The World Today for January 25, 2022


Dissing Information


Late last year, a bank executive from Monaco seemingly tweeted about the white birch forests, tasty noodles and hard-working cotton farmers of Xinjiang, ignoring highly credible claims that Chinese officials are committing genocide against the Uyghur Muslim community in the province. In fact, she had done nothing of the sort.

“This banker’s Twitter account had become the smallest cog in a vast, state-backed, defensive-disinformation campaign,” wrote Lawfare, a blog published by the Lawfare Institute and the Brookings Institution.

Of course, Chinese leaders would disagree. A recent editorial published by the state-run Xinhua press agency described a recent American ban on imports from China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region as a “dirty trick” based on “the biggest joke and lie of the century [that] has already been busted easily.” As the Associated Press explained, under the US law, exporters from the region must prove that forced labor wasn’t involved in the production of their goods.

Readers can decide for themselves. Disinformation is content intended to deceive, whereas misinformation is a falsehood presented as a fact, whether the source means to deceive or not. This type of intentional deception is now a weapon in a new kind of data-driven Cold War. Disinformation, incidentally, is about more than truth and lies. It has a history of sparking violence, as the War on the Rocks argued.

The mandate of the new Swedish Psychological Defense Agency, for example, is to fight disinformation and prevent foreign meddling in elections, reported the Hill. The new agency will identify, analyze and respond to “inappropriate influences” and “misleading information.”

Russia is clearly a suspected source of this disinformation. Estonia has launched education campaigns to counter the influence of Russian television stations that stir up resentment among ethnic-Russian Estonians and preach anti-vaccination messages, wrote PBS NewsHour. Additionally, Newsweek added, the US sanctioned four Ukrainian officials for allegedly spreading lies to undermine the country’s president.

The West has its own sources of disinformation. The role of false narratives and conspiracy theories in the violence at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 has been well documented, as National Public Radio noted.

Last year, French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly said that “false, manipulated or subverted information is a weapon,” according to the Washington Post. She should know. In 2020, Facebook took down French and Russian networks that the social media firm claimed were spreading disinformation throughout Africa.

Truth, like beauty, often is in the eyes of the beholder. But sometimes those eyes are lying.

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