Information as a Weapon
The Mueller Report established what many Americans have already agreed. And that’s Russia did interfere in the 2016 Presidential Election to benefit Donald Trump. It is an interesting symmetry we faced in 2s we approached and have since passed the centennial of the beginning and end of the First World War. I would argue that World War I and later wars of the first half of the 20th Century such as Spanish Civil War and World War II were defined by the industrialization that the world experienced in the years leading up to Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in Sarajevo in June 1914. Mass quantities of firearms, tanks, and planes became instruments of warfare. In that way, it mirrored the industrialization of civil society.
21st Century warfare in my opinion has become defined not by new weapons of war that are more deadly than what existed before. Instead, 21st century warfare is defined by information warfare. This warfare mirrors the information technology revolution we have been witness to. Like industrialization, the growth of information technology and social media has its benefits. The world is more connected than it ever was before. I have been able to meet family members that I never would have known if not for platforms such as Facebook and knowing these family members has helped me learned a little more about where I come from.
But social media and information technology have been weaponized. Social media can be used to spread information at a more rapid pace than ever before. There are no lone newsboys on our streets shouting “Extra, extra”, through social media we all can be that newsboy. The Russian government under Vladimir Putin definitely saw the divides that existed in our society whether it was about the Obama presidency or even something more trivial like public perception of new Star Wars movies. All it takes is just one person with some influence and misinformation can be spread at a rapid pace.
This is a world where we know more than our ancestors ever did but we are also more privy to fall for misinformation than they did. It is not a coincidence in this age of social media that conspiracy theories about tragedies such as the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school could so easily be deemed False Flags by professional bullshit artists such as Alex Jones. This would not have happened after Columbine or even the Virginia Tech shooting of 2007.
A healthy amount of skepticism isn’t a bad thing for humanity. The world isn’t always what it seems. But when events that have witnesses are constantly twisted to fit some narrative- OBAMA’S COMING FOR YOUR GUNS, we see how easily how facts can be twisted by cynical actors such as Alex Jones. More alarming is how the men, women, and children who survive these tragedies become victims anew. Students like David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez who survived the shooting in Parkland, Florida who used their experience to advocate for reasonable laws on gun ownership became the target of attacks. Emma Gonzalez’s own words were twisted to suggest that she acknowledged bullying the shooter and David Hogg has seen the fact that he wore a black armband to mourn his fallen friend and classmates to make him out to be a Nazi. In short, Emma and David became more hated than the actual shooter.
The same has happened in politics. Donald Trump before and after becoming President has done everything from belittling a disabled reporter’s disability to offering a pardon to the head of the CBP if he violated the law on allowing asylum seekers to seek entry within our borders. But yet Donald Trump through memes and disinformation is made out to be wanting to “Make America Great” and his supporters continue to stand with a man who rails against undocumented immigrants who employed undocumented immigrants at his many businesses. Yet Trump’s rallies are full of shouts of LOCK HER UP in the Spring of 2019 as they were in the Summer of 2016 even though it’s been revealed that numerous people close to Trump including his own daughter engaged in the same practices that Hillary Clinton is called a criminal for.
The left isn’t immune from falling for disinformation either. David Sirota, now a top aide to the Bernie Sanders campaign wrote many articles attacking former Representative Beto O’Rourke. Sirota dishonestly suggested that O’Rourke received money from the oil industry in O’Rourke’s home state of Texas. The truth was that O’Rourke received donations from the thousands of Texans who are employed by the oil industry in a state that employs tons of people in that industry. O’Rourke was getting donations not from executives who hoped that he would vote on policies favorable to their companies but average Texans who thought he would be represent them better than Ted Cruz. Sirota it was later revealed had been working for the Sanders campaign the entire time he pushed these smears. Transparency is lacking in politics and public officials like Bernie and Trump have shown themselves incapable of it and spreading disinformation via their allies to discredit their opponents.
In one case, we saw disinformation from both far left and far right on the same issue. Seth Rich was a DNC staffer who was murdered in a case that remains unsolved. The website Wikileaks insisted that it was done at the behest of the Democratic National Committee because Rich had allegedly revealed information to Wikileaks that showed that the DNC was unfairly favoring Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. Seth’s death was used by zealous supporters of Senator Sanders to claim he was murdered and the right led by the President’s favorite Fox News host, Sean Hannity also spread the conspiracies. This was all done against the wishes of Mr. Rich’s famliy. The Mueller Report has revealed that the info Wikileaks used was actually obtained by Russia’s GRU. Unfortunately, there have been no apologies or admitting that Seth’s death was used by people who wanted to use his death to spread conspiracy theories to discredit both Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The question I have as we approach the 2020 Presidential election is how do we learn from 2016. I think Americans need to be wary of allowing memes to speak for them. Improving our health care system isn’t as simple as pointing out what has worked in Sweden. Posting a video of Ben Shapiro “destroying” his opponent when it’s really just Ben giving his usual spiel isn’t helpful. We need to find our own words through our own observations and be wary of those who use the very tools that make the 21st century more interconnected than any previous century as weapons to ferment division and mistrust.