Fake news is an issue that is getting a lot of traction these days, and it should be. While fake news has been a minor annoyance for years, during the recent U.S. election, fake news became big news.
A friend recently said something that made me stop and think: "Trump's victory showed me how full of shit the right is. Aleppo has shown me how full of shit the left is".
Now that the election is all but over, fake news seems to be back in full swing, swaying public opinion about Syria. As the horrors in the news cycle mount, I have seen several videos and stories in the last 24 hours calling into question the legitimacy of the news out of Aleppo.
There are several popular narratives: "civilian activists" on social media are western plants, the White Helmets are terrorists, Al-Qaeda or ISIS, backed by The West that are killing civilians, and that the Assad regime, backed by a benevolent Russia are just trying to stop militants who the USA has decided to back in order to topple Assad.
I even saw one video by a supposed "Independent Canadian Journalist" who "self-funded" a trip to Syria out of the goodness of her heart and somehow was allowed total freedom to roam the country.
She reports that USA, NATO and even Western International Aid NGO's are complicit in the bombing and gassing of hospitals. Naming several mainstream western media institutions, she in fact decries "Western fake news" as feeding false narratives about Russia and Assad to their populace, and covering up atrocities.
I'm not saying there isn't bias, or that there is no Western propaganda. I'm not even saying that the west didn't make some morally questionable decisions in Syria -- but that's beside the point. It took me 30 seconds to discover that this independent journalist, testifying in front of a UN backdrop, is in fact a correspondent for RT.
It is will known that RT is the mouthpeice of the Kremlin. Virtually every video or story that slams Western media and NGO's in relation to Syria that I have seen, less than 2 minutes of research has led back to Russia. I'm not saying they are behind all fake news, (although their presence is ubiquitous and their tactics are sophisticated) but with Syria, like the US election, it is case in point.
Russia and the Assad family go way back. Most of Assad's generals are trained in Moscow, and Syria buys billions in weapons from Russia.
Most importantly, Assad is one of Russia's only allies in a Middle East largely controlled by NATO. Russia has a base in Tartus which provides Russia their only access to the Mediterranean Sea. If Assad falls, Russia could stand to lose significant influence and holdings in the region.
"The slow demise of independent journalism and a culture of anti-intellectualism have made conditions ripe for the rise of fake news and propaganda."
During this election in the USA it is now well-established that Russia influenced the election -- and not just by hacking the DNC. Fake news was everywhere; all kinds of conspiracy theories that served one purpose: to knock the American public's feet out from under them and make them doubt their own institutions; most importantly, the Fifth Estate.
Democracy is underpinned by governing through informed consent of the masses. A strong and independent media is a nation's window into the affairs of the nation. Currently too many westerners cannot tell an opinion piece (like this one) from true investigative journalism. Attention spans are too short for long investigative pieces, and forget taking 2 minutes to check a source!
The slow demise of independent journalism and a culture of anti-intellectualism have made conditions ripe for the rise of fake news and propaganda. A people who do not know what, or who to believe are relatively easy to control.
So, what is Putin up to? Some connections are becoming clear.
Trump just appointed Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state. Tillerson and Putin had billions in oil deals that were scuppered by Obama's sanctions.
In this past US election, Trump ran a campaign based on lies and promises he is unlikely to be able to keep, and all the while Russia was gaslighting the American people.
Russia's investment in fake news has clearly helped destabilize the world's most powerful democracy, and installed Putin's puppet as president. Now they are arguing black is white in Syria; obfuscating atrocities like gassing hospitals and executing families with the aim of turning Westerners against their own governments. Even if Putin's aims are simpler than global hegemony, I'd say his investment has paid off.
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