The Problem With Unsubstantiated Information and Plausible Deniability
Dossiers, Emails, and Birth Certificates, “Oh, Dear!”
The problem with unsubstantiated information is that it is unverified as true, and often leaked by sources with plausible deniability, which is confusing.
Beyond this, unsubstantiated information (such as claims of Obama’s birth certificate, or the Trump Dossier, or specific Podesta emails) has additional desensitizing and divisive effects, especially when the information is political.
That said, much of this can be true even in respect to substantiated information, especially if there is enough of both types of information being introduced in close enough succession. This mix of truths, half-truths, and lies is a toxic cocktail that is itself a form of propaganda.
Even an astute researcher who has read a leaked document like “the Unsubstantiated Dossier” (the “unsubstantiated leak” about trump and the hookers) or “the Podesta Emails” (the ones that resulted in “#pizzagate”) is liable to be confused and uncertain about what to do with the information or what to think about it.
Was it Rodger Stone, was it Russia (who we now know ran a public influence campaign and was thought to be behind some of the unsubstantiated info), was it the Deep State in the parlor with the candlestick? Who can say?
This uncertainty is exactly the point and the problem! It leaves the door open for more misinformation, and thus more confusion, and thus more division.
Sure enough, as we can see from a general and casual observation of social media (especially in late 2016 and early 2017), the whole gambit (intentional or unintentional) seems to be working.
People are reacting based on second-hand information, spin, and partisan sentiment, instead of reading the documents and having a centered debate.
Here the influencers and trolls and bots (a single hacker controlling many “bots”) magnify the general problem, finding weak spots and sticking wedges in, and it only makes it more concerning when we find out those trolls and influencers are often not real American citizens.
Then those real citizens who get duped by the trolls, bots, and divisive messages, those who are passionately allied with the left or right, or simply those with good intentions but who aren’t primed to react to fact over emotion, are likely to have a more vocal and political reaction to hearing about these things.
This creates a cycle where useful innocents amplify the propaganda, which is then in turn amplified again by influencers.
The bottom line here is that it is easy to goad someone into a reaction when they are confused, emotional, and have a head full disinformation, misinformation, and half-truths… and thus it seems part of the general influence campaign is to create this environment of confusion (in fact there is a whole strategy called “oh, dear,” discussed below, where confusion and extremism is used to sow confusion and make people give up; whether this is being done on purpose or not aside, it does seem to be happening).
Here we should note that the difficulty of checking talking points (what we call on our site “factoids”), especially when they are presented as being true, is one of the problems with a liberal nation. People are free to do their own research, read their choice of publications, and speak freely and openly, yet nobody has the time to check every scrap of information they come across. Thus, a good strategy for taking down a liberal democracy is one of sowing confusion and division, overloading the populous with factoids, and thereby creating an overwhelming stage in which news of real corruption and fake news carries the same boring weight.
At a quick glance one might think the answer could be found in authority (perhaps through censorship and the state), but of course, this is not the case anymore in 1776 than in 2017, (in fact, the case is the opposite).
Luckily, we are far from being in a helpless position where we must give up our values.
Rather, once we understand the problem (the war of weaponized information in the digital era so to speak), we can understand the solution.
Like any good solution, it has already been presented by the American values laid out by the founders in documents like the Federalist #10 and in human psychology.
We have our change and adaptation abilities. We also know about useful innocents. When a person finds out they are being duped and used for political games; they tend to do a hard 180 and are energized to fight back against their perceived exploiter. Thus, the solution is in education, empathy, ethics.
- Education, because when the digital democracy is smart and well armed with facts, fake news soundbites are less likely to be shared and propaganda is less likely to spread.
- Empathy, because when we see the other political factions as fellow citizens (or foreign entities with the right to self determination), and not enemies-no-matter-what, then we are less incentivized to wage digital war with them.
- Ethics, because general customs and ethics have been shown to work wonders in creating a positive environment online (a space like Wikipedia being a good example; but even Reddit being an example how basic community rules can keep a digital democracy relatively civil).
