Propaganda, Censorship, and Free Speech

Propaganda, Censorship, and Free Speech March 12, 2022

The war to eradicate Ukraine is becoming a war to eradicate freedom of speech.  When the Russians jail reporters who speak against the regime, we all (“all”?) still know that’s wrong. But what about the good guys, we free peoples of the west who just want to protect a nation being unlawfully invaded, murdered, and destroyed?

We’re edging in on the censorship game, too. Individuals who refuse to denounce the enemy are being fired from their jobs. Academics are being pressured to tow the party line. Meta (Facebook) has declared that it’s okay to post death threats now, as long as those threats are sufficiently vague and aligned with the company’s politics.

I’m not aware (at this writing) of any legal action being taken against Russian media, though I expect outside the US hate speech laws are going to start getting invoked if they aren’t already.

Here? I do in fact believe that private persons, including corporations, should be free to speak and to not speak according to their convictions.

So.  If Twitter is not a communications utility but a privately-run discussion forum, then by all means it is free to set its rules for conversation however it likes. If Canadian cable companies don’t want to broadcast Russian television channels? On the face of it I don’t see why they should be obliged any more than someone ought to be forced to air Calliou, bless his irritating little heart.

Closer to home: My husband is so thrilled about McDonald’s pulling out of Russia to protest the war, and its consequent impact on the awareness of the Russian public that something is not quite right on the western front, that he’s giving the kids a wad of cash to spend there and only there. Can’t bring himself to eat the food, but he’s writing a letter to senior management thanking them for doing their part to break through the stranglehold on Russian disinformation.

***

Hold that thought while I direct you to a reputable source for a primer on diplomacy, warfare, and nuclear deterrence:

I know.  It’s a lot to read. Still.

***

Okay, and now easing towards my point: I know that the Russian government it lying through its teeth.

also know that the Ukrainian government is headed by an erstwhile comedian, and I mean that in a good way: Ukraine’s propaganda is way more entertaining than Russia’s line dancing black-shirts and conference tables of nervous young flight attendants.  But can we be real with ourselves? If you keep seeing the same tractor pulling the same tank over and over and over again .  . . maybe good-natured Ukrainian yokels seizing Russian war machines is not the primary means of national defense.  I mean, that and hot chicks toting machine guns.

It’s a war.  The reason you know those Ukrainian expats already settled in your local community long before Putin made his latest move? It’s because Ukraine had problems. (Also: It had good things Americans can learn from.) Corruption didn’t vanish with a wave of the Russian artillery.  The humans are just as fallen there as they are here.

If the Ukrainian leadership has made masterful use of the media as part of its legitimate self-defense, it’s to be understood that at best that usage contains its share of spin and bias — why shouldn’t Ukrainians be biased towards the defense of Ukraine?  That’s how it goes.

And maybe there’s a little exaggerating in there?  Maybe a little lying? Not necessarily on the Russian scale, and Americans hardly have the corner on truthfulness when a useful lie can be deployed for a noble cause, but it’s possible not every statement made by every Ukrainian media outlet, government official, or private citizen is the complete and unvarnished truth. Time will tell.

And let me reiterate: Defending your own country from illegal invasion is a noble cause.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Russia is engaging in an unprovoked invasion with the general intention of conquering and destroying Ukraine.  Like all abusers, Putin is playing the “but you deserve it” game.

For Europe and her allies, the stakes are huge. If Ukraine falls, who’s next? How far will the empire expand? And that’s before we even take into account our rightly-ordered moral sense that innocent civilians should not be brutalized and murdered. So it is tempting, very tempting, to justify trying our own hand at the censorship and disinformation game.

This is not the way.

Instead? We need a consistent policy of relentlessly pursuing the truth.

***

“We” pretty much suck at this.

Our major media outlets don’t just take political stances (fair enough, there’s an ancient tradition in journalism of doing so), but they combine editorial policy and a touch of outright lying to build narratives that are divorced from reality.  Our governmental agencies are just as bad, or worse. And we private citizens? Darling, we’ve already had that talk.

Lying destroys trust, and that lost of trust puts lives and souls in danger.

Public health has been wrecked by policies of coercive dishonesty. The Church has no credibility.  Parents of all leanings are rightly concerned about teachers’ and school administrators’ lack of transparency about what children are being taught and how they are being cared for. No one with any sense believes everything the mainstream media says. Whack-job conspiracy theorists are proven right far too often for anyone’s good, theirs or ours.

***

In a dishonest world, censorship has no meaning.

You say you’re suppressing the liars . . . but you are one of them. To shut down free speech in the name of the common good? Who even knows what that is or what it means, other than the opinion of whoever’s in fashion at the moment.

The only remedy for lies is the truth.

There’s not another way.

Only truth, all the time.

If that is your policy, you will gain credibility. Slowly over time, people will learn that you are the person, the organization, or the media outlet that can be believed and trusted.

It is the only way to effectively fight disinformation.

The only way.

Try it.

File:Подвійна веселка.jpg

Photo: Double rainbow in the Ukrainian countryside, by Anatoliy Volkov, CC 4.0.  

FYI if you’re looking for Lent stuff from me, zero politics, try here.


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