Disinformation is a powerful tactical weapon used by hundreds of years and perfected by Joseph Stalin. The Russian tactical weapon started in 1923, when the Deputy Chairman of the KGB, called for the foundation of a special disinformation office to conduct active intelligence operations. An example of successful Soviet disinformation is “Operation Infektion”. An elaborate disinformation campaign that was begun in 1985 to influence world opinion to believe that the U.S. had invented AIDS.
Disinformation campaigns didn’t start with social media. Before there was Facebook, propaganda was spread via everything from radio and the telegraph to street leaflets. To put it into historical context, disinformation campaigns even played a role in the Roman-Persian wars.
Disinformation is false content spread with the specific intent to deceive, mislead or manipulate a target or opponent. In our social media age, it’s a weapon that baits fear mongering, boosts authoritarian regimes and, of course, sits center stage in U.S. election meddling.
In 2019, the U.S. Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee concluded on their first report that the intelligence community assessment alleging Russian interference was “coherent and well-constructed”. The final and fifth volume, which was the result of three years of investigations, was released on August 18, 2020, ending one of the United States “highest-profile congressional inquiries.” The Committee report found that the Russian government had engaged in an “extensive campaign” to sabotage the election in favor of Trump, which included assistance from some members of Trump’s own advisers.
Unprecedentedly, Donald Trump continued the Russian disinformation campaign on what is know today as the largest disinformation campaign by an American citizen against his own country. Trump’s thousands of purposely misleading claims hit an impressive record of 19,127 false or misleading claims in 1,226 days. Creating more damage to the American democracy than any Russian disinformation attack against the U.S. since the creation of the Russian “special disinformation office” in 1923.
Trump accomplished something that Russia couldn’t accomplish in almost 100 years. He alienated the American population from his own reliable sources of information by attacking the most prestigious and accountable sources of information. He weaponized the term “Fake News” and use it to undermine and discredit journalism. The term largely used by Donald Trump and his followers to denigrate, intimidate and threaten the media, including by stating that the media is “the opposition” or is “lying” and has a hidden political agenda, which increases the risk of threats and violence against journalists, undermines public trust and confidence in journalism as a public watchdog, and mislead the public by blurring the lines between disinformation and media products containing independently verifiable facts.
Donald Trump had accomplish the holy grail of disinformation. He created distrust, not only of the opposition but of the entire reliable source of information. And for that Donald Trump should be named “The greatest Russian soldier in Russian history”.