We are all victims — even those who can see the problem. America’s array of security agencies has confirmed that Russia has hacked personal and often private Americans’ emails. Spying on American citizens. The first step in cyberwar.
History proves the Russians are masters of propaganda and “thought-manipulation.” It is likely that Vladimir Putin is working with Wikileaks to selectively leak these emails. The second step in his cyberwar. Putin is conducting cyberwar on America and democracy. He is attempting to make Americans doubt the legitimacy of our elections.
According to Eric Chenowith, co-director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe, “Russian state television and other state directed media frequently report actual and fake information all blended together with the intent of promoting fear….” And I would add falsehoods. Russia encourages misinformation to exercise domination over its citizens thinking by covertly planting falsehood and sowing doubt, which helps to keep its elites in power.
Russia is the superpower of thought manipulation, and they have declared war on America.
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In an interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, the New York Times (July 26) demonstrates that Assange is also willing to time the release of hacked emails to influence Americans’ thinking and thus our elections. We are all victims when this is successful. If Russia and Wikileaks are successful this time, it will only get worse.
How can we defend ourselves and keep our thinking free of manipulation?
▪ Demand the source of information and recognize when the source is unreliable and possibly manipulated.
▪ Understand that information out of context and unsubstantiated cannot be trusted.
▪ Do not base decisions on these types or sources of information.
▪ Demand America’s media sources treat this information as suspicious and not as fact unless corroboration and context is given.
▪ Avoid being an information sponge — ask questions and research. Check several sources of information before believing anything influencing your thinking.
▪ Think critically and think for yourself.
“Fascism took power in the 1930s not because fascism was strong, but because democracy was weak,” according to Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist.
Democracy requires that citizens have media literacy and that includes understanding how the internet can be used to promote propaganda and false information. Beware the shared stories of Facebook and Twitter. On Nov. 4, The Washington Post reported a “baseless story generating 140,000 [Facebook shares]….” about our current elections. Who put this story out there and for what purpose? How many built their decisions based on this false information? Who is in control of our thinking?
Freedom is not free. So many have given their lives for our freedom. Those of us who have not must not betray their sacrifice. We owe it to them to use our intelligence to keep our country free of propaganda and the influence of manipulated information. We Americans must all be soldiers in this new war.
Barbara Thiele is a retired English and journalism teacher.