If we evolve our online habits with education and empathy, we counteract the ability of anyone, foreign or domestic, witting or unwitting, to run a strategy like “oh, dear” strategy on this. This deals with the ability of unsubstantiated leaks to affect the outcome of political debate.
Disinformation vs. Misinformation | CLASSIC. This is close to what I want to say in video form. I can’t find a video that I feel expresses the gist of counterfeit information without being somewhat dark and conspiratorial. I’ll keep looking, for now, this is a good series and video.
TIP: Thomas Jefferson didn’t stand for a conservative Constitution when the Tories accused the liberal Americans of being anarchists. We shouldn’t stand for a conservative Constitution today just because there is a little chaos. Liberty isn’t found in extremes; it is found in moderate and democratic positions in a free republic, to paraphrase Hamilton.
TIP: When a person is constantly exposed to chaos, they become desensitized to it. If we hear about a “big bad wolf” every day, we are less likely to run when someone cries “wolf.” A clever influencer can use the “bed of nails” principle as a deflection technique and in other effective ways. A person who does all good is easy to crucify over one bad thing, a person who does many bad things isn’t. If we hear about too many conflicting and sensational stories, we stop caring about any given one. For an example of the bed of nails principle in action, most charges bounce off Trump, but Bernie and the $600,000 Vacation Home! “Oh God no! Not a vacation home for the almost Democratic Party elect! The biggest scandal ever. Everyone look the other way!”; lol. Our “$130 trillion-in-assets economy” vs. “the table scraps Bernie gets because he isn’t corrupt” argument is just an example. A constant stream of unsubstantiated leaks can have a desensitizing effect on the public, and those with a history of shade are better suited to survive their new environment, which adds further complexity to everything discussed below.
Using James Comey and Hillary’s Emails as an Example of How a Mix of Unsubstantiated and Substantiated Information Creates a Slippery Slope in a Highly Polarized Political Environment in Which Media and Social Media is a Factor
James Comey Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and his dealings with Congress in the 2016 election is one solid and modern example of “unsubstantiated information” getting out of hand.
I couldn’t think of a more respectable and intelligent figure than the head of the FBI, yet, the confusing way that he related “the Podesta Emails” to Congress and the public resulted in information that felt no more substantial than when I read the leak on Wikileaks.
The result of the chaos is many got the second-han version of the story via bias media and thus had everything translated through a bias bubble and frame. Seeing that play out, seeing a reaction that almost seemed orchestrated one wondered, “did someone want this specific information leaked?”
In the end, outside of maybe John McCain and a centrist on NPR, I don’t recall one mind being swayed, just a bunch of divisive reactions based on party lines and talking points. Just further division, just “lock her up” vs. “lock him up,” just “emails and Benghazi” vs. “fake university and fake steaks.”
Sure signs point to Russian involvement, but who knows for sure.
Perhaps Comey’s confusing words and the sideways reaction of Americans was because we still had unanswered questions that weren’t (and perhaps could not have been) answered in the restrictive language afforded to someone in Comey’s position? How can a person with ethical responsibility relay information that is laced with doubt in the first place?
Questions like this take us closer to shedding light on “why do we find ourselves in this situation?” and “how do we react?” Neither question is simple to answer, and each question has many answers. Still, one obvious answer [spoiler alert] rests not in logic, but in our values: we need to increase transparency and education, it is not to turn to secrecy and state censorship in a reaction to “too much information passed around too freely.”
Comey Refuses to Say Whether the FBI Has Investigated Trump Associates’ Ties to Russia. Even when we go in the direction of the FBI, C-span, etc. and try to be “high brow,” we can still find ourselves bogged down in uncertainty.
TIP: It isn’t only the sources who have plausible deniability it is the sources. Obama is half black, and his half brother Kenyan, so his country of origin is questioned without substantial evidence. Hillary is a bit of a war hawk, so her foreign policy is questioned, with minimal evidence. Trump is a bit gritty, so his leaks are all about scandals (if he grabs a woman here, why not hire Moscow’s finest girls there?) Kompromat, fake or real, is meant to fit the person. It is “plausible” that they did this; it is close enough to their real record to fit a narrative laced with half-truths. See the slippery slope here? Now, give this information to the opposition of any politician, and watch the events unfold. Then, exploit what happens next. This is the gambit.
