Leland Thoburn: Under siege by disinformation, our minds have become a battlefield

In 1979, a Mexican brewer introduced Corona beer to the U.S. Sales grew steadily until 1987, then plummeted.

The brewer investigated and found a rival distributor had been spreading a rumor that Corona’s workers urinated in the beer during the brewing process. The distributor confessed to spreading the lie in order to steal back market share.

Corona embarked on an expensive and time-consuming PR campaign to eradicate the rumor, but even today, 36 years later, the Urban Dictionary still identifies “Mexican Piss Water” with Corona beer. This is disinformation at its “finest.”

Disinformation is defined this way by Merriam-Webster: “False information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.”

To be really effective, disinformation should align with known facts — beer is yellow, as illustrated through Corona’s clear glass bottles — and be supported by the cultural prejudices of the target public — Corona is brewed in Mexico, not America.

Historically, disinformation has been used by commercial enterprises seeking economic advantage, by politicians seeking office, and by dictators seeking cover for butchery.

On Sept. 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler made an emotional appeal to the German people. And like all clever liars, he masked his true intentions by appealing to the moral high ground.

He presented himself as the lone advocate for peace. He roared that Poland had rejected his efforts to establish peaceful relations.

He claimed, falsely, that Germans were being persecuted in a “bestial and sadistic” way in Poland, and with “bloody terror, driven from home and farm.” Unlike Germany, which respected its minorities, he said, Poland was persecuting hers.

He claimed, also falsely. that Poland had repeatedly made military incursions across Germany’s peaceful borders giving Germany no choice but to meet force with force. With Germany’s media required to follow the party line, the reporting of Hitler’s speech was second only to the news that Germany had, in fact, invaded Poland that morning.

The blitzkrieg took 26 days. With the takeover complete, the Nazis ramped up their disinformation campaign.

There were Polish Jews, gypsies and intelligentsia to slaughter, and the Nazis wanted no opposition left. In October 1939 Nazi Germany’s Propaganda Ministry issued Directive No. 1306, which stated in part:

“It must become clear to everybody in Germany, even to the last milkmaid, that Polishness is equal to subhumanity. Poles, Jews and Gypsies are on the same inferior level. This must be clearly outlined [...] until every citizen of Germany has it encoded in his subconsciousness that every Pole, whether a worker or intellectual, should be treated like vermin.”

This campaign begat the Polish joke, by the way.

But it had very real consequences. By war’s end, six million of these “vermin” had been exterminated.

Disinformation did not start or end with Hitler, of course. The revered Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu (544-496 B.C.) stated some 25 centuries ago, “All warfare is deception.”

One of Sun Tzu’s most devoted admirers was a KGB officer named Yuri Bezmenov, who gave the West a look behind the curtain of Russian disinformation operations when he defected and published his memoirs.

“The highest art of warfare is not to fight at all, but to subvert anything of value in your enemy’s country,” he wrote. “These include moral and cultural traditions, religion and respect for leaders and authority.

“And so, anything that pits white against black, old against young, the rich against poor, works. As long as it disturbs their society and cuts the moral fiber of their nation, that’s good. And when everything in this country is subverted, disorientated, confused, demoralized and destabilized, then the crisis will come.”

The roots of Russia’s love of disinformation can be traced to Vladimir Lenin, who said, “To tell the truth is a petty bourgeois habit, whereas for us to lie is justified by our objectives.”

In The War of Nerves, Martin Sixsmith, a former BBC correspondent in Moscow, said, “The aim of Soviet disinformation in the Cold War was to undermine the confidence of people in the West in the open nature of their ‘free’ society and in the probity of the men who ran it. Moscow sought out the potential weak points in a nation’s psyche, applying pressure, hoping to speed its degradation.”

Russia is not alone. China, too, has its sights set on the American mind as well.

Two months ago, Facebook and Instagram deleted 7,500 accounts that had been created by police in Communist China. They were designed to target Americans with a coordinated simmer of fabrications, half-truths and lies.

“The impact of fake news on the human mind is profound,” Mr. Sixsmith said. “The mind creates mental maps and finds it hard to redraw them once they are settled.”

In other words, once you accept that the Republican (or Democratic) Party is the sole purveyor of truth, you build upon that “fact,” as if you were sitting on Boardwalk in some big mental Monopoly game. Dislodging your “fact” would mean rebuilding that portion of your personal world order from the ground up, and it is a very rare human being who can do that.

Add to this mankind’s love of mystery, of reading meaning into the random swirl of tea leaves, and you have an explosive mixture just waiting for a match.

The uncomfortable fact is, we are at war, and the battleground is your mind. Every generality, statement or story that pitches to your prejudices instead of your reason is simply another incoming salvo. If you fall for it, and end up taking sides against fellow Americans, you’re a casualty.

How much disruptive disinformation are you going to cuddle up to? How much division are you going to embrace? How much hatred will you allow to be force-fed to you?

Fact-checking services exist, as noted below. Use them.

We have knowledge gleaned from perhaps the greatest public education effort ever attempted. Use it.

If you do, we truly can make America great. Not “again,” but in ways never before realized.

Free people never revert. They always progress, and thus pave the way for others. We need to progress.

Guest Writer Leland Thoburn is a retired business consultant who has been making his home in McMinnville’s West Hills neighborhood for 11 years. He has been a writer all his life, but didn’t start writing professionally until 2007. He has had more than 100 articles and short stories published since that time, the articles focusing mostly on civil liberties. 


How to fact check

If the “fact” seems too wild to be true, if the only sources you’ve ever seen or heard for the “fact” are ideologically committed one way or the other, if someone is asking you for money because of what this “fact” might mean to you, check it out. Most major media outlets perform fact checking, and some specialize in it.

* FactCheck is a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters. Its goal is to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.

FactCheck monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and press releases. Its purpose is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding. Find it at www.factcheck.org.

* Politifact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics. PolitiFact is a Pulitzer Prize winning project of the Poynter Institute, which is dedicated to improving journalism and educating journalists worldwide. Visit www.politifact.com.

* Snopes is a well-respected reference source for political and other news stories, urban legends, rumors, and misinformation. It’s located at www.snopes.com.

* The Wayback Machine is a web archive that captures websites over time. It can be used to verify content history and edits. Find it at www.wayback.archive.org.

* Reuters (reuters.com/fact-check/), the Associated Press (apnews.com/ap-fact-check), Google (toolbox.google.com/factcheck/explorer) and many other resources exist to aid you in discerning truth from lie as well. If in doubt, check it out.



I would suggest this as well.


"Party is the sole purveyor of truth, you build upon that “fact,”

What Leland is talking about it motivated reasoning. Has a Harvard Study indicates it tends to minimize "in groups" and magnifies "out groups".


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