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Clowns of information apocalypse

Modern information wars

Clowns of information apocalypse

            Information wars cannot be discussed outside of the historical context. Assessments of certain facts in propaganda wars were quite reasonable in the ideology-driven 20th century, when minds of people were fought for according to distinct although unwritten laws in clearly defined theaters of operations.

            In 1947, Joseph Stalin recalled an episode that happened at the Tehran Conference in a conversation with an American journalist, by the way such conversations were not a rare thing. The conference, as one remembers, took place in quite friendly atmosphere. But after the conference a journalist from the United States wrote an article in which he mentioned that Stalin for no reason punched Marshal Timoshenko. But Timoshenko was not even in Tehran! The tyrant said about that with subtle but meaningful irony, "Such things make Soviet people disappointed!"

            Now the era of post-modernism has come, and the clash of ideologies is replaced by cruel and hardline conflicts between elites in which "people's support" can be won. In the West, the fight for people's minds is replaced by previously unseen squabble, the goal of which is wild and divergent manipulation of people's minds rather than the nourishment of stable beliefs or what is more apostolic activity. "Free and independent media" have become a tool of such manipulation that has grown into war of all against all. We are, as it is said, sick and tired of them. Even a world-class professional, a journalist who plays the role of a "cool head" and who in our opinion has kept up his reputation, Vladimir Posner, has recently burst out writing in his blog, "Regretfully, they play with our minds, and we all consider ourselves, of course, independent, but in fact we are all victims of mass media that is run in a certain fashion. And many journalists who say that they are journalists, upon my word of an atheist, they will burn in hell."

            This doesn’t go away unnoticed. Psychologists, sociologists and social thinkers are discussing under the influence of objective data increasingly loud the issue that the activity of mass media in present-day propaganda framework is aimed at fragmenting society and at forming the endless number of opinions and ways of perceiving the reality. This dramatically undermines the general understanding of the essence and goals of global events that had once promoted international cooperation. This fact also makes many people doubt the value of core democratic ideals that underlie media activity, which is the freedom of speech and the demand for John Milton's marketplace of ideas.

            Some experts and political analysts describe the modern era as the era of "post-truth" or "post-fact" given that the current reality brought to the forefront the trend of growing mistrust in formal institutions, such as the state and legitimate authorities, as well as because of relatively new processes such as the further spread and polarization of positions and explicit commercialization of both traditional and new media.

            According to studies of special foreign opinion polling services, the trust of people in all main institutions that are sources of news, e.g. business, authorities, media and NGOs, went down for the first time in majority of countries in 2017. Authors of the study make a sensational conclusion – a new reality has emerged where the traditional hierarchy of trust in sources of information is corrupted. Some 64% of people on average in all countries said that they consider information leaks to be more trustworthy than traditional press statements. Some 55% believe that some people tell the truth more often than organizations, while a company's social networks page is more trustful than its advertisements.

            A considerably widening gap of trust to sources of information between news consumers who try to maintain a high level of news awareness - in fact they are representatives of elites or people close to elites - and common people has become an important trend in recent years. Common people have tended to show greater nihilism as regards the shaping of public opinion and media as a public institution.

            It is important to understand that the root of present-day problems of media lies in the sphere of a skyrocketed distribution of fake news rather than in the sphere of the growing number of fake news. Fake news are mere good old hoaxes that tabloids feed their readers with. A classic of the genre that boosts circulation. Until 2008 fakes lived their own life, although there was always fake news there. In fact, only 10 years before fake news turned into a self-sufficient media sphere. However, one couldn't call then trends in this sphere worrying.

            Everything has changed at once when the American elites split over the Trump presidency. Two crucial things occurred in November 2016. Firstly, fake news got into mass circulation - they even got a special definition in English-language search engines. Noteworthy, these are not single although deliberate mistakes but a whole series of news that is produced for a certain systemic goal. Secondly, such news got coupled with certain news sources. Internet users now formulate search queries as follows, "fake news BBC" or "fake news CNN."


            The popularity of "fake news" search queries in the United Kingdom and the United States.

            Russia became a hostage of domestic political differences in the United States and was turned by a part of the American establishment into a tool of manipulating Trump, whose actions are constantly evaluated through the lens of Russophobia. Linguists recorded a new coinage with negative connotation in modern political vocabulary in the United States – "Russianblican." This label means a member of the Republican Party who supports the incumbent American president and his team.

