Lately, there appears to be an increase in using the media as a medium through which to generate and distribute so-called ‘fake news’ to drive specific agendas. One must therefore investigate the origin or source of the 'fake news' as that will determine the agenda(s).
The ability to sell a lie and deceive people through ‘controlled media’ is nothing new. By trying to force the people to believe and think only what the media wants them believe and think, has long been the hallmark of the mainstream media. But, people are beginning to question the validity of the ‘news’ as opposed to suffering from media hypnosis.
The media needs to question why it has willingly allowed itself to be used as a conduit for the dissemination of disinformation and propaganda. But, strengthened with the advent of social media networks, both disinformation and propaganda have received new impetus. Indeed, social media is currently being used to provide credibility to numerous disinformation and propaganda messages that appear in the mainstream media and visa versa.
Both techniques are used to alter, shape and manipulate perceptions, promote sectarian and political interests, and entrench and exploit attitudes and further conflict, divisive politics, and war between opposing groups. They differ in the manner in which they are developed and applied. However, both techniques are used to influence people, and the side that dominates the informational environment is the side most likely to achieve the best end result.
As an influence technique, disinformation is a planned and purposeful act of deception. It is essentially a lie that is intentionally injected into the daily lives of people. Its aim is to mislead and alter attitudes and perceptions, evoke anger, create fear, encourage resistance and violence, and vilify an enemy or threat sufficiently to justify action. Extensive use is made of all controlled mainstream and social media assets and platforms. Paid social media platforms are increasingly harnessed to further disseminate false and misleading information or give it credibility.
Disinformation uses a variety of methods to achieve its aim. One of them is dress up a lie so it appears as the truth. Another method to intertwine valid information with false information but in such a manner that it is not obvious. Covert influence campaigns utilising well-developed disinformation can result in acceptance as opposed to doubt. The end-product is then be disseminated via real and false news media outlets, and fake documents, books, photographs, posters, and malicious and dangerous rumours and innuendo. Its ability to become believable lays in continually repeating the lie to make it become the reality of people.
To disguise its origins and intentions, it is often attributed to ‘sensitive’ or ‘unnamed’ sources or even the names of non-existent people.
Political disinformation is aimed at provoking scaremongering, discrediting political opponents, distorting the messages of political opponents, exploiting divisive politics, and influencing opposition voter support. Used extensively during political speeches and rallies, where it is intertwined with propaganda, it has the potential to generate immense anger, fear, hatred, and uncertainty. It is often reinforced with flags, marches, songs, T-shirts and food to distract and confuse voters.
Propaganda is the deliberate propagation of messages, information, ideas, concepts, rumours, and thoughts to influence, strengthen and support a specific cause, and to unify people. It is also applied to counter opposing information and thoughts where elements of disinformation are used. It is used primarily to reinforce a cause or damage an opposing cause. It is sometimes based on twisting the message of an opponent and using it to appeal to people’s fears, and self-interest and evoke emotions. It hopes to subtly force people to think and act in a manner they would not generally have considered.
Like disinformation, propaganda makes use of media platforms, marches, flags, posters, songs and so forth to entrench the message.
To underpin these deceptive messages, words such as ‘deterrence’, ‘threat to our values’, ‘foreign aggression’, ‘our stability’, ‘creators of poverty’, ‘inequality’, and so forth are used.
Polluted information presented as ‘fact’ can result in misguided strategies, and distrust, increased antagonism, diplomatic, political and economic sanction, marginalisation, increased racial, tribal, and ethnic disdain, an increase in political tensions, and criminal actions.
An unintended (or possibly intended) consequence can result in mass demonstrations, civil war or indeed even a regional conflict or war. Indeed, the Cold War was a perfect example of both sides using both disinformation and propaganda to unify their citizens whilst vilifying those of the opposing side.
Disinformation and propaganda are entrenched via repetition of the messages. It is, however, the first communicated message that carries the most weight, especially if it is continually disseminated via the mainstream and social media. To rectify the damage is often impossible.
Disinformation and propaganda can destroy national unity, create regional tensions, and cause irreparable damage a country and its citizens. These messages become increasingly dangerous when military force is threatened, projected, or used.
It is increasingly evident that both disinformation and propaganda are being used on a massive scale, and on a daily basis by politicians and political organisations and supporters alike.
Misleading people with false news or disinformation and then reinforcing it with propaganda (and visa versa) can have very serious implications—implications that can last for generations.
It is of great importance that we start looking more closely at what is published and said—and why—and start connecting the dots. If not, we will continue to be manipulated and exploited to act in a manner we never considered.