrees of violence.”
The advent of the internet and social media has lent to bad actors employing disinformation campaigns with great effect, and societies have fallen for it.
A U.S. special report from 1981 (Soviet “Active Measures”: Forgery, Disinformation, Political Operations, Special Report 88, available online), stated active measures were to include written or spoken disinformation, efforts to control media in foreign countries, blackmail and political influence operations, designed by the Soviet Union to further foreign policy.
The precursor to active measures was a “Special Disinformation Office” that was created by Joseph Stalin in 1923, devised to “spread false and misleading information, of a slanderous sort.”
Retired KGB Gen. Oleg Kalugin, in 1987, stated that the purpose of active measures was “to drive wedges in the Western community alliances of all sorts, particularly NATO, to sow discord among allies, to weaken the United States in the eyes of the people in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and thus to prepare ground in case the war really occurs. To make America more vulnerable to the anger and distrust of other peoples.” (CNN Cold War Experience, Episode 21, “Inside the KGB.”)
Then and now.
We’re familiar with Russia, Russia, Russia, but in truth, this type of action is being used by various countries, organizations and groups. They’re using the power of disinformation to sow mistrust in our institutions. And boy, how they have succeeded. The advent of the internet and social media has lent to bad actors employing disinformation campaigns with great effect, and societies have fallen for it.
Russia is not innocent in this, but it isn’t just Russia. The purge of “bots” by various social media companies, and analysis of where those bots originate from, show they are far from the only bad actors.
Watch the Q movement. Anonymous “Q” post random ”drops” encouraging people to try to disseminate Q’s message, to see what U.S. President Donald Trump is doing to take down pedophile leaders, as Q is supposed to be someone close to Trump. And this is where we are.
A necessary institution for a healthy democracy, and one that is being targeted with great effect, is the news media. Why? Well if you want to spread disinformation to undermine democracy and cause unrest, destroy the truth-tellers.
Fake news! Don’t listen to MSM, they lie. Listen to this news! Alternative facts.
Just look at reporters during Trump rallies, in cages for their own safety, bombarded with expletives, threats and objects during presidential rants about “MSDNC,” “Clinton News Network,” “crooked mainstream media” and fake news.
Society needs to do better. Our institutions need to do better. We need to combat this because it is tearing countries apart. It is tearing us apart.
Closer to home, we need to learn how to discern legitimate news sources disinformation sites that claim to be journalism. Children need to be taught how to tell the difference between journalism, opinion pieces and what is truly “Fake news.” News literacy is important.
For adults, too. We need to point out disinformation when we see it. Family members posting disinformation on Facebook? Tell them. If they start spouting it, tell them. Take time. Explain it. Don’t ignore it. Report fake news sites promoting disinformation on social media.
We have a growing number of people who have fallen for conspiracies and disinformation. Isolation has provided a vacuum. They have lost trust in experts, journalism, democratic allies. People have been indoctrinated into the world of disinformation. Even here in Newfoundland and Labrador, there are active measures.
Nice Democracy you got there. Shame if something happened to it.