            Trump's ties with Russia have long become a mainstream topic in Western media. CNN got into the spotlight. The juiciest scandal broke out in summer 2017. On June 22, CNN published a report claiming that American financier Anthony Scaramucci and Russian Direct Investments Fund chief Kirill Dmitriyev met on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland's Davos on January 16, 2017. The material cited an anonymous source and when CNN was asked to give details of this meeting, the media group's spokespersons confessed they were not able to confirm the report. CNN was to delete the report and apologize to Scaramucci. Several days after Lex Harris, who oversaw the investigations unit at CNN, as well as editor Eric Lichtblau and reporter Thomas Frank resigned.

            This story got into a public eye. Donald Trump tweeted, "Wow, CNN had to retract big story on 'Russia,' with 3 employees forced to resign. What about all the other phony stories they do. FAKE NEWS!" This was not the first fake information about Trump's ties with Russia reported by CNN, and Trump had many times caught CNN reporting inaccuracies. "The Scaramucci story marked the first time CNN has retracted a story since Zucker took over as chairman in late 2011. Zucker has a long and sometimes fraught relationship with Trump, having greenlighted his reality shows, "The Apprentice" and "Celebrity Apprentice," while he ran NBC, but occasionally drawing criticism from Trump while running CNN," The Washington Post reported. Their war of words has long ago got into the public domain. "He [Trump] claims that CNN is unwatchable, but the only way he knows that is because he's watching it obsessively. We know that he spends his days and nights watching CNN," Zucker told America's NPR radio station. In turn, Trump regularly accuses CNN of distributing fake news.

            It is noteworthy that CNN did not go into detail as to why the report on Russia was inaccurate and just said that it fell short of "editorial standards." And this happened after it had been proved that CNN journalists cited unreliable facts. It was said in the deleted report that both Scaramucci and Dmitriyev confirmed that they had met. The CNN report said that the Senate is interested in the possible discussion of canceling anti-Russian sanctions at a meeting in Hamburg. It also said that the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence launched an inquiry to find out if Scaramucci gave Dmitriyev hopes that anti-Russian sanctions imposed in the wake of the 2014 events in Ukraine would soon be eased. However, nothing was said where the journalists had taken this information from, and no official mentioned in the report confirmed it.

            It is not desirable that the discussion of fake news that is taking shape in media be reduced to "the sum of examples." Even media managers with no experience in politics acknowledge that a well-adjusted system of lies has existed for a long time. However, they are trying to hide them behind media economy. Match TV General Producer Tina Kandelaki told journalists on the sidelines of Russian House meetings in Davos (Davos here, Davos there!) that traditional news "no more makes money." "Fake news costs less and that is why it is more profitable. Traditional media are becoming increasingly expensive and can no more make both ends meet," Kandelaki said. She also established a sad diagnosis to the media industry, "We leave in the era of social media and digital, when the majority of news is fake. There is one big problem about fake news: they generate emotions, they generate reaction, they stay in people's minds for a day or two and no one is willing to go further and deeper. That is why a wrong opinion is formed, and it leads to wrong actions and wrong steps... We were taught to check facts, we were taught to have at least two or better three sources [of information], we were taught to work on reports, and the present-day digital journalism was never taught anything. This is journalism of technologies."

            Naturally, the aforementioned things do happen but they don't exhaust the problem. It is necessary to understand that internal resources of media play no role in "high politics" with big bets and sometimes lives at stake. In this case it is very expensive to create, launch and distribute a fake piece of news. Such news is prepared in a conspiratorial fashion as part of much broader plan and of course with the involvement of various special services or at least some representatives of special services who are involved in elite conflicts. Anyway, nothing is happening without tangible incentives for journalists. Naturally, only special services are capable of carrying out the whole set of "active events" in the most qualified manner.

            The number of references to "anonymous sources" in the news flow has grown drastically now. Along with this the number of fake news grew manifold. However, it is rather complicated to prepare many "news pieces with names," sometimes sacrificing informers, who are worth gold. And it is an absolutely different thing to just play media games hiding behind confidentiality, secrecy, journalist ethics that requires not "to disclose sources" and so on and so forth. The anonymity that has been recently coming to shape is a search for ways to decrease expenditures and increase the functionality of information wars.

            All the aforementioned data is currently being interpreted in terms of a global crisis of the strategic communications system. In our opinion, this doesn't explain the reality quite right. There is a crisis of perceiving meanings distributed by communicators and/or mediators wearing clowns’ masks.

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