An Onion of Stupid- The Philosophy of Fakes

One need not spend much time analyzing fake Russian news stories to notice that many of them were made with virtually no effort. Such fake stories are so horrendously bad that they fit the definition of “not even wrong,” which is what you call something that would require considerable improvement simply to achieve the status of “incorrect.” As such, dealing with such fakes is an exercise in philosophy. You must question and debunk every angle, and some answers only raise more questions.  To a thinking person, a fake story on this level is like an onion of stupidity; peel back one layer and there’s another below it.

As a case study let us look at a recently debunked fake story from the outlet that excels in producing effortless fakes- Zvezda, the Russian Ministry of Defense network. At first glance, it’s a pretty straightforward fake story. It posits that Ukraine has become so impoverished that it is threatened by mass hunger. So much so that people are actually stooping to the level of trying to steal bread crumbs from pigeons.

Let us begin with the general theme of the article, the skin of the stupid onion, if you will. We should already be suspicious about the fact that this article is about mass hunger in Ukraine. See, Russians have a habit of not caring about real mass hunger in Ukraine stretching back to tsarist times. That they are suddenly concerned now sets off alarm bells.

With that out of the way, we can get down to the juicy inner layers. Not the basic facts about the story, mind you, as StopFake has already debunked it. No, let’s ask the philosophical questions here. For example, the basis of the story is this photo of a woman who we’re supposed to believe is trying to steal breadcrumbs from a flock of pigeons. But without any context, does it not look like she is the one who is, in fact, feeding the pigeons? This is still too superficial, however, let us dig deeper.

What we need here is a thought experiment. Suppose we accept the premise that this woman is actually trying to steal crumbs from the pigeons. This one singular account is being used as proof of widespread hunger in Ukraine. But there’s a flipside the wily authors never thought of! Those crumbs did not get there by themselves; someone threw them. That means that Ukraine has at least one person so well-off that they can afford to simply throw bread away on the street. Surely if one person so hungry they need to steal from pigeons can be extrapolated as mass hunger in Ukraine, then one person who can afford to toss bread to pigeons can be similarly extrapolated to support the idea that Ukraine is full of people so wealthy that they are literally able to throw food away without care. Truly in a starving country there would be few willing to throw out still-edible bread.

So which is it? Crushing poverty and famine or middle class wealth and food waste? Truly the woman reduced to snatching crumbs from pigeons is canceled out by the person whose economic situation is good enough to allow throwing food away.

But we can go even deeper! The story goes on. In StopFake’s debunking story, we see that Russian media outlets also alleged that Ukraine is going to implement ration cards for basic food products. However, much of Russia is known to suffer from Soviet nostalgia, and the Soviet Union was forced to turn to rationing several times in its existence. During the Second World War this was quite understandable, but what about during Perestroika in the 1980’s?

Given that Russian families currently spend around 80 percent of their income on basic essentials like food, it seems like it isn’t Ukraine that needs to worry about rationing.

This is all good fun, but seriously speaking- what is the point of such blatantly fake stories? Readers who are less familiar with the Kremlin regime’s tactics and narratives might have trouble understanding why these media companies keep employing writers who put so little effort into their stories. This is what someone who cares about the concept of credibility thinks when confronted with blatantly falsified stories which are ridiculously easy to debunk. There is a strategy behind this, however.

First, one must understand that in the top levels of the Kremlin press there are people who believe that objective truth doesn’t exist. More importantly, they have convinced themselves that all media works this way, especially that media which criticizes the Kremlin or questions its claims. These people want to continually popularize that same worldview among the Russian population, hence stories like these.

It’s not that Russians actually believe these obvious fakes; they’ll often tell you they don’t. But what the Kremlin wants them to think is that all media is the same, and if the Russian state press makes up poorly veiled fake stories, then the foreign media must be doing the same thing. This process is duplicated by the Kremlin in other realms as well. For example, they do not deny that there is massive corruption in the Russian government- they just insist that it’s the same in every country. Censorship in Russia? Here’s a story about censorship somewhere in the West! The message is that free press, democracy, rule of law, etc. don’t exist anywhere.

When you look at it that way, that is when you finally peel away all the layers of the stupid onion, you begin to understand the function that even the most laughable phony story serves.



16 thoughts on “An Onion of Stupid- The Philosophy of Fakes

  1. Asehpe

    A question — if ridiculous stories have as their real (‘deeper’ or ‘philosophical’) purpose to feed the belief in a world in which everybody does the same, what is the role of debunking it? It seems that it would be necessary to actually write pieces (for Russians?) actually comparing Russian and Western journalism and pointing out why the Russian version is demonstrably and significantly worse — since as you point out the readers themselves already know that stories like the ‘stealing-breadcrumbs-from-pigeons’ one are fake.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Well on a certain level they can serve a purpose, but a lot of times it’s just laziness or perhaps deliberate sabotage (Kovpak’s Law).

      But I do think it’s important to catalog these stories and debunk them so people can easily see how ridiculous they are. Remember, many people may see these stories but have no knowledge of either country. They won’t catch any deeper angle. Also, they may not think very much about the story. They’ll see a headline and maybe skim a few paragraphs, and it just gets filed away.

    2. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I do think, however, that debunking fake news in the long run is a losing strategy because first of all, people can churn out fakes much faster. More importantly, facts matter way less than frames. Russian media, weather intentionally or unconsciously, uses frames. Even this story about Ukraine is reinforcing a frame- the Ukrainians sold out to the West and now they’re suffering for it! Things may be bad in Russia, but look how bad they are in Ukraine!

      The frame is way more important than specific details, be they real or fake.

  2. Mykhailo

    About “not even wrong” level, Goebbels has written about “big lie” in propaganda.
    As for story itself, I believe it’s projection. Russian food supply is rather small.

  3. AndyT

    However, this strategy might backfire, one day – wasting time on slandering other Countries instead of strengthening citizens’ trust in local institutions will make Russians’ morale lower and lower.

    What if Russia were really attacked or otherwise faced with a sudden and serious crisis, then?

    Would people react in some way, instead of just sitting and watching?

  4. gbd_crwx

    I’m asking for a friend 😀 But what do you think about the thing with the Russian (no)entry to the ESC? Planned to create outrage or not?

    1. Shalcker

      Obviously Ukrainians are afraid!!! …that they’ll have to provide accommodations for people with disabilities there – and they do not believe they can do it, thus potentially embarrassing them in front of Europeans.

      So they went with Crimea concert excuse.

      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Nope, she clearly broke the law. Russia’s been known to arbitrarily cancel or shorten visas without any explanation, so they don’t have a right to complain about Ukrainian visa laws.

        Russia’s also not known for taking care of disabled people. The difference is that in Ukraine there are people who organized on their own to do something about this, whereas in Russia you’d have to jump through all the hoops to become a legit NGO, and God forbid you get a few bucks from abroad, because then you can be labeled a foreign agent.

        Also if you want to talk about countries freaking out over the Crimea, take a look a this story, about someone who actually broke no law:

      2. Shalcker

        Ukraine, just like Russia, is also known for making arbitrary exceptions on those laws. Like Poroshenko removing BBC correspondents from banned list when meeting UK ambassador.

      3. Jim Kovpak Post author

        That’s not really arbitrary. They understood that those journalists are compelled by their work to visit Crimea. Ms. Somoilova had plenty of other cities in the vast legal territory of the Russian Federation to visit.

        Personally I think she should have been issued a specific pardon though.

    2. Shalcker

      Hey, even Eurovision suggested “solution” for performing by using video link fits this version perfectly!


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