The Endless Sea of Questions
Thinking of an ethical and well-intentioned figure like Comey, or a PBS or NPR Journalist, we have to ask ourselves, “How could one give satisfactory answers to the following questions without offering unsubstantiated information themselves?”
“Were the emails about Hillary, or was this something Podesta did?” or “Did someone set Weiner up?” or “I know the Pizza thing was fake news as reported, but what about the mentions of Pizza in the emails, are we just going to ignore that?” or “If Podesta did something, what is it he did?” or “Wait! Should I trust Julian Assange or Comey?” or “How about Trump or Clinton?” or “Is Julian Assange a Russian spy? Weren’t his parents in a cult. Does he know something we don’t?” and “Isn’t Trump’s wife Russian?” or “The birth certificate thing was just racist garbage, right? Who was the true source? Was it an American?” or “Are the Russians trolling us over cold war and neoliberal policy?” and “How deep does this go?”
Even though the above are all simply examples, we don’t need more questions on this page or in general. Conspiracy thinking is when we try to form theories without having all the facts. One of the only reliable bits of information is, “we don’t have all the facts.”
How credible are reports that Russia has compromising information about Trump? No one likes their ego and character attacked, but if we respond by blocking the press, [to paraphrase Bush] “the enemy has already won.” Putin is a conservative Russian who has “locked down the media.” I’m sure he would like Trump to do the same. Then he can say “friends, we are just representing the interests of Russia and Europe.” Do you see how this works? If the West is liberal, it doesn’t work, if the West becomes a bit despotic and far-right, then Putin can move his agenda forward under the guise of good relations. The good relations part is fine and something everyone wants. Moving Europe back toward fascism is something most of us have a fundamental issue with. This is similar to Soviet Russia trying to team up with American socialists like Eugene V. Debs and his Industrial Workers of the World. We all love a union and some equality, but Stalin’s Russia did not offer such things in practice.
Everything is Confusing, but the “Ends” of the Confusion are Predictable
So much of the confusion stemming from the bad information is chaotic, yet one aspect of this is not chaotic, and that is the result of the confusion. “The ends” have a calculable effect in their natural state, and that effect is “chaos and confusion leading to radical factions, leading to people and leaders more desirous of authoritative solutions.”
Humans, once they are free to do so, as they typically are in America and other liberal nations, have formed two groups, “the left and the right.” This is the Yin and Yang manifested in political form, the Yang seeks domination, reacts to fear, and seeks safety and protection, the Yin seeks equality and compassion. Each type can be exploited and radicalized, as they were in Mussolini’s Italy, in Hitler’s Germany, in the October Revolution, in the American Civil War, the Jacobin Revolution, and, in some minds, even in the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and in Syria.
In these terms, “the ends” of this can be framed a few different ways.
From one frame, it is “reporting” like we find on The Alex Jones Channel, which leads to a call out against fake news, which leads to a censorship law, which leads to a press conference where CNN is called fake news, which leads to the ending of “the lying press.” There is a slippery slope to despotism hidden under a thin veil of manufactured social unrest within a free-Republic. It all starts with leaking some bad and divisive maybe-true-information.”
This page isn’t about alternative media; it is about the nature of the information, alt, real, and “fake” news and its effect.
So “the ends” of the tactic may be destabilization, and “the ends” may be to radicalize factions and confuse fake-and-real news, but what is the point of all this division?
Fake News Is Right Again. Fake news, which is what some call Alex Jones, but is alt-news, which is different than RT, Fox, or NBC. That is biased real news, but it is different from real news, which sometimes RT, Fox, and NBC present. Thus, we have confusion. This is made more complex by unsubstantiated information from leaks like the emails, dossier, and birth certificate which Alex Jones is known for spreading. None of this has any bearing on what is or isn’t true or what America’s values are.
Obsessing over ‘fake news,’ the US government plans its own propaganda. Here is RT (Russian State TV; the American version) talking about the US using propaganda and censorship. Welcome to the rabbit hole.
The Point: The Cluster Fuss is a Purposeful Divide and Conquer Strategy Called “Oh Dearism.”
