“Consider your origins: you were not made to live as brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge.” Ulysses in the Dante’s Divina Commedia
“We have begun to live in a world, where we eat content, drink content and breathe content, without giving a single thought to its composition and what kind of impact it has upon our lives.” ― Abhijit Naskar
“Battle on the internet is continuous, the battlefield is contiguous, and the information is contagious.” P.W. Singer & Emerson T. Brooking, Like War: The Weaponization of Social Media
We are living in a world where the line between reality and illusion are often very blurry. Frankly, I find it disconcerting. If we have no foundation upon which to stand, how can we ever hope to find solid footing in our ideas, our understanding of truth and our grasp of reality? We live in an age where morality and ethics are so fluid; it is literally every man or woman for themselves. We can just say it, whatever it is, and others are obligated to believe it, no matter what. If you combine that kind of elusive reality with the advances in technology, where reality cannot only be dreamed, but can be manufactured through imagery, words and deception, it is practically a recipe for confusion and confrontation.
Our world is gradually becoming a “truth-less” world, one where those who believe in a universal truth are considered to be parochial, bigots, and naive, if not down right ignorant. How can we navigate the minefield of deception which lays before us? Unfortunately, the relentless pace of life that most of us keep will prevent us from engaging with this pending social experiment, with truth-less-ness. I offer some simple ways we can protect ourselves, our families, our communities and our businesses from becoming victims of the fallout of this doomed to fail exercise.
The media industry wants to shape our understanding of reality, whether it is true or not. How do they attempt to do this?
First, by reconnaissance, which is initiated by gathering information and analyzing the target audience: you.
Second, they will gauge your level of loyalty, acceptance, and maturity of knowledge regarding a particular topic of interest.
Then, they will begin a weaponization of that knowledge about you. They will publish a central story (i.e., a version of facts [not necessarily the truth] that is to be spread to the target audience.) They will even go to great lengths to develop a back story to support their central story.
Just to demonstrate to you how intricate a process this is, the actors of these imaginary stories will create variations or “alternative versions.” These are “secondary” side stories that are also “planted” so that when more informed readers (like you and me) do not fully believe the central story, our curiosity leads us down a prepared path to these side stories, which are also false. I know, I know. I am beginning to sound like a conspiracy theorist. This is the dangerous line I am choosing to walk down. I am doing so in order that we will be forearmed when faced with questionable “facts” that are put in front of us.
Most of what I’ve written above comes from a CIA training/publication website. There is a wonderful paper (declassified) written by a CIA analyst about a Soviet active measures campaign which was conducted in 1983. It was a disinformation operation designed to convince the world that the AIDS epidemic was actually an American biological warfare experiment gone wrong. Their campaign follows the above pattern in a text-book fashion… https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol53no4/pdf/U-%20Boghardt-AIDS-Made%20in%20the%20USA-17Dec.pdf
For a great fable which illustrates this pattern clearly, read the story of The Magpies and the Cuckoos: A Disinformation Fable, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2019/07/magpies-and-cuckoos-disinformation-fable/158366/?oref=defense_one_breaking_nl .
How do we protect ourselves from these kinds of active measures that are not only perpetrated by nation-states such as Russia, China and Iran, but how do we secure ourselves from rogue disinformation campaigns conducted by terrorist organizations or ideological organizations who are determined to change our opinions through the false proliferation of information as fact? Here are a few ways we can learn to determine falsehood from reality. Arm yourselves with these tools.
- Often fake news sites will re-use old photos and publish them out of context to trick readers. However, there are ways to determine if an image is being accurately represented. Here is a method you can use to verify the true source of an image:
- Right click on the image.
- Select Copy image address.
- Go to Google and select Images from the top right corner.
- You will get the Google Search box with a camera icon. Click on the camera icon, and paste the image address into the Paste image URL box.
- This will bring up a list of results showing where that image has been published on the internet.
You can also do a reverse image search through a website called, tineye.com
This is an easy way to see the origination of a photo.
B. There are many fake stories published on the internet. How often do you get emails sent to you propounding incredible allegations about people? A few years ago I received an email which stated that it was proving definitively that Michelle Obama was androgynous (ie.. half male, half female.) Now that was definitely news worthy of my attention, especially since it was sent to me by a friend, one who I used to regard as intelligent and thoughtful. What do you do with that kind of email?
- Do not forward it until you establish the veracity of it. This is the first mistake that many people make. As a rule I don’t forward these onward, unless I can establish its truthfulness. We are a people of truth. If we even unwittingly participate in falsehood, we are accomplices to lies and compatriots with the evil one.
- Take your information to snopes.com. I use this site regularly. They are of course, not 100% correct, but more times than not. I have grown to appreciate their attention to detail. It is one of the best places to verify a story’s truthfulness.
- Allow yourself to read outside your normal information circles. It is easy to get comfortable with your news outlet and to begin to simply accept everything you see there as truth. I am not suggesting that your particular source is not accurate but it, as well as others are liable to be duped by misinformation/disinformation. I am in the process of compiling a list of open source intelligence/information resources that could be helpful in engaging news from a variety of perspectives. Check out our resources page at: https://www.morethanmeets.co/resources/open-source-intelligence/.
