The Return of the Sleepy Enemy of Democracy
People’s Government, from people for people – is one of the most popular speeches by US President Abraham Lincoln, which most succinctly describes what a democratic Government means by free, fair and competitive elections. In order to make the right choice, citizens must have abundant and accurate information and through it decide who will they trust their well-being.
Author: Sefer Selimi Jr.
Communication of this information changed radically with the Internet massivization and traditional media gradually lost ground. The final blow came with online social networks which replaced, almost completely, print media and increasingly challenged television media. Initially, social media was seen as a technological revolution that gave rise to free-thinking, decentralized it by giving voice to unrepresented individuals and fueled a new wave of democratization, especially in dictatorial countries that suppressed freedom of expression. And all was well until this revolution did not return to eat his sons. A sleepy enemy of democracy smelled of this opportunity and returned to sabotage it through the values of democracy itself. The ideological clash of the Cold War between democracy and communism took place mainly through indirect wars between the US and the USSR, while the main battle was fought through intelligence services. This produced sophisticated espionage agencies with tremendous investment in both money, technology, creativity, energy, time and human capital.
With the end of the Cold War and the triumph of the West, liberal democracy seemed to be on the right track to fully dominate the political systems in the World. Germany united, the Baltic States became self-sufficient, Eastern Europe was democratized and a new Europe was created, a united Europe while along with the dictatorial systems of the Soviet Union the infamous KGB, the main weapon used against democracy, was neutralized.
In the arsenal of Active Measures for Ideological Subversion, the KGB perfected Disinformation as a key tool to fight the enemy from inside. Misinformation is intended to change the perception of reality to the extent that, despite abundant information, no one is able to reach a logical conclusion. This means deliberate distortion of information, its release and dissemination to the public in order to deceive and manipulate for certain political and ideological purposes. Unlike propaganda that is meant to convince us to believe a certain idea, misinformation is a serious attempt to deceive us into believing it.
Today, this sleepy enemy of democracy has been strongly restored to the global stage of political-ideological clashes under a new name: False News! The Russian Government, led by President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, uses this tool skillfully to advance his interests. By intervening in election campaigns in the US and Europe, but not only, he favors candidates who would be friendly to him or at least be harmful to liberal democracies in those states. As a result, today we have an increase of the right extremism globally, with incompetent populists who undermine power sharing, the rule of law and freedom of expression.
Through the misuse of human tragedies, such as emigration from crisis places and divisions on various bases, specialized Russian units such as the St. Petersburg Internet Research Agency produce news that aims to further deepen those divisions. Using nationalist emotional sentiment, fear and hatred, they impose a public narrative that promotes mistrust, insecurity and questions the ability of democratic systems to respond to these challenges.
But the ultimate goal lies in the long-term undermining of the democratic system of Government. If the citizens need abundant and accurate information to make the right choice, by intervening through misinformation they have only abundant but not accurate information. Thus, citizens will lose full trust in journalists, politicians, traditional political parties, institutions but also in the democratic governing system. This distrust will pave the way to populists and extremists who in the narratives against the political establishment can use citizens’ resentments and emotions to seize power and in the long run inflict great damage on democracy globally. The warnings are disturbing, especially the refinement of DeepFake techniques, which do not only manipulate the news but also manipulate the appearance and voice of real people.
The Governments of democratic states have realized this danger and a large number of them have taken concrete measures to fight this problem. Through social media regulation, raising public awareness, raising critical thinking and media education of citizens, relevant social actors seek to prevent, expose and hinder disinformation campaigns. However, this problem is far from being resolved and it will likely be the challenge of our century, a challenge that we must not lose at any cost for the sake of our collective and individual freedom and well-being.