We often fail to acknowledge the lens through which we perceive and interpret reality, thus, it becomes more of a suggestion than the truth. Even a little piece of disinformation is more than enough to disrupt conversations, and at extremes, can have an unimaginable impact on democratic processes, especially elections. As this may continue to intensify, someday democracy might end up becoming collateral harm. The state/country whose goal is to strategically mislead and profit from other government decisions resulting from disagreements, and ultimately increase its own relative international influence uses disinformation as an instrument of interest. Disinformation as a contrivance of foreign policy can be part of an immense, much more threatening complex of international state-led activities in the cyber-sphere, including cyber-attacks, hacking and other ruinous incidents which are often shared under the puzzling notion of ‘hybrid warfare’. Hybrid warfare — the full spectrum of war activities— with the exception of full-scale military conflict.
It is established that War comes with disinformation and it’s not just today where disinformation contributes but from the immemorial times when Chanakya and Sun Tzu used to fight battles. D-Day Medicine When the Nazis took over the Dutch during the 40s, they converted the “Haarlemsche Courant” into a Nazi brainwashing newspaper. Years later, as D-Day approached, the Nazis climbed to administer an issue of the Courant that downplayed the Allies’ impending arrival. Simultaneously, a group of typical citizens put together a “fake” version of the Courant that more precisely detailed the Allied invasion. So two categories of the Courant came out on the main day, which is D-Day: firstly, the “true” version and the other which was the “fake” version. The Belgian underground implemented a very similar scheme. In 1943, ragtag resistance warriors risked their everything to again publish a “fake" version of a Nazi propaganda newspaper, which brought to light some humiliating truths the Nazis would’ve preferred to hide. During the Second World War, people who suffered the most were able to reclaim the narrative and win tactical victories — because they were armed with a nuanced understanding of (dis)information. Saddam Hussein’s Creation & Revival Saddam Hussein, often remembered as the unhinged madman, emerged in the lead-up to and during the Gulf War of 1991, through a combination of government propaganda, and a biddable albeit sensationalistic reporting. Hussein's Iraq mainly focused on misleading the media with considerable cleverness and some success. A favourite gambit was the dead body parade. Rather than burying children who died, their bodies were preserved in cold storage to be exposed at the justified moment. The BBC reported in June’02 that sixty coffins of dead children were put on display in Martyr Square in Baghdad, allegedly the victims of depleted uranium left over by the U.S. armaments in the Gulf war. At this mass funeral, willow-wearers screamed anti-American slogans and obliged an end to the economic sanctions by the UN. According to the U.S. report, they were taken in. Later, it was revealed that the bodies of those children had been in storage for months in different parts of the country and were dispatched to the funeral. The causes of death were numerous.
Although he wasn’t involved in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; this was established in the chaotic aftermath of 9/11, when mis and dis-information ran rampant. Most of the hijackers who were associated with the attack were from Saudi Arabia, affiliated with Al-Qaeda, who itself was a long-standing nemesis of a secular dictator like Hussein.
McGovern, an officer who served for 27 years at CIA told DW, "The intelligence was not mistaken; it was fraudulent — and they knew it."
Frustrated at the failure to find Hussein’s suspected treasures of biological & chemical weapons, U.S. and allied intelligence networks launched a serious effort to find out if they were victims of artificial Iraqi rebels who sowed the seeds of disinformation to mislead the West just before the war. Hussein’s motives for such a deliberate disinformation scheme may have been to brusque his enemies everywhere, from the US to Iran, by sending wrong signals of his military power. Experts also stated the dictator’s disobedience of the West, and its fear of his hypothetical weapons of mass destruction highlighted his prestige at home and was a hypercritical part of his power base in the Arab universe.
According to a senior U.S. weapons expert, “They were prisoners of their own beliefs and Hussien was a master of denial and deception. But then, when they couldn’t find any solid evidence, they said they proved it, instead of questioning their own assumptions.”
We have had a double pandemic — the real pathological virus and the pandemic of disinformation which brought fear at stake amongst people. The rumours spread out almost as early as the disease itself. According to some claims, a foreign adversary had unleashed a bioweapon that emerged at the brinks of Chinese social media within the same day when Hubei first reported the outbreak of a mysterious virus.
From Beijing and Washington to Moscow and Delhi, political leaders all around the world and allied media effectively functioned as major spreaders, using their stature to magnify politically desirable chanceries already in motion. But here, it was China instead of Russia who took the lead in spreading foreign disinformation about COVID-19’s origins, as it came under attack for its early handling of the outbreak.
As China embraced overt disinformation, it inclined on the Russian strategy of spreading rumours, turning to a long-established network of Kremlin proxies in the West to seed and spread messages. In January, long before China began overtly spreading disinformation, Russian state media sailed in to validate the theory that the U.S. engineered the virus as a weapon.
On 20th January, the Russian Army’s media outlet, Zvezda, announced that the outbreak in China was linked to a bioweapons test, citing Igor Nikulin, a four-time failed political candidate who worked alongside Kofi, Secretary General at the UN during the disarmament of Iraq. Furthermore, the UN in response rejected this piece of information put forward by Nikulin.
And that is exactly how gossip/Chinese whispers spread. Every human engages in some form, notwithstanding the age-old axiom, “If you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all.” Although disinformation is an age-old aspect of foreign policy or warfare, today it's quite different. It is technology, more than intent or content that makes disinformation dangerously manipulative. To combat fake news, the first peremptory is to distinguish the different figures: ‘misinformation’ is the fortuitous sharing of false content, while ‘disinformation’ is calculated sharing with an intent to deceive.
The Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has acknowledged the prospective misuse of platforms and even predominantly defined ‘disinformation’. However, the term is yet to be legitimate under the IT Act. Section 54 of Disaster Management Act, 2005 provides broad recourse against cases that have severe consequences on public interest.
Although it’s impossible to resist fake news, we, on a personal level can adopt a scientific approach that involves embracing and questioning poise that is determined by curiosity and being mindful of personal bias otherwise we can spend years training machine learning models to find fake news, but without a nuanced bargain of disinformation, we will forever deliberate the meaning of both “fake” and “news.”