NEW YORK — Troll factories and fake news are the new normal. This landscape is something every media consumer must be equipped to deal with.
Tokyo Rose was the name of the touching female radio voice that could be heard by Allied troops in the South Pacific during World War II. Tokyo Rose married American pop-music with news of the war. But the reports were neither true nor objective. It was, on the contrary, Japanese war propaganda at its finest, aiming to confuse and demoralize Allied forces. In reality, “Tokyo Rose” was not one, but at least a dozen different female voices. Using today’s terminology, it would be a “troll factory” spreading “fake news.”
Organized misinformation is nothing new. However, in today’s digital media landscape, a whole new world has opened up. Russia is at its very forefront. Lies are an integral part of President Vladimir Putin’s arsenal, both on domestic and foreign policy. Russia has a long tradition of acknowledging the value of “dezinformatsiya,” dating back to the Soviet Union and the Cold War.
Today, the United States is by no means a safe haven when it comes to fake news. Last Friday, a so-called troll factory in Macedonia, a small and developing country in Eastern Europe, in which young men make big money by spreading false news about immigration and Muslims to American readers, was exposed.
Links to both alt-right and even Nazi movement are now confirmed. The overall purpose of fake news is to spread xenophobia and torpedo the confidence of politicians, journalists, and other opinion leaders, while the perpetrators rake in profits on online advertisement.
A few but highly active individuals, sloppily disguised as “ordinary readers,” contact established journalists, to speak their minds about problems with immigration and ethnicity. These calls are recorded, cropped and cut together and posted on Youtube to give the desired effects.
Never before have there been so many reports on fake news, Russian conspiracies, and President Trump’s alleged pathological lying. We could easily get the impression that we live in a state of emergency. But we have every reason to believe that the very opposite is true.
The risk to encounter blunt lies and half-truths in the flood of information must be considered a new normal, and we must be vigilant and react accordingly.
News can be fake, interviews cut, images Photoshopped and video clips manipulated. The ultimate onus is on every person to be critical and self-critical. Everyone must keep their head cool, especially when a new story breaks that plays right into hands of people with shady interests.
Schools must teach students about critical thinking and source criticism. Postmodern disdain for facts, denial of objectivity and the over-confidence in one’s opinion must be dealt with immediately.
The need for skepticism and disbelief is the downside today’s world where information flows free. But liberty itself, on the other hand, has never been free.
For more than 200 years, Americans have said that “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” and there is no reason to stop repeating it.