Lately there’s been a lot of discussion about the paranoid worldview peddled by a handful of lobbyists and Twitterati that appear to make up a cottage industry of insta-experts in Russian information war tactics. But despite the attention that some of them have received from major media outlets or government officials, it’s important to remember that they are just that- a handful of people. They have little to no direct influence on society. If you want to see real paranoia, you’d do better to look at Russia, where government officials with real authority are notorious for banning or investigating some of the most innocuous things as though they were existential threats to the country.
Take for example this story from Meduza, where state officials are trying to ban a campaign rally by opposition candidate Alexei Navalny, based on claims that the rubber ducky is in fact a symbol of global revolution. The rubber ducky became associated with protests against Dmitry Medvedev, who was found to maintain a rather luxurious shelter for ducks at one of his palatial summer homes.
This story comes long after Russian state TV warned that fidget spinners could be used to “hypnotize” children and make them susceptible to the messages of the political opposition. And of course in that case, fidget spinners were just joining an ever-growing list of seemingly innocuous things that apparently pose a grave threat to the political stability of the Russian Federation, such as Western films and actual WWII history.
Of course as amusing as this is, the point isn’t to say “HA HA! LOOK AT RUSSIA!” Rather it is to show how incompetent and idiotic the power structure is, which belies the idea that Russia is jam-packed with politically savvy information warriors who are experts at polarizing Western political discourse so as to destroy our precious democracy. In reality, the Russian power structure, including the wily ol’ General Gerasimov, are paranoid and scared to death of their own people. They know they have nothing to offer Russia, and thus they need to suppress any and every possible threat. But what’s a threat? What could be an instrument of hybrid warfare, which according to Gerasimov is being waged against Russia by the West? Shoes with different color laces? South Park? Hipster beards?
If we adopted the paranoid worldview of some of the self-proclaimed information warriors that have recently popped up in the West like mushrooms after a rainstorm, we would only become more like Russia, thus fulfilling one of the main planks of Russian state media’s message to the domestic audience- “Sure, maybe it’s bad here, but it’s bad everywhere!”