- The speed at which the news cycle now operates allows websites to break a story based on false accounts, photoshopped images or bad data without ever be corrected. Worst of all, the way we consume news means that it can be very hard for us to see unbiased journalism. Here are some additional ways from “Research the Headlines,” that you can discern the truth.
- Don’t Stop at The Headline. It is common to see headlines that have little bearing on the actual news story. A study indicated that as much as 59% of shared news stories on social media had not been read by the person doing the sharing. Make a point not to share a story unless you’ve read the entire article.
- What Was Actually Said? Remember quotes can be taken badly out of context. If they don’t reproduce the original statement in full, can you find it somewhere else?
- Are Independent Experts Featured? A piece of fake news is very likely to avoid asking “the other side” for comment.
- Do they link to the original material? It is very easy to distort the narrative (or tell plain lies) if the original material is hidden from the reader.
- Do they make unsupported causal links? Every analyst knows that “correlation does not equal causation.” How would we test their conclusions?
- Are they using statistics appropriately? The old adage, “lies, damned lies and statistics” still holds today. If used properly and dispassionately, statistics is a powerful tool for revealing the truth of our circumstances, and a crucial component of the scientific method. You can also ask a scientist, even if they aren’t experts in the specific field, whether the statistics is valid. There are lots of scientists on Twitter (try the #ActualLivingScientists hashtag), and most are happy to answer genuine questions.
- Is the article or outlet biased? As far as the US print media is concerned, the answer to the latter question is sadly, almost always, “yes.” It’s also worth remembering that all humans suffer from cognitive bias – when we make judgements about the news (and other people), we are making these judgements subject to various forms of illogical thinking. When you read a story, think: “How much is this simply confirming my own biases on the topic? How would I have responded if the article had said the opposite?”
- How does the story compare with previous stories on this topic? When it comes to research, each new study needs to be taken in the context of the field from which it comes. One study, with a result that shatters the consensus of the past, must initially be treated with skepticism until its conclusions can be confirmed by further work.
- Is this article consistent with other articles? A really great litmus test of an article is to see its story told from a different viewpoint. It can be as simple as reading the foxnews.com website followed by the cnn.com website. Try reading the same story in an outlet you would normally avoid. How does the story change? What words does each side use? Who do they ask for comment? Who do they ignore?
- How much of the article is opinion, or exaggeration? With the increasing blurred boundaries between news stories and writer’s columns, an article can have the sheen of news, but the raw opinion of the writer. When reading the story, ask yourself: “How many of these statements can be verified by the facts in the article (or links in the article?)
Understanding reality is a critical skill that you and I must develop if we are to intelligently navigate the world in which we live. Simply put: question everything, especially your own biases. I can’t over-state the assertion that we are as much of the problem as fake-news proliferators, disinformation campaign officers, information bandits and deep fakers. If we do not become intelligent consumers of the daily content flooding our minds we just fall in line lock-step with the masses. We become confused and ignorant. Let me say as I have said before. We need not fear these days ahead. They are among the most exciting in the history of mankind. I do not fear them. My reason? I am committed to truth. I am committed to standing on firm foundations and leading my small circle of relationships into that realm.
I hope that this entire issue has been an exercise on action! If you still are uncertain about what to do, I am available to discuss what I have written. Please contact me at the email below and I will reach out to you so that we can talk about the subject to our hearts content. The best thing we can do is be determined to walk in truth. Be brutally honest with yourself. Slow down the pace of your life to allow yourself the space to pursue honesty, as it is becoming rare.
Other sites you can visit to learn how to protect yourself from fake news… https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/how-to-protect-yourself-against-fake-news .
- FactCheck.org – This self-described nonpartisan and nonprofit site aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in US politics. They apply journalism and scholarship to monitor the factual accuracy of claims made by major political players.
- PolitiFact.com – Another fact-checking site for elected officials and other politicians; this one uses the trademarked Truth-O-Meter to rate accuracy, from “True” to “Pants on Fire.”
- Washington Post Fact Checker – Using their Pinocchio test to fact check political figures and candidates, this website and newspaper column clarifies issues and provides missing context.
- Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context – Avoid emotional, inflammatory, and just plain false information altogether by exploring different sides of controversial issues through this research database. It includes comprehensive topic pages, with overviews, pros and cons essays, court cases, magazine and newspaper articles, podcasts and more.
None of these resources are perfect. Some have proven themselves to be a bit leaning in one direction or the other. I’ll let you decide which way they lean.
Remaining Iran Deal Signatories Recommit to 2015 JCPOA Accord…https://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/iran/2019/iran-190728-voa01.htm?_m=3n%252e002a%252e2637%252ejv0ao0az9m%252e2fkb
Syrian troops advance in northwest, breaking stalemate… https://www.wtrf.com/news/international/syrian-troops-advance-in-northwest-breaking-stalemate/
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
P.W. Singer & Emerson T. Brooking, Like War: The Weaponization of Social Media, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, New York 2018
Joshua Yaffa, “Dmitry Kiselev Is Redefining the Art of Russian Propaganda,” New Republic, July 14, 2014.
Testimony of Rand Waltzman, The RAND Corporation, Before the Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Cybersecurity United States Senate April 27, 2017… https://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT473.html
Deepfake PBS show…https://youtu.be/9OIFVm0dPLw
A great book on this subject!…