In Orwell’s terrifying 1948 novel, 1984, he depicts a world where truth and perception are closely controlled by the government. When I saw a headline in the Guardian today (“UK government hires M&C Saatchi to fight far-right threat”) I was reminded of the cautionary tale. (Guardian article)
The government was clearly trying to influence perception and news, especially online, but this is nothing new. Propaganda has always existed, to a certain extent. It could easily be argued that the government’s actions are both in public interest, as well as just: the growth in the ‘alt-right’ and neo-Nazism has been fueled by huge amounts of fake news online, especially perpetuated by Russian propaganda sites such as Sputnik, as well as Russian bot accounts on Twitter. As a Socialist, I have been confronted with the dilemma of whether I too should be pro-Russian and against the neo-liberal structures that dictate our way of life and cripple our people and politics. The death of Alexander Litvinenko, however, is hard to forget. (Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko)
Furthermore, the fake news created potentially with complicity by Putin’s government is truly frightening. Putin is no socialist. We shouldn’t forget that. He is an evil man using fake news to trick the entire world. But isn’t this just a conspiracy theory? The plot also thickens when you realise that Donald Trump has appropriated the ‘fake news’ label to use against any media which opposes him, when in fact, fake news was highly influential in his own election.
There are two sections on Wikipedia which I will link to, although I would be unsurprised if they are taken down by pro-Putin forces soon, so I have also copied them here:
2016 election cycle
Fraudulent stories during the 2016 U.S. presidential election popularized on Facebook included a viral post that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump, and another that actor Denzel Washington “backs Trump in the most epic way possible”. Donald Trump’s son and campaign surrogate Eric Trump, top national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, and then-campaign managers Kellyanne Conway and Corey Lewandowski shared fake news stories during the campaign. Alternet reported that Trump himself had been the source of some of the related misinformation over the years.
After the 2016 election, Republican politicians and conservative media began to appropriate the term “fake news” by using it to describe not made-up news, but rather genuine news they saw “as hostile to their agenda”, according to the New York Times, which cited Breitbart News, Rush Limbaugh and supporters of Donald Trump as dismissing mainstream news reports as “fake news”.
Scary stuff. But it gets worse. Unlike in 1984 where the indoctrination is done by the central government, the 2016 election was heavily influenced by trolls and hackers. These may have been apolitical: just computer geeks with nothing better to do. Or they could have been funded by Russia. Who knows? There were many reasons Trump won the election: he ran to the left of Clinton. Maybe he deserved to win. But we need to stay vigilant for this stuff. Here’s another frightening extract from Wikipedia:
Internet trolls shift focus to Trump
Adrian Chen observed a pattern in December 2015 where pro-Russian accounts became supportive of 2016 U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump. Andrew Weisburd and Foreign Policy Research Institute fellow and senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University, Clint Watts, wrote for The Daily Beast in August 2016 that Russian propaganda fabricated articles were popularized by social media. Weisburd and Watts documented how disinformation spread from Russia Today and Sputnik News, “the two biggest Russian state-controlled media organizations publishing in English”, to pro-Russian accounts on Twitter. Citing research by Chen, Weisburd and Watts compared Russian tactics during the 2016 U.S. election to Soviet Union Cold War strategies. They referenced the 1992 United States Information Agency report to Congress, which warned about Russian propaganda called active measures. They concluded social media made active measures easier. Institute of International Relations Prague senior fellow and scholar on Russian intelligence, Mark Galeotti, agreed the Kremlin operations were a form of active measures. The most strident Internet promoters of Trump were not U.S. citizens but paid Russian propagandists. The Guardian estimated their number to be in the “low thousands” in November 2016.
Weisburd and Watts collaborated with colleague J. M. Berger and published a follow-up to their Daily Beast article in online magazine War on the Rocks, titled: “Trolling for Trump: How Russia is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy”.They researched 7,000 pro-Trump accounts over a two-and-a-half year period. Their research detailed trolling techniques to denigrate critics of Russian activities in Syria, and proliferate lies about Clinton’s health. Watts said the propaganda targeted the alt-right, the right wing, and fascist groups. After each presidential debate, thousands of Twitter bots used hashtag #Trumpwon to change perceptions.
In November 2016 the Foreign Policy Research Institute[a] stated Russian propaganda exacerbated criticism of Clinton and support for Trump. The strategy involved social media, paid Internet trolls, botnets, and websites in order to denigrate Clinton. Watts stated Russia’s goal was to damage trust in the U.S. government. Conclusions by Watts and colleagues Andrew Weisburd and J.M. Berger were confirmed by research from the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and by the RAND Corporation.
Here’s a video from Noam Chomsky on a similar topic: Chomsky on propaganda
So no, the Pope did not endorse Trump as it said in this article (Pope endorses Trump). Stay woke kids, check who you are reading and what their agenda is. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Don’t believe anything you read on Twitter!!
And use fact-checking websites like this one: Did the Pope endorse Trump?
We live in scary times, and I don’t know where they are going.