Self-Deception

According to an article in The Guardian on Friday, in the United Kingdom, ‘A cross-party group of MPs is threatening to sue [Prime Minister] Boris Johnson unless he orders an independent investigation into Russian interference in recent UK elections and the 2016 Brexit vote.’ This follows accusations by a recent parliamentary report which claimed that the British government had not taken the threat of Russian disinformation and electoral interference properly. The Guardian notes:

The MPs say the government’s refusal to investigate Kremlin meddling is a breach of the European convention on human rights, which enshrines the right to free elections in protocol 1.

The group says it will take the prime minister to court if he fails to implement what it describes as essential steps to protect future elections. It has sent him a pre-action letter, to which Downing Street has two weeks to respond.

Claims that the UK has been the target of a ruthless campaign of Russian disinformation designed to sway the opinions of British voters have been a staple of political discourse ever since the Brexit referendum, but have become increasingly hysterical in the past 12 months or so. In the runup to last autumn’s general election, for instance, Politico ran an article with the ominous headline ‘Suspected Russian Disinformation Campaign ahead of UK Election’. Among members of what I call the ‘disinformation industry’, the idea that Russia was bound to try to fiddle with the election was widespread.

When no signs of such meddling could be found, the industry turned on the government, accusing it of failing to find the signs which everybody knew had to be there, if only the government bothered to look. ‘How Hostile Disinformation by Russia has Harmed the UK’, shouted a headline in the New Statesman, reflecting the general view of the British commentariat.

Well, it turns out that somebody now has taken a look at the election, and has found copious evidence of disinformation. But unfortunately, it turns out that it wasn’t the Russians who were responsible. It was Britain’s very own Conservative Party. As The Independent reports:

The Conservative Party used disinformation tactics with a ‘new level of impunity’ during last year’s general election, a report has found.

Researchers from King’s College London warned that the campaign had risked undermining public trust during the coronavirus pandemic.

Their report said Tories had ‘employed overt disinformation’ to secure votes, such as by altering a video of [Labour MP and now leader] Sir Keir Starmer and posing as a fact-checker on Twitter during a leader’s debate.

The King’s College team aren’t the only ones to have looked into the matter. The Independent tells us also that:

In separate research, the fact-checking organisation First Draft found that Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats all published misleading advertising during the campaign.

But the Tories were ‘by far the most frequent’, with 88 per cent of their most shared online adverts between 1 and 4 December containing misleading information, compared to 6.7 per cent for Labour.

‘Liar, liar, pants on fire!’ one is tempted to shout the next time one sees Boris Johnson on TV. Of course, we all know that politicians tell porkies, but 88% seems to be taking economy with the truth a little far. It turns out that Conservative politicians (who now make up the British government) really can’t be trusted. The article in The Independent concludes,

The report called for more research to be done across multiple platforms to examine how false information spreads and takes root, calling claims that ‘Facebook, or bots, or the Russians are the core threat’ a ‘misdiagnosis’ of the problem.

So what is the problem? Where does disinformation come from? The article leaves little room for doubt:

The King’s College research said that while government policy had focused on social media as a source for disinformation, much of it was being ‘spread by domestic political actors’ and news outlets.

You don’t say? Who’d have thought it? There is a problem with disinformation in political life, but overwhelmingly the source of that disinformation is not Russia but domestic politicians and their helpers in the media. Unless, of course, this report itself is disinformation. Its allegations were ‘wild assertions’, said a Conservative Party spokesman. Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

8 thoughts on “Self-Deception”

  1. A few years back, before I stopped reading The Guardian, I thought The Guardian was a major source of disinformation. Are you saying Tories are even worse than that? Hmm. I find it hard to believe.

    In fact, there has to be a limit, where more disinformation will just make you a laughing stock and utterly ineffective.

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  2. This is all about Brexit and the inability of some people in the establishment to accept that the vote was fair.

    So let’s blame Russia (it worked in USA)

    Bringing up Russia is a desperate attempt to Stop Britain leaving the EU.

    Because we have a media based mainly in the capital and drawn from a narrow strata – there is a real inability of these people to accept that majority people in England especially, did not want to be in the EU and voted accordingly

    I live in Britain and the problem here is lack of diversity and independence of the media.

    We have 5/6 media groups and you know what you are going to get if you read a particular newspaper. They push agendas not news. It’s all about celebrity and royalty. Nothing about what is happening in different parts of the country.

    I live in London but I am from the midlands and have family and friends in the north. News never reflects the regional diversity and the social and economic differences that shape peoples attitudes and drive their vote.

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  3. Sorry for offtop, but those following the Belorussian situation might be interested in this series which I just finished writing this morning.
    Focus is on the Belorussian potash factory which is, or is not, out on strike; and turns out it doesn’t matter either way.

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    1. On the subject of Belarus, refer to this BBC-Evelyn Farkas puff segment at the 5:50 mark:

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w172x2wcsmp717f

      Another media example where Farkas goes unchallenged, as she states some put mildly questionable comments. From the perspective of seeking a mutually beneficial improved US-Russian relationship, this latest segment underscores why it was appropriate to oppose Farkas’ recent Congressional bid. The eventual winner of that seat will at least not be as zealous as her, when it comes to spouting anti-Russian propaganda.

      Contrary to what Farkas spun, Russian government influence in Belarus (whatever it actually is), hasn’t prevented the Belarusian president from clamping down on pro-Russian activity in Belarus. Going back to at least the early 2000s, Russian state media has included some negative commentary of the Belarusian government.

      Farkas flat out lies when she spins Crimea’s reunification with Russia as being the first time since WW II, that a border was forcefully changed. The examples of Kosovo and northern Cyprus come to mind. Crimea’s reunification process is comparatively more peaceful than the two other aforementioned situations.

      As has been noted elsewhere, the Belarusian anti-Lukashenko opposition is by and large not anti-Russian. Nevertheless, a disproportionately influential minority of the anti-Lukashenko opposition briefly had its anti-Russian agenda highlighted online. It was tactically wise to have their extreme views taken down. Their role is an understandable concern. Trying to enforce anti-Russian positions on a pro-Russian majority, contradicts democratic objectives and serves to decrease the greater likelihood of a peacefully secure outcome.

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