Is the West at war with disinformation or dissent? — Analysis
Western populism is on the rise. This means that there are more crackdowns against narratives which diverge from the official state story.
It was the latest twist in the wheel on freedom when Joe Biden, the US president, announced that the Department of Homeland Security would be served by a Disinformation Governance Board. This time, it’s an affront to citizens’ right to a diversity of information.
It’s one thing to correct inaccurate information, but this new entity seems more oriented towards narrative-policing that cracks down on the interpretation of information rather than the accuracy of it. Headed by a former communications advisor to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Nina Jankowicz, one of the board’s first responsibilities will be to address “disinformation coming from Russia as well as misleading messages about the US-Mexico border,” according to CBS News. Interesting that these two issues – immigration and foreign conflicts – are currently viewed as two of Washington’s most significant failures, which have given rise to populist dissent. Make no mistake, it’s the dissent that’s the ultimate target.
You can learn everything about the purpose of the initiative by the fact that the former Ukraine spin doctor was chosen to lead it. Jankowicz, who published a book in 2020 that had the title “How to Lose The Information War: Russia Fake News and Future Conflict,” suggests she thinks the West has entered an online conflict with Russia. ‘How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict,’ portrays Western narratives as truthful and Russian narratives as “fake news.”This obscures the reality that mainstream Western media have been able to spread narratives that are manipulated by the state, which could be retroactively deemed fake news or propaganda. Meanwhile, Russian media has often provided a platform for those seeking to express – or access – dissenting analysis or information that falls outside of the Western media bubble. Clearly, there are some ‘democracies’ that are bothered by this.
The appetite of Western nations to ensure that their citizens are only fed information that they control through their own highly concentrated government or corporate subsidized media isn’t new. It’s just getting more voracious. Perhaps it’s because the more authoritarian their agenda becomes, the more populist sentiment increases and gives rise to events such as Brexit or the election of Donald Trump, as well as trends such as opposition to US-backed conflicts, the rise in popularity of various populist political parties in Europe, and demonstrations against pandemic mandates, which just happen to be associated with government-issued QR codes.
The enemy of authoritarian ambitions is dissent. Supposedly free countries have manipulated their citizens into believing that censorship of certain views is for people’s own safety and security – hence why the military in Canada, the UK, and France, and now Homeland Security in the US, are involved in narrative policing. In reality, their efforts seem to be more about ensuring citizens’ compliance with their own agenda.
The fusion of domestic security and disinformation came to light as early as 2016, when the European Parliament grotesquely conflated Islamic terrorist propaganda with Russian media, in what seemed to be itself a propaganda effort to undermine the Russian media by equating these two totally unrelated things. Western governments placed restrictions on free speech in order to maintain national security.
France for example has handed over responsibility for online arbitration to its national intelligence agency (the DGSI), and has apparently considered the possibility of including defense-funded startup companies in the endeavor.
Canada has also turned to its security apparatus to shape Canadians’ information landscape – at least twice. The Communications Security Establishment, the country’s electronic spying agency, has been tweeting its own interpretations of disputed events occurring in the fog of the conflict in Ukraine as indisputable factWhile routinely denouncing Russia’s interpretation as invalid.
But Canada’s security establishment isn’t at its first rodeo in attempting to prevent citizens’ thinking from deviating from the state’s messaging. Under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the country’s armed forces deployed a months-long, military-grade propaganda campaign, which employed tactics honed during the war in Afghanistan, to mind-bend unsuspecting Canadians towards Trudeau’s Covid narrative, CBC News reported last year.
Not to be outdone, the psychological warfare specialists of the 77th brigade of Britain’s armed forces have also worked to shape messaging both in favor of the government’s Covid policies and against anything contrary out of Russia. “One current priority is combating the spread of harmful, false and misleading narratives through disinformation. Two disinformation specialists from the British Army are being deployed to help support this effort. They will advise and support NATO in ensuring its citizens have the right information to protect themselves and its democracies are protected from malicious disinformation operations used by adversaries,”Last year, Ben Wallace, Defense Secretary, stated these words.
The fact that public safety and disinformation have suddenly become routinely conflated should be worrisome to defenders of whatever remnants of democracy that we still have left. Terrorism, health and now disinformation have all served as pretexts for the rapid erosion of our freedoms – all under the guise of protecting us from bad actors. Is it really more secure? Are we becoming less free or safer?
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