I’m still reading more than sewing, though I’m knitting on Christmas projects a bit for crafty diversion. I don’t think every book I read is worth blogging about, but this more recent one was fascinating.
This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality by Peter Pomerantsev
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s not an uplifting read, but it’s not totally depressing. It is just hard to read about the many ways reality can be distorted, especially multiple ways all at once. The chapters seem to be ordered in increasing degree of intensity, and the concluding chapter continues the intensification as well as offering a glimmer of hope for dealing with disinformation. And while many illustrations are from Russia, other countries have their moments: the Philippines, the former Yugoslavia, Syria, and Ukraine, to name a few.
The first chapter deals with troll farms and bots, the second with tactics of non-violence (useful for out of power minorities) being turned back onto those minorities by those in power then used against them. And how that experience disorients. Next Pomerantsev writes about controlling the narrative, how the propagandist first selects a goal for the information warfare, then selects/creates an ideology to go with it. This is intensified in chapter 4, “Soft Facts,” where he writes of the change from trying to make a misleading narrative sound true to simply stating the alternate narrative to confuse rather than to convince. “With the idea of objectivity discredited, the grounds on which one could argue against them rationally disappears” (123). In chapter 5, “Pop-Up People,” people seems to have two meanings: a person’s feeling of identities or a disinformationist’s manipulation of the use of we to try to push the reader into an us-them mode of thinking.
I was startled to find an intensification of methods of disinformation in the final chapter, having expected solutions when I read the title, “The Future Starts Here.” The chapter starts with an exploration of the origins and methods of Cambridge Analytica. Then the solutions. I will have to ponder the hints given: In order to limit disinformation on social media, he suggests a shift from the substance to the method, to reveal bots and trolls, for example. Because polarization and us-them thinking are a method, he describes the possibility of flexible identities, to not shift completely from an us-position to a them-position, but to continue analysis. Because Pomerantsev had identified as problem a loss of a sense of future, allowing factlessness, he posits the value of a sense of future. and he notes something many protesters had in common: a love of fiction. Fiction, he posits, helps one develop “an ability to imagine a different social and political reality from the one around you” (195).
Another feature of the book is that each chapter contains a bit of the author’s family history, interesting narratives of parents and grandparents. And some snippets of his father’s writing makes me want to read a couple novels he wrote that have been translated.
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