The sinister video begins with a kaleidoscope of pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin audibly chuckling — cackling almost.
It is the opening sequence of the third and final episode of a new New York Times video opinion series under the umbrella title “Operation Infektion.” The third episode is titled, “Russian Disinformation: From Cold War to Kanye.”
“It’s time to fight back against disinformation,” the narrator says as the video begins, referring to America, “but these are the people leading the charge.”
The video then present elected lawmakers in the U.S. Congress admitting to deep ignorance about the sophisticated modern technology that has made spreading disinformation — primarily by Russia to destabilize Western democracies — ridiculously easy throughout the world.
“Is Twitter the same as what you do?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) cluelessly asks Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg at a recent U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) admitted, “You can look at a lot of gray hair and realize that my technology capabilities are very shallow.”
“Not very encouraging, is it?” suggests the narrator.
It’s not the first time the U.S. government has been “asleep at the wheel” as global adversaries spread misinformation in the nation. It began with Communist propaganda after World War II and into the 1950s, and possibly earlier with British misdirection before and during the Revolutionary War.
But we’re still largely feckless against its insidious effects, especially, as the film underscores, because we now have a president who is an enthusiastic and amoral practitioner.
Today, fighting disinformation “is like a nightmarish game of wack-a-mole,” the video warns. Every bit of “fake news” you wack is quickly replaced by another. And weaponized misinformation is far quicker than reliably vetted information.
Mark Twain’s famous and still-pertinent adage is repeated by the narrator:
“A lie is halfway around the world before the truth has even got its boots on.”
As this instructive and worrisome film reveals, the truth in an open society such as America’s needs a lot of help to get its boots on way quicker in a world increasingly poisoned by dangerous, viral lies.