Why nobody is buying Putin's bullshit anymore
Russian propaganda and disinformation used to be effective. But lately, not so much. Here's why.
The Russian government used to be very good at disinformation. In the last two weeks — not so much.
Russia's disinformation strategy is rooted in 20th-Century KGB tactics for using information warfare against the Russian population to suppress popular support for political opponents of the state.
In the 21st Century, where information is global, Russia's disinformation services are working overtime to serve the regime's interests as Putin sees them, with sometimes opposite messages for internal and global consumption.
One of the starkest examples is what Russian propagandists have to say about 5G. Russian-owned news outlets have been promoting and boosting the development of 5G inside Russia, while simultaneously spreading lies about 5G outside of Russia, saying it causes cancer, kills children and creates other problems. Anti-5G activists in America and around the world unwittingly espouse "alternative facts" invented entirely by Russian propagandists. Russian 5G propaganda is part of a much wider program of chipping away at the economic and political success and progress in the West, while promoting it at home.
In general, Russian disinformation excels at undermining dissent within Russia, and fomenting dissent outside of Russia, especially in the United States and Europe. One of Russia’s biggest "wins" in the late 20th Century was spreading the false rumor that AIDS was created by the CIA. Many people still believe this.
Russia is part of the reason for the rise in the political polarization of Democracies around the world. The conventional wisdom is that Russia's role in this is overblown, but I'm not so sure. Russia has even organized street protests in the United States.
During the Ukraine invasion, Russia is spreading outrageous rumors, but it seems that fewer people than usual are believing those rumors.
Russia is claiming all kinds of nefarious conspiracies involving the US and bio-weapons, for example, including that the US is training birds to spread those pathogens within Ukraine. Everybody just kind of laughed and shrugged this one off.
Russia leans heavily on a Disinformation as a Service organization called the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which creates thousands of sock puppet accounts on social media sites to spread coordinated falsehood campaigns. The IRA got famous by seeking to influence American voters before the 2016 presidential election. But it appears they’re playing a leading role in Ukraine-related disinformation as well. This time, however, their efforts aren’t moving the needle on global opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In general — both inside Russia and around the world — Russia's falsehoods and propaganda aren’t having the usual effect. And this failure may hold the keys to combating disinformation in the future.
If so, here's the apparent formula for defeating state-sponsored disinformation.
Mike’s List of Brilliantly Bad Ideas
1. Finally: AI tells us how pigs are feeling
Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have trained a neural network to translate pig grunts. They're hoping to create an app so farmers can tell how the pigs are feeling based on the noises they make. The researchers analyzed the acoustic signatures of 7,414 pig sounds made by more than 400 pigs. I’m probably in the minority, but I’d love to see this translate their grunts into pig latin.
2. Candle holder blows out candles (so you don't have to!)
A candle accessory called AiryFairy blows out the candle that sits on it. Just light the candle, set the device's timer, and at the appointed hour a puff of air snuffs out the flame. (I'm waiting for the birthday cake version, which should also make a wish before blowing out the candles.)
3. Yamaha is blowing its own horn with this PC mouse design
A joint design project between the Yamaha motorcycle people and the Yamaha musical instruments people resulted in this mouse that looks like it was made out of trumpet parts. The company has no current plans to manufacture, sadly.
Mike’s List of Shameless Self Promotions
The 'Great Return' to the office is happening — now what?
Should you become a digital nomad?
I love Fez. Bumped into it at the tail end of a cross-Morocco journey. Putin has probably brought Russia so far down financially we won’t have to worry about his butchering obsessions.