brave new world
Disinformation All the Way Down

Reality is no longer what you think it is.

Published on: February 27, 2018
Peter Pomerantsev is a director of the Arena Program at the London School of Economics. He is the author of Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, which won the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize.
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  • Gary Hemminger

    Anyone falling for this Russian influence is a far left or far right idiot. I don’t go to left or right rallies because I have a job, a family, and a life. Anyone that goes to these, whether brought to you by Russians or not is a far left or far right whacko.

    And as for Trump…he isn’t the start of the lying politicians, he is the natural conclusion of the left and right going mad for years. Complete hypocrisy on the part of BOTH left and right is almost laughable.

    And last but not least, our elites are unconnected with reality. All they care about is money and power.

    The problem with this country isn’t unreality; an idiot can can tell what is real and what isn’t. The problem is the left and right only know, see, feel and believe their own version of reality…which is fantasy land.

    Anyone thinking that building walls and deporting all illegals is a good immigration policy is a WHACKO.
    Anyone thinking that sanctuary cities and open borders is a good immigration policy is a WHACKO.

    I would say that at least 60% of the people believe one of the two choices above. In other words, our nation is a nation of WHACKO’s. Don’t blame TRUMP. Look in the mirror. If you believe one of the two above is a good immigration policy…YOU ARE A WHACKO.

  • QET


    geared to help a candidate who has no notion of truth

    Are you referring to Sanders or Trump, as the reports are that the Russian meddlers sought to help both. I think we all know the answer. All I can say is: Mr. Pomerantsev, I do not recognize your authority on truth. If you have some credentials I am unaware of, some special gifts that allow you, alone it seems among the 7 billion of us who walk the Earth at this moment, to know the truth, then please advise and I will submit to your authority. Otherwise, you are, it seems, merely an ass. I reject your implicit assertion that you are in possession of the truth. It rather appears the reverse is the case.

    The word “Right” appears in your piece a number of times but the word “Left” not once. Would you really have us believe that only the Right engages in fake news, strategic communication, propaganda? If not, then tell us about it. Did you look for Left activity in the German election you “monitored” and not find it? Or did you just not look for it?

    Recently I was told about how Far Right groups have started recruiting activists on gaming forums. They motivate them to join groups which use gaming sites to plan online social media campaigns: one moment you’re planning how to win on World of Warcraft, the next you’re using the same infrastructure to plan how to spam hashtags and organize bot-nets to smear politicians.

    So now you, the arbiter of truth, are content to offer hearsay as evidence? Did no one tell you that Left groups do such things? No doubt you are not a Popperian. Having never seen a black swan, you conclude they do not, nay cannot, exist.

    Mr. Pomerantsev, it may be difficult for you to hear this, but it is you who are the target, the unwitting dupe, of the “Russian trolls.” You are not alone, so you can take some comfort in that. These trolls, they are truly devious. They knew that their actions would be taken up by the likes of you and amplified. That you, and people like you, would complete the circle they started, by pronouncing them existential threats to Western political order. Pieces like yours are doing more to sow “discord” and “polarization” than any poor Florida woman who promoted a Trump rally. Perhaps the treatment of your family by the Soviets has instilled in you an existential dread of all things Russian. Odd, though, that the Soviet Union, whose deep impressions on you you still are unable to overcome in your political analysis, was the Mount Olympus of the Left, of progressivism. See Bernie Sanders, e.g. Yet now it is the Right, and only the Right, that is the conduit for Russian “interference”? Can you even perceive how ridiculous that sounds?

    Nietzsche observed that convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies. Your convictions have blinded you, and the plaudits you no doubt receive from other like-minded persons have only deepened your blindness. Trump is no doubt an opportunist, like any successful politician, and also any successful impresario. To the extent nefarious Russian trolls attempted to assist his effort to win election, I’m sure he accepted the help. You offer up that poor Florida woman who attended a Trump rally as a warning. Let me offer you this warning:

    As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well. And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.

    Now I ask you, Mr. Pomerantsev: what is truth?

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  • Micah718

    So all this bad stuff Peter pontificates about comes exclusively from the Right? The Left never engages in any truth bending exercises. Not those secular saints.
    So is the author dumb enough to believe this or does he expect us to? And what is it with “Trump and Putin” phrase as if these two are the best of friends. Trump has been far more anti-Putin than Obama, and please please PLEASE tell me that Mueller indictment you are no longer a believer of the collusion fairly tale. Since we are talking about truth and all.