Although much of the above is explained by mundane self-interest, and although sometimes local actors need very little help from outside sources to play their role, part of this cluster fuss is no accident. Instead, it can be thought of as one purposefully enacted part of a two-part strategy of dividing AND conquering, partly via a strategy called “Oh Dearism.”
It is old tactics rehashed for a new era, yet another reaction to the centuries-long tug of war that goes back beyond the socialist revolutions and WWI and involves key resource-rich and strategically important areas like Ukraine and the Middle-East.
The divide and conquer strategy is no different from when Germany sent Lenin back to Russia to lead his divisive revolution. It is similar to what Lenin did in the October Revolution with his propaganda (when America backed the Tsar), or what Stalin did in Russia (when America teamed up with Soviet Russia to defeat Japan, but then quickly ended the war, thus avoiding giving Stalin credit.
The tactic is to confuse the public, leak emails, birth certificates, and shower stories that radicalize both the left and the right by creating confusing and plausibly deniable evidence from plausibly deniable sources. In this process truth becomes subjective. Although nobody can calculate the effects of destabilization, Influential people can generally pivot the situation in a number of advantageous directions. Certainly, if your competition is weak, you are in a better place than if they are not, especially when you are in the middle of a tense international proxy war.
Any nation not completely locked down under the rule of a despot is subject to this mess, because liberalism is a petri dish for free-speaking, printing, and assembling factions.
In disrupting, confusing, funding, opposing these factions, the era becomes post-truth. Citizens operate based on emotion, not fact, division, not unity. Although, there isn’t one exploitable effect or reaction, one obvious goal is to make Liberalism fall under its own weight, and hope for a reaction that pushes toward despotism. This would look as though it proved that the autocrats and collectivists were right and that liberalism had failed. Once that position is taken, then conservative powers can band together and act as though they are saving the people. Look at in post-WWI Germany for example.
Oh Dearism. The idea of “oh dearism,” broadly speaking, is used to create a divisive political environment where “everyone seems equally as bad and corrupt.” People react with confusion and division, and thus everyone becomes a useful idiot of sorts. It is a slippery slope that can be side-stepped with a little awareness but has the danger of being reacted to by state censorship, which is what we should not do as liberals.
Who Wants This? Or Why Do We Keep Accusing Russia?
Now, we have to ask, who wants Western destabilization? Why does everyone tend to focus on Russia and not China or another entity who, regardless of current relations, has the resources and motive?
Those questions may be answered by history and some critical thinking.
First off, the parties don’t want this wholeheartedly, as they can at times value short term wins more than long-term strategy. Sometimes businesses who want this as an industry often finds a way to profit. I think some wings of industry, DNC, and GOP should be on the witness stand.
Likewise, we can look at Western radicals like the far-right nationalist and far-left socialists and say “they want this,” so we can question them, but that isn’t the key. If they had the power to disrupt and influence so much, why are they still fringe factions?
So, that aside, who wants this most urgently?
Not America, not the west, and not liberals.
Specifically, “who wants this” are those who benefit from America’s division. Those who want America divided and confused. Those who want to show western liberalism wasn’t the best solution.
Take the list of those who understand the political strategies, have the technology, and are historically in conflict with America, and you get a small handful of groups and countries. If you then take the country that originates most of the world’s influence techniques, we are left with Russia, and specifically the KGB, as being the most probably to hold a smoking gun.
Of course, we don’t know for sure. Maybe it is western intelligence designing this whole thing masterfully? Maybe it is all pure happenstance and paranoid reactions? This conspiracy theory, despite being rooted in some fact, is speculative unsubstantiated information itself.
“What a rabbit hole!” Or, “Oh dear, this is a bit of a gosh darn cluster fuss.” This is “the point” (well part of it at least).
Despite all the present day confusion, where current events are unclear, history is clearer. And it is in history and principle that we will finally find our solution.
History says Japan could be a despotic and autocratic hive-minded collective set for our destruction in 1940. We defeated Japan with the help of Stalin’s Soviet Russia. By the 1970’s and 1980’s, they were our allies while we were in a tense Cold War with the USSR.
