Podcast: How to Lose the Information War (Hint: Start playing Whack-A-Troll)

The United States and many venerated European democracies are well on their way to becoming “a fact-free version of Democracy Lite,” warns today’s podcast guest, Nina Jankowicz.

She’s the ‘disinformation fellow’ at the Wilson Center in Washington D.C., and she has a new book out called How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News and the Future of Conflict Russia is well-skilled at taking advantage of existing social fissures in a nation, she says – and now China and other nations are doing it, too. Jankowitz’s book takes readers on a journey through Estonia, Poland, Georgia, Ukraine, thhe Czech Republic, and the U.S. to reveal these 21st Century warfare tactics.

America can’t simply fact-check or troll-ban its way out of these problems, she warns.  What will work? I’ll let her tell you. Click play below, or visit Apple Podcasts. We begin in Estonia with a bit of a history lesson. `

The most hopeful but most challenging part of her book describes a critical, long-lasting inoculation against foreign disinformation tactics: Healing our own self-inflicted wounds and social fissures.

I particularly enjoyed her suggestion that individuals practice “informational distancing” — “like social distancing” she joked with me. Internet trolls, and disinformation, rely heavily on human emotion. People who feel their digital blood begin to boil should step away from the keyboard, she suggests.  She also calls on local journalism and local libraries to step up and fill the trust void that makes foreign interference

Here are a few highlights I pulled out of her book:

“Russian actions have shone a light on and driven a chisel into the cracks in our system, and we’ve stood by, mouths gaping, as it happened. It’s time for us to rebuild.”

On Facebook and other social media companies

“Executives believe in content curation, fact-checking, and furious games of Whack-a-Troll—removing fake accounts created by malign actors only to see others pop up…neither tech platforms nor governments nor journalists can fact-check their way out of the crisis of truth and trust Western democracy currently faces.”

On dealing with Americans who feel like second-class citizens:

“One thing that’s clear from Estonia’s experience is that simply making policy without engaging these communities, or lecturing them that the authentic feelings Russia has exploited to manipulate them are somehow incorrect, won’t  generate trust and won’t build a new identity in which all Americans can take pride.”

Her prediction for a dark future in 2028:

“Adolescents, conspiracy theorists, and Grade A weirdos are pulling in millions of dollars in revenue each year, with users glued to their antics. In 2028, long gone are the days of filter bubbles, which had the potential of getting popped; today, unless you consume your media only in hard copy, you are helplessly drawn into an informational vortex.”

About Bob Sullivan 1451 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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