Stop blaming Scottish politicians of “disinformation.” 2023

One popular but insane US blog calls her the “wicked witch of woke”. The American hard right despises Nina Jankowicz.

For over a year, Trump supporters and other radicals have harassed and threatened the thirty-something researcher.

Online culture warriors bombarded Ms. Jankowicz, scarcely pausing to breathe.

Even though their target was not Jewish, their constant abuse was sexist, sexually graphic, and even anti-semitic.

Why did they hate Ms Jankowicz? The Disinformation Governance Board, directed by a Kremlin propaganda professional, was the start of their effort.

This grand-sounding organization was essentially an idea shop to examine strategies to combat malicious influence efforts that threatened national security. No power.

The board was a way to censor America’s fervent internet right. Jack Posobiec, a feisty conspiracy theorist with 2 million Twitter followers, called the DHS unit the “Ministry of Truth”. Fox News seized on this theme of Ms Jankowicz as an Orwellian Big Brother who would censor tweets.

Its brilliant hosts televised online chaos. Republicans championed it. Ms. Jankowicz left after DHS halted its project.

After a year, the expert declared she would sue Fox. After its presenters lied about the 2020 presidential election results, the channel settled a defamation dispute with a voting equipment company for three-quarters of a billion dollars. It now risks higher legal and financial implications for ignoring provable truth.

The event also demonstrated how poorly conventional institutions combat internet-generated misinformation and intolerance. Democracies are criticized for employing legions of spin doctors and PR experts. Well, the DHS ones weren’t fast enough to resist Ms Jankowicz’s pile-on. Which is why they needed the board she led, I guess.

Jankowicz Affair merits attention. This drama highlights several issues with how we talk about “disinformation” in the West, including in Scotland.

The word “dezinformatsiya” is a Russian calque. For sticklers like me, it means military-grade covert and overt techniques to confuse strategic opponents.

Consider current hack-and-leak operations and industrial-scale social media manipulation supported by totalitarian state media. Classic misinformation works like that.

However, “disinformation” has been undervalued and robbed of context in debased public discourse.

The issue is rarely discussed. Stewart McDonald’s detailed plans to strengthen Scotland’s society-wide resilience to foreign and domestic hostile information actors are on hold.

Many politicians, pundits, and internet commentators use “disinformation” as a smartypants phrase for “lying”.

People use the D-word to imply “stuff we disagree with” or shoddy journalism.

Scotland’s hyperpartisan political discourse is replete of partisans calling each other “disinfo.”

“Fake news” happened. Fair enough, this helpful word is old. It boomed a decade ago to designate to websites that imitated actual media outlets to get clicks and advertising income from naive Facebookers.

Later, “fake news” became a catch-all for substandard reporting, and finally, from Mr. Trump’s pouting gob, a term for all journalists and their work.

Language evolves. We must realize that many people use phrases like “disinformation” and “fake news” without knowing their meaning.

A shame. First, since true misinformation may require new terminology. Second, because a certain fraction of attack dogs scream incoherently when they hear about real-world solutions.

Ms. Jankowicz experienced this. She is a prominent victim of extreme right attacks on reality. Nationalist conservatives and more severe fascist and fascist-adjacent players view “fact-checking” as totalitarian, an attack on free speech, and on their freedom to lie.

Imagine how they feel about “disinformation”—a trendy term. This notion is used to silence discussion, not to grasp democracy’s vulnerabilities. Some hard-lefters do too.

People deceived by Kremlin falsehoods about Ukraine or vaccine nonsense now automatically reject the D-word.

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