Misinformation and useful idiots

(To Renato Scarfi)

Since the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, communications have followed which tended to diminish the role of Moscow in the war, to justify the aggression suffered by Kiev, to frame the invasion of an independent country as a sort of right to have an area of ​​influence. Some have even gone as far as disturbing history, with ideological and misleading readings, to support the Russian claims.

Nothing new, misinformation has always existed: from Napoleon "cut to pieces by the Cossacks", ai Protocols of the Elders of Zion to spread hatred towards the Jews, up to the flat earth or "we never went to the moon" theories. But it is in the context of armed conflicts that disinformation has developed the most subtle and pervasive techniques.

Alongside every war fought on the ground each contender always develops a parallel war, Based on the communication. Trying to tell "one's" truth, or presumed truth, has therefore always been a very practiced exercise, in any historical period.

Already in Sun Tzu's time, propaganda played an important, if not decisive, role in the progress of the conflict. A role that today is amplified by modern means of communication (television, radio, internet) and by social media (facebook, twitter, whatsapp, instagram, telegram, etc…). A diffusion that allows propaganda to penetrate deeply and globally into the social fabric and into the minds of the masses, trying to shape their opinions.

In modern warfare i social media, having no substantial filters, therefore become important actors capable of conveying the propaganda of the warring parties. A defined as "hybrid" warfare, precisely due to the presence and use of "unconventional" instruments, which makes it different from the previous ones, as it is fought both with weapons and with the extensive use of communication.

Propaganda is the most pervasive form of communication, an activity that employs true information or false news, deliberately and expertly elaborated, in order to shape public opinion, attracting it towards one's own positions/ideologies. However, false or ideologically distorted news must be disseminated carefully since, to obtain the desired effect, they must be credible. True propaganda is not, in fact, composed of completely false news, but mainly of elements that are true and verifiable, because the purpose of propaganda is to be able to exchange a part for the whole (read article "War and propaganda").

Furthermore, to amplify the narration of propaganda, unscrupulous characters have always been used to spread the messages. Characters who are sometimes corrupted, but more often they are individuals incompetent who, devoid of any analytical skills, are used to drinking from the poisoned sources of disinformation.

Those who are better known as belong to this second category “useful idiots”. A definition that seems to have been coined by Lenin, to describe those Western journalists and travelers who supported the Soviet Union and its policies in the West (sic!). In a nutshell, it is manipulated characters who, convinced that they are expressing their own ideas, instead do nothing but spread propaganda narrative. They are generally naive, incompetent and deeply ideological individuals, incapable of any critical thinking, held in little consideration even by those who generate the propaganda message.

To better understand the phenomenon, it is enough to review the video of this last year, regarding the events in Ukraine. A number of blogger and of "analysts" (or presumed such) have, in fact, lent themselves to being carriers (how unaware?) and sounding board of Russian disinformation, by circulating articles, post and suitably crafted geopolitical “analyses” by extracting (poisoned) information from “…contents originating from media and institutional bodies close to the Kremlin, in order to guide public opinion…”1.

This work of relaunching and amplifying the contents of Moscow's disinformation, which unfortunately still continues, is characterized at an international level by a constant accusatory rhetoric against the West, aiming “…to present Moscow as a responsible actor, whose security is threatened by NATO's military expansion and activities; attributing responsibility for the ongoing crisis to NATO and the West, accused of not considering Russia's legitimate security demands; indicate the Kiev government as illegitimate and dominated by the West, as well as guilty of massive human rights violations in the Donbass…”2.

these useful idiots, in short, they try to transform the narration into a sort of irrefutable "historical fact", attempting to instill a sense of anguish in public opinion. For this reason it may happen to read articles in which they try to discredit, for example, military capabilities high end westerners, presenting them tout court as ineffective in the face of the ultra-modern tools of the adversary of the moment who would instead have weapons capable of destroying, for example, all American aircraft carriers wherever they are and in one go.

These keen observers de noantri, with a hypertrophied ego and less than elementary skills, they do not realize that their "opinions" are nothing more than the product of manipulation by others, which makes them docile "repeaters" of propaganda, and which often leads the author to believe in the narrative that he is supporting. It is no coincidence that these incompetent analysts often sign themselves with pseudonyms, since they don't even have the courage to put their face on it.

The real problem is that these incompetents are dangerous: in their own right deferential attempt to support causes or positions that are also against one's interests, there is a possibility that their distorted reality could be picked up by others, adding to the hapless coterie. The current trend of sharing on social media by users eager to get some like, but who have no knowledge of the events allows a rapid and widespread dissemination of propaganda. The most vulnerable are those who do not regularly inform themselves from multiple authoritative sources, offering a very fertile ground for the manipulation by this distorted information.

There have always been useful idiots and, unfortunately, there always will be, but each of us can make sure that the disinformation fails to achieve desired goals. First of all it is essential check the titles and credibility of the writer e always be wary of anyone who does not sign with their own name. Then it is essential learn more about the news, read the whole article (or the analysis) and don't stop at just the title. In the end, verify the information looking for confirmations (or denials) from other independent sources or other authors. We can do everything (or almost) with a simple click, let's do it.

Three small, but important, steps to avoid falling into the trap set by the useful idiots and the disinformation, which would make us pawn in a real domino, where correct information collapses.

Underlying everything there must be the awareness that readers are the recipients of the propaganda and are the recipients of it first victims …if you don't apply common sense.

1 Presidency of the Council of Ministers, 2022 Report on information security policy

2 ibid