In his new book, “This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality," Peter Pomerantsev explores how the information explosion, which was once pitched as a way to empower people to stand up for freedom, has been weaponized by dictators to crush and silence dissent.
The Soviet-born British journalist writes: “More information was supposed to mean a more informed debate, but we seem less capable of deliberation than ever. More information was supposed to mean mutual understanding across borders, but it has also made possible new and more subtle forms of conflict and subversion. We live in a world of influence operations run amok, where the means of manipulation have gone forth and multiplied, a world of dark ads, psy-ops, hacks, bots, soft facts, fake news, deep fakes, brainwashing, trolls, ISIS, Putin, Trump.”
Pomerantsev, who was a TV producer in Russia and is now visiting senior fellow at the Institute of Global Affairs at the London School of Economics, where he studies media manipulation and how to fix it.
His book discusses how the “grand vessels of old media—that had contained and controlled identity and meaning, who we were and how we talked with one another, how we explained the world to our children, talked about our past, defined war and peace, news and opinion, satire and seriousness, right and left and wrong, true false, real unreal—have cracked and burst.”
Destruction of the old media created “disorientating spirals where words lose shared meanings.”
"This Is Not Propaganda" follows up Pomerantsev’s impressive “Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible,” 2014 book, in which he detailed how Vladimir Putin manipulated the Russian media to distort truth in order to cement his hold on power.
After Russia lost the Cold War, Putin’s spin doctors and media manipulators managed to adapt to the new world quicker than their counterparts in the West, according to Pomerantsev.
Living and working in the Moscow media from 2001 to 2010, he “saw close up the same tactics of control and the same pathologies in public opinion that have since sprouted everywhere.”
As the US presidential contest swings into high gear, This Is Not Propaganda, which is published by PublicAffairs, is a very timely read.