Disinformation campaigns are just getting started. In the previous article on the ease of destabilizing foreign adversaries, I touched on the low cost the Kremlin paid per year to destabilize the US political landscape.
In terms of military spending, $15M USD per year is a 1/200th of a percent of the annual Russian Federation’s military spending (based on 2014 data). Put differently, If Russia spent just 1% of its military spending on disinformation and destabilization campaigns, it would be concurrently running 200 of them per year. Russia was awarded a billion dollar US Army military base in Syria, paid for entirely by the US taxpayer, thanks to their $15M USD per-year disinformation campaign that effectively put President Donald Trump in the White House.
An Estimated 200 Disinformation Campaigns for 1% Of The Russian Federation Military Budget?
Russia doesn’t have 200 adversaries, so isn’t this an exaggeration? In the United States alone, there are several different social divisions that can easily have their own full-time campaigns, all year round.
Let’s look at a few popular targets we know the Kremlin is involved in:
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a deep-rooted American association responsible for enabling the most domestic mass shootings and murders per year. In plain sight, the NRA actively lobbies against women’s safety. More school children die from domestic gun violence in the US than on-duty police officers and global military service members. Combined.
The NRA already divides America, so all a foreign actor needed do was amplify their message to make it seem as if it’s supported by the majority. The biggest impacted groups are black men from homicides and white men from suicides.
The Alt-Right (American Fascist) Movement More Americans are dying from domestic terrorism than foreign terrorists today. The “Alt-Right” movement is a superficially divisive domestic terrorism campaign that at face value is only skin deep. But the stoking of racial tensions, combined with the institutional racism seen in the US prison and healthcare systems, has effectively reduced American economic progress by limiting the potential prosperity of a significant minority of its people with glass ceiling-like limits for people of colour.
Anti-Vaccination (Anti-Vaxxer) Disinformation Campaigns are also effective targets for nefarious foreign actors to amplify to destabilize their enemies and gradually lower their military warfare costs (except spending increased for “troll farms” propaganda operations). Tapping into a deep-rooted distrust for authority and governments, these well-intentioned groups are the easier targets to misinform. The cost of this divisive movement isn’t just social isolation from the majority of people who put trust in the medical establishment. The Anti-Vaxxer campaign has produced a health crisis where information warfare transforms into self-inflicted, biological warfare.
Pro-Life (Anti-Women’s Choice) Movement has been an effective social tool to help restrict women’s potential in society through controlling their bodies. Essentially Pro-Life advocates seek to control women’s reproductive rights to prevent abortions. The increasing use of bots with regard to women’s reproductive rights is a growing concern. This new tactic was observed in Ireland’s most recent referendum on abortion.
This tactic helps suppress half the country by making it unnecessarily difficult for women to climb the corporate ladders or to get higher education and break through social and economic barriers when forced to have unwanted babies.
If the national pro-life movements wanted to reduce abortion rates and care about women’s health, they’d be pushing for free access to contraceptives and sex education instead of stifling the very efforts that lead to unwanted pregnancies, then blame women. It’s worth noting that anti-abortion outcomes directly affect low-income women the most. The children born from parents who didn’t want them not surprisingly performed worse than their peers too.
Although Russia leadership has been under pressure to take action against legal abortions from right-wing domestic groups, the Kremlin realizes the financial and political consequences of underground and unprofessional terminations. Little surprise then that the Russian leader has come out as Pro-Choice for Russia.
Although these controversial groups have been around longer than foreign disinformation influences, it’s important to realize they are supporting the sides of the debate that inflict the maximum damage by dividing and destabilizing Western society. That’s why it is so destabilizing, inexpensive and difficult to pinpoint who’s doing what.
Think about it.
Better gun control will prevent needless gun-related deaths. Pro-vaccine information helps alleviate preventable illnesses and lower healthcare costs. Dismantling institutional racism makes communities safer, more economically productive, all while reducing taxes associated with discrimination-based policing and incarceration. There are enormous economic costs associated with gun violence, and racism.
Movements that counter the NRA, Alt-Rights, Pro-Life and Anti-Vaxxer attempt to bring cohesiveness and collective unity and increase the country’s prosperity over time by reducing needless waste. But these are just 4 prominent examples in the US — there are campaigns to stoke fears, divisions and hostilities toward immigrants, Muslims, Jews, Arabs, Mexicans, addictions and mental health, refugees, trans-groups, NATO, the European Union and even attempts to dismantle public education systems.
Given the low-cost and high return on investment disinformation campaigns appear to enjoy, we should anticipate more foreign adversaries infiltrating and influencing our national discourse in a way that encourages self-inflicted damage to our communities, institutions and society at large.
How Do We Inoculate Against This New Warfare Method?
Improving access to public education and greater investment in post-secondary education is no longer just an economic imperative, it’s become a priority for public safety and national security. People most susceptible to holding these anti-social beliefs don’t mean to hurt their country — they just don’t know better.
The error in thinking is to make it another “us against them” situation, and that’s the next logical division trap. But we’ve all been ignorant of something, and that place of humility invites others to reflect that they may be wrong too. We seldom change others by what we say, but rather by what we become ourselves.
The world needs more wisdom and compassion. Disinformation campaigns exploit the absence of wisdom and compassion. So long as public education and access to public health services is an after-thought, we will be continually vulnerable to these cheap and divisive tactics that emphasize our differences rather than remind us all of our shared humanity.