Increasingly, staying informed is a struggle to separate the signal from the noise. The declining cost and returns from content have led much traditional media to resort to pumping stuff out. Rather than the good ideas beating the bad ones in a marketplace of ideas, it’s more islands of quality surrounded by oceans of dross.
An interesting observation early on in This Is Not Propaganda is how bad actors have leveraged this same phenomena, deliberately, as a form of censorship. We’re used to thinking of censorship as the removal, absence of blacking-out of information, but drowning it out is just as effective.
“More information was supposed to mean more freedom to stand up to the powerful, but it’s also given them new ways to crush and silence dissent. More information was supposed to mean a more informed debate, but we seem less capable of deliberation than ever. More information was supposed to mean mutual understanding across borders, but it has also made possible new and more subtle forms of conflict and subversion. We live in a world of mass persuasion run amok…”
As Donald Trump shows constantly, this is something for which we are wholly unprepared. Our information environment is built on filters and assumptions of good faith that no longer exist or are now undercapitalised.
Shamelessness, trolling and coordinated disinformation campaigns usurp our models.
Just this week the Australian press has launched a campaign against excessive national security legislative by blacking out their front pages. But are we so focused on a loss of access, a lack of information, that we’re missing the inverse?
“When the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was murdered in February 2015, for instance, assassinated with a Makarov pistol on a bridge right underneath the towers and onion domes of Red Square, the farm’s middle management suddenly started running into every office, giving the trolls direct instructions on what to post under which articles printed in mainstream Russian publications. The farm was working in rhythm with the whole government disinformation complex. No one had time to read the articles, but they knew exactly what to post. The trolls were told to spread confusion about who was behind the murder: was it the Ukrainians, the Chechens, the Americans? The IRA, an agency whose connection to the Kremlin was purposefully blurred, was in turn purposefully blurring the Kremlin’s connection to a murder.”
As always my emphasis