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Dr. Alina Polyakova, the David M. Rubenstein Fellow for Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, is one of the world’s foremost experts on fake news and Russian disinformation. She had a brilliant idea the other day.
In the Western world, we’ve been playing catchup with the Russians for years, trying to find a way to counter the pesky disinformation tactics they’ve become famous for.
She came up with something just as simple as it is profound- to look for an analogous solution, based on the American anti-smoking campaign that started in 1964. These two completely unrelated subjects have some amazing similarities.
What we want to examine are the actual techniques used by the Surgeon General and others to paint cigarettes in the light they deserve- as filthy, smelly, cancerous sticks of death you’ve got to pay for.
That’s the way to go here.
First off, disinformation is dangerous. It leads to a gross devaluation of truth and a breakdown in the entire moral order. Though zany Russian hacker disinformation combos of race-baiting and coordinated cyber-lying may seem silly and random one at a time, they add up.
Ladislav Bittman, the former Communist Czechoslovak deputy chief of the disinformation department, compared the effects of disinformation to a slow acting poison, saying “One drop may not be a problem, but together a dose could be fatal.”
This is a significant concept for a few reasons. First, it’s always elegant when you can fit an old key in a new lock. She went rifling through the old Public Threat or Menace manual, found a campaign in the past that gave her precedent, and voila.
This is conduct to be emulated as much as possible, especially as that particular connection isn’t easy to see. Well done, Doctor!
Returning to our topic, people have been thinking this whole time that these Russian cybercrimes are all really stylish, powerful, interesting things to do. They think Russian hackers, and they picture this:
What they should be picturing, is this:
Think back. When your mother first told you not to smoke cigarettes, did she give you any pamphlets on the subject? Did she cite scholarly sources to you? Or did she just do like mine did, and shout “No! Mucky! Gives you cancer!”
I got the point. Looked it up later.
This thing with the Russian disinformation is exactly the same. It is so obviously bad for America that the case cannot be overstated, and yet they are not listening. The whole thing has had to be completely infanticized, and it’s us who’s changing the diapers.
Inside those disinformation diapers are the images we need to show people.
Disinformation is gross. It’s like being smelly. Telling lots of lies is for the kid nobody wants to sit next to. That’s probably why he became a hacker, the poor schmoe- Glad I’m not that guy!
Disinformation is smoggy. It makes it hard to see, hard to breathe.
That’s why watching Fox News these days make people behave like they’ve been doing bathtub crank. There’s no bathtub-crank chic. Nobody is remaking Trainspotting, over bathtub crank.
Smoggy. Wasteful. Smelly. Stupid. Gross. These are the reasons people quit smoking. Once smokers realized that nobody was looking at them and seeing the Marlboro Man, they got red in the face and cut it out, en masse.