It looks like the fallout from The Washington Post’s horrible fake news story isn’t over yet. Adrian Chen, who’s done some real journalism when it comes to Russian trolling, wrote an excellent piece on the moral panic over Russian propaganda in The New Yorker. If you prefer a bit more edge, Matt Taibbi jumped in the ring to whack WaPo over the head with a folding chair. Sic semper bad journalism.
And it’s really good that this is happening too. Basically what WaPo did by citing PropOrNot as a legitimate source is akin to what Russian propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik do all the time, although they at least tend to give you their sources’ names. But unlike RT and Sputnik, there’s actually diversity in the Western media, and so there’s been a backlash. While it still has many problems, free media is somewhat self-correcting, and it’s certainly been correcting WaPo lately.
The biggest failure in the story, of course, revolved around the shadowy group called “PropOrNot.” One thing even critics of the story seem to be unwilling to doubt is the idea that this is some kind of group, as the anonymous source himself claims. I highly doubt this. I am almost certain this is one guy, at most maybe him and a friend.
The idea that he must maintain anonymity for fear of Russian hackers is absolute bullshit. While I admittedly use a different surname, my face has been on TV, Youtube, and in publications which have published my work. Alexei “Noodle Remover” Kovalev makes no attempt at anonymity and he’s actually given public lectures in Moscow. The people behind StopFake don’t hide in the shadows. Bellingcat’s people have faced actual state-sponsored hacking attempts (this is based on notifications from Google about the attempts), but they are still using their own names and photos.
Put simply, PropOrNot has something to hide. Most likely it is the fact that it is one guy and not a group of 30 or so volunteers or whatever his ridiculous claim is. Once someone finds out it’s just one guy, they might quickly notice that he is utterly unqualified to speak about Russian propaganda or Russia in general. Then again, they might also find out that he’s actually a pro-Russian blogger deliberately attempting to embarrass the Western media. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve run ops involving ostensibly anti-Kremlin groups or individuals.
Whatever the case, the guy’s Twitter behavior should have been a major red flag for WaPo author Craig Timberg. To be fair, I write some rather over the top stuff on Twitter too, but if you check my profile it specifically says “humorist” in it. I’m also not claiming to be a group of 30-40 volunteers who scientifically analyze Russian propaganda. To sum up this point, PropOrNot is utter bullshit, and I’m sure writing that will get me added to the list in spite of the fact that this blog clearly does not fit his own stated criteria. I’ve heard he already added the Intersection Project, if that tells you anything.
So how bad is Russian propaganda, exactly? Should you be worried about it? Well I’ve designed a special test you can take to determine if you should be seriously worried about Russian propaganda. Here it goes:
STEP 1: Determine your location
Are you in Ukraine?
If the answer is “yes,” you have a good reason to be concerned about Russian propaganda.
If the answer is “no,” you probably don’t have a good reason to be overly concerned with Russian propaganda. You probably have plenty of dipshits spreading fake news in your country who have no connection with Russia whatsoever.
STEP 2: There are no other steps. You’re done.
At the end of the day, all this hysteria over Russian propaganda is essentially projection, and as others have pointed out this is very Putinist. Hillary and her supporters in the establishment expected her to win, and now that they lost they’re looking for anything and anyone they can blame. The white working class. Vote suppression (there’s some truth to this but it could have been overcome). Millennials. Putin. This is precisely what the Kremlin regime does. It tells Russians they live in a great country with strong traditional mores, but then when it becomes clear that this isn’t the case, the inconvenient phenomena or trends are blamed on the West.
It does not matter one whit that those who push these narratives claim to oppose Putin and regimes like his. If you spread the same kind of thinking, in the end you end up with more net authoritarianism, binary thinking, paranoia, distrust, cynicism, corruption, and so forth. Just look at Poland’s current government to see how “anti-Putin” and democratic are by no means synonymous.
The only way to do something about the spread of authoritarianism and “post-truth” is to turn inward and address the roots of the problem. The fault, dear readers, is not in Putin but in ourselves, that we are besieged by morons posting fake news.