  • Anthony

    An informative and well explained essay – why people desire disinformation. Three takeaways:

    1) At what point will reality emerge? I don’t mean anything fancy by reality, just that moment when you realize there’s a world beyond yourself to contend with; where the stream of BS hits something hard and undeniable; where words have some sort of common meaning in a public sphere and not just whatever you fancy them to be.

    2) Once AI-driven audience targeting has locked onto a successful combination of demographics, messages, and attention-spending user behavior, it will naturally steer all similar content into the same pathways.

    3) Online dynamics induce distortion (Walter Quattrociocci). Fake News is not cause of the denigration of democratic debate; its a symptom of the nature of our new media landscape. (Peter Pomerantsev)

    Indeed, perhaps we ought to add a little Daniel Kahneman heuristics as we grapple with disinformation all the way down: “Thinking Fast and Slow” (system 1 and system 2).

  • Tom Scharf

    What we definitely need is a benevolent group who volunteers to be our truth overlords. Then the truth will be known and we can always trust our truth overlords to tell us the truth. I can’t think of any time in history where a group who garnered the trust of society was then wooed by the dark side to use that trust to further their own selfish interests and ideology.

    Or maybe I can.

    I am utterly unconvinced that the answer to a fear that the incorrect truthiness is being disseminated is to have the other side restrict their speech. The wailing that a group’s truth is not being believed is fixed by a more convincing argument, not suppression of speech. I will take information chaos over the information ministry

    • Anthony

      Peter Pomerantsev neither argues for restricted speech (or incorrect truthniness constraints) nor does he argue for an information ministry – red herrings. He argues, however, that the challenge is to recognize and acknowledge the “new permutations” of digital deceit.

      • Tom Scharf

        He, like all his fellow truth knowers, asks the wrong question. The question isn’t why truth has become so squishy, the question is why his fellow citizens no longer trust him and his fellow truth knowers. He can believe that it is all someone else’s fault, or he can ask the really hard question of what am I and my fellow truth knowers doing wrong? These essays look like rants from petulant 5 year olds stomping their feet and demanding “Mommy make the citizens believe me!”.

        Let me be clear, it’s not the facts that aren’t believed, it’s that the source of the facts are no longer trusted and now require a higher threshold of evidence before they will be believed. Mere assertions from on high are not enough.

        Perhaps he might instead consider that the establishment has become too self serving and people who look around at an eviscerated middle class no longer believe the establishment has their best interests at heart.

        Economic policy, which he is an alleged expert, is ground zero. Watch the hand waving when a discussion about exporting low skill jobs to China comes up. Low skilled citizens have very legitimate reasons to not trust him and his truth knowers.

        • Anthony

          Briefly, he asks no questions nor is he promoting an agenda (as far as I can detect). He merely makes an “intelligent” observation – Red Herrings (attempting to derail an observation/argument by bringing in considerations that are irrelevant or out of context) muddy what you imply are facts to be believed. Lastly, your last two paragraphs represent (in this instance) a situation where an argument (maybe valid) is presented that is beside Peter Pomerantsev’s point.

  • ვეფხისტყაოსანი

    One possibility — far-fetched, to be sure, but hear me out — would be for the usual media actors, both broadcast and print, to publish the unvarnished truth without respect for any politically correct (or incorrect) filters.

    So, for instance, if a crime report mentions a suspect, provide the other identifiers reported to the police — gender, race, ethnicity. This prevents consumers of the news from deducing that if such identifiers are not given, then the suspect must belong to one of the protected classes. In the US, the missing information is usually “Black” or “Hispanic”; in Europe, it’s more likely to be “Muslim” or “refugee.”

    In a report of political corruption or chicanery, mention the miscreant’s party early in the report. The usual practice in the US is not to mention it — or to do so only after the jump — if the party is not Republican. This has given rise to the parlor game “Guess the Party.”

    As it is, it is not unreasonable — indeed, it’s quite rational — for people to assume that important facts are being left out of everything they read or see; the problem is that the sources they will find to satisfy their curiosity about the obviously missing data are not likely to be very accurate.

  • StudentZ
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