When I [the author] was growing up, I idolized Japan due to my love of anime and video games, and never really felt as though I was unpatriotic or that Japan, despite having collectivist aspects, wasn’t liberal or democratic.
I grew up wary of “the USSR” Communists.
Was it PC to be enamored by Japan and fear Russia?
History shows us that countries and people, for all their differences in one era, have fluidity in general.
The Democrats were the Confederates of the Civil War; now they are the Social Liberals of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
America was allied with McCarthy reacting with fear to American Communists one day, and then reaffirmed our dedication to liberalism and freedom the next.
We can crush fascism without crushing every fascist.
An enemy can become a friend, and sometimes a maverick like Kennedy or Reagan is what we need to reestablish better relations.
There are things we know with some level of certainty, and some of those things are pretty darn humanizing. For instance, Reagan learned that the Soviet people were themselves afraid of Nuclear war just as families in the U.S. were.
Side Notes on Russia and Germany
We’ve noted U.S. and Russian tensions, both today and in the Soviet and Tsarist eras. We glanced briefly at the history of Ukraine and the Middle East as it pertains to Russia and how this relates to the cold war. We know that relationships between countries like Germany and America can change over time despite tensions of the past.
Let’s look at a few quotes that expand on the above points:
“Russia is working with every tool available to them to whittle away at the edges of the European project, test for fault lines among Western nations, and return to a politics defined by spheres of influence”…
…”Their purpose is clear — to collapse the liberal international order,” Biden said. “Simply put, Russia has a different vision for the future, which they are pursuing across the board.” – Biden said at the World Economic Forum, during his final major speech in his official capacity. Clearly reiterating part of “the point” we are trying to make.
Joe Biden issues a ‘call to action’ to the US and Europe. The clip where the above quotes come from.
Putin says “fake” Trump news spreaders “worse than prostitutes.” Nothing says “literally Putin” or “all of Russia” is poking western interests with a clever stick, but even if they were, Putin isn’t going to come out and say it. He is going to spin it in a way that suits his interests, just as anyone would. If he weren’t a reasonable, charming, and convincing guy, he probably wouldn’t be winning national elections since 1999. If he weren’t calling for better relations, the progressive left and protectionist right probably wouldn’t be so enamored with the man. Oh Dearism is about fueling fringe factions, so why wouldn’t a less obvious strategy be too? History tells us a bit more than a modern sound bite.
There is an ongoing war between political parties, with setups, fake news, lies, and rumors. And Kompromat is the king in this war, especially when there is no democracy or transparency. We live in the kingdom of lies, and the kingdom of kompromat. – An ex-KGB colonel on “Kompromat,” shedding light on the games of influence and how they are used for the ends of “the point.”
TIP: Kompromat is compromising information used for blackmail and slander via media; like a video with Billy Bush or images of one showing off a Wiener, for example. The best defense against this isn’t the prettiest one, as it is [for a politician] utilizing the bed of nails principle and having a bit of criminal virtue. If you are expected to be good, and you are shown to be bad (even if this is shown with slander and half-truths, as it often is), you risk losing your career to Kompromat. If people already see you as a bit rough around the edges, this sort of thing can bounce off you or even help your image. This is well known to those who utilize the technique, and it is a centuries-old strategy, but it is taking on a new form in the age of information via social media and global mass media. Speaking of which, a citizen has a different defense. 1. They can learn facts and help to sway those lost back toward western interests. 2. A citizen can simply freeze out the influencers and their talking points by doing things like not commenting or hitting the like button when information is divisive, avoiding sharing the influencer’s POV, and seeking to find common ground with other Westerner’s.
NOTE: German Chancellor Angela Merkel cautioned that public opinion was being “manipulated” on the internet. She has also suggested censorship. On the first point, she is 100% right, and she knows this I’m sure from knowing her own countries past. However, her second point of censorship is a slippery slope. The danger is first that those who are manipulating public opinion will target her, which is already happening. If Germany moves toward neo-fascism like other countries, it will be an awful game changer. It is better to inform than censor. Facebook should start by doing something basic, such as coming up with a warning that content has been flagged as fake, prejudice, etc. It could, potentially, provide some sort of citable real information from experts. If we try to bury false information, some will see it as censorship, and the censor will be labeled a tyrant. PC presents a sticky situation at the best of times, but this is especially true in our current era. There are other ways to combat fascism. Liberalism isn’t always easy, but it is almost always right.
Anyway, side notes and my talking in between words aside (another trick; “a terrific trick, trust me”), the point of all of this is that there is a fix.
So what can we do?
We realize that division between factions is part of the naturally occurring social system that expresses itself when people have the freedom to express themselves. So there will always be a left and right, Democrat and Republican, country A and country B split between groups.
Then, with the last point in mind, we set forth a commitment to truth, debate, and centered policy that represents the interests of conflicting factions.
We offer education and freedom. We unite, not divide. We reaffirm our commitment to a liberal and democratic society where we accept the fact that our liberty breeds complexity and division as a badge of honor. We put the microphone on CNN and let them talk about issues; we teach people how to spot fake news; we don’t filter it, and we don’t over react by being divisive to the point that the feelings pulling us apart are stronger than those binding us together.
We, importantly, address issues of extreme inequality, we don’t cut out the root of “freedom,” we cut out the roots of “insecurity” that lead to the extremes that corrupt democracy.
We do the opposite of what is expected by our critics.
We meet the absurdity of the situation with a greater absurdity.
One expects a lion backed into the corner to start clawing and biting; no one expects him to make tea and draft human rights legislation.
If one wants to show liberalism works and despotism doesn’t, the best thing they can do is to take pride in liberalism while reaffirming their values.
Some countries may need a despotic government to control their people in the moment, but we don’t today and people don’t in general. The harder things get, the truer this becomes.
We dismiss scare tactics and divisive thinking and find some love or respect for our opposition. Factions can, will, and do arise with or without help. This leaves us free to move forward, brush the dirt off the shoulder, and frustrate the bullies who tried to effect us, or even better, inspire them and show them a new path forward.
We need to meet the “oh, dear” strategy with a “freeze out,” “brush it off your shoulder,” “don’t overreact react,” and then “reaffirm your values” strategy.
What looks like a division between groups and fake news, may be seen as liberalism in action. Every time we get new technology, we have to adapt 320 million new free agents. That is going to be complex and messy, but ultimately, it is the best system, because it puts power in the hands of people, not autocrats.
If we want to make everything easier, it would also really help to ourselves remember that when we spread spin and talking points, rather than real information, and when we censor and hide, instead of having faith in our people to internalize complexity, we do a negative influencer’s job for them.
More practically, the how [in my humble opinion]: 1. Drop charges against Clinton and Trump [after full investigation]. At this point, we made our choice as a country; we need to reflect unity from the outside. If there is a compromising situation, it should be dealt with quietly at this point. 2. Have Tump, Sanders, and Clinton find mutual support for a key issue like Healthcare. 3. Emphasize ethics in media to meet the challenges of our new age; we must teach people through example how to differentiate between counterfeit and real information. By doing this, the media avoids arguments and slippery slopes. We should inform, not censor. 4. Help our parties move toward a more centrist position as we were for a brief moment after the Revolution, WWII, or 9/11. 5. Don’t do exactly what other would want and lock down the media or go after our freedoms; respond with an affirmation of our values and strive to make society freer.
We can never get rid of counterfeit information, and this is increasingly true in our digital age of information. We have to adapt without sacrificing our values. We can work on how we deal with unsubstantiated information leaked by unknown sources, but we shouldn’t censor the leaker, the information, or the debate.
“Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires.” – James Madison
- Differentiate Between Substantiated and Unsubstantiated Opinions in a Text
- Trump Received Unsubstantiated Report That Russia Had Damaging Information About Him
- the Unsubstantiated Dossier
- the Podesta Emails
- We talked to an ex-KGB colonel and Putin critic about the Trump-Russia dossier
- Why Nobody Cares the President Is Lying
"The Problem With Unsubstantiated Information and Plausible Deniability" is tagged with: American Politics, Conspiracy Theories, Left–right Politics, Liberalism and Conservatism, Liberty, Politically Correct, Propaganda, Russia, Social Engineering, United States of America