Peter Pomerantsev, Transcript: Lies as Propaganda

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Turi: [00:00:33] Today we’re talking to Peter Pomerantsev. Peter is a journalist and a writer and a senior fellow at the Institute of global affairs at the London school of economics. Peter, thank you for joining us.

Peter: [00:00:44] Thank you for having me, uh, on this, on this, on this, uh, exciting, uh, internet link up in our quarantine days.

Turi: [00:00:53] Indeed. It is London to Herefordshire. Um, Peter you’ve spent the last years looking at how information and information flows are controlled in today’s globalized world. Your first book focused, particularly on Russia, where you described Putin and his system as a kind of postmodern dictatorship. Your second book, this is not perhaps propaganda adventures in the war against reality extended that inquiry globally. You went from Mexico all the way through to the Philippines. Um, my first question for you is really we’ve been manufacturing opinion for a very, very long time. Now, how is it that you’re seeing what happens now as different say from state control of media in the 21st, in the 20th century or all the other forms of propaganda that we’ve seen historically.

Peter: [00:01:50] Well, maybe we can think about it in terms of waves. Maybe every time there’s a new technology, all the old rules get upended. You know, there’s parallels. You can make about the entry of digital and social media to onto the information marketplace, as you know, as tempestuous as the arrival of Prince and the arrival of radio. And every time a major new technology arrives, you know, or all the old rules seem to get thrown out the window. But if we just bring it to. To, you know, the frame of the book, which really is a book that focuses cause it starts in the 1970s and the sort of, you know, the late cold war, uh, and the 1990s. And contrast that with today, I think there’s something systemic has happened because over the 20th century, the kind of formuli and ideals and. Uh, kind of, uh, methods. We had full guaranteeing democratic information space. Um, they’ve been upended, so, so, so they were kind of, you know, They’re kind of contained in a few simple, simple ideas. So the idea of pluralism and the guarantee of freedom of expression, uh, and, um, you know, the metaphor of a marketplace of ideas, uh, and kind of, uh, you know, uh, you know, the idea that you can speak truth to power and the powerful were frightened of truth. And, um, uh, and. And kind of an idea of the free individual who can read and express themselves and then evenly certain types of music and behave in certain ways, the idea of a liberal self, uh, a critical sort of mind and a, and, uh, and, uh, and, and a freedom loving mind. So it’s this kind of bunch of ideals, ideals, and, and, um, and characters, I suppose, as well. Um, what was meant to kind of balance. Out, um, the attempts to control the narratives and manufacturer opinion and, and all these things you talk about. So yes, it was propaganda, but it was kind of balanced out with these things. And that was there between the democratic information space and an authoritarian or totalitarian one. And in the book, I traumatized that through the story of my parents, my, my last book, uh, who were Soviet dissidence and fought for all these things, they were arrested for fighting. For the right to read what they wanted to and write what they wanted to, they, they they’re yearn for pluralism. They sold themselves as liberal selves. Um, and, um, you know, they risked their lives in order to tell truths about, so, so what I show in my book, how will that’s been turned upside down? So you now have, um, all sorts of leaders, but leaders who want to take away other people’s rights using. Freedom of expression, uh, in order to crush opposition, take away other people’s rights. So I look at leaders, I look at the Philippines and Russia, but I could’ve looked anywhere really, uh, the use of kind of cyber, miniatures, and trolls to drown out. And break trust in critical voices. Um, but the point here is that instead of trying to constrict the information space, which is what you did in the 20th century, the idea is the opposite area is to open the flood Gates to so much this information. The truth is, is, is, is drowned out. And it’s very hard to stand up to this because, you know, I talk to sort of critical journalists who tried to, you know, scream to the world. Look, you know, we’re being oppressed. By the cyber diminishes and trolls and all the rest. And, and the answer from the regime is always, no, this is freedom of expression. This is what you guys fought for, you know? And, um, and so, and, and you can, one can block, that’s obviously cynical, but what they say, but it’s also legally true. There is nothing in the declaration of human rights and also my team, uh, that is the guarantee of freedom of expression, which is the kind of the UN. The human rights, you know, principle that my parents would have clung onto while they were being interrogated by the KGB. Uh, there’s nothing, nothing in that. It says anything about disinformation, it’s just the right to receive and impart information. So there’s no kind of even kind of philosophical their loan legal way that we have at the moment to deal with this sort of deluge is of, of, of disinformation and online mobs and the rest. And that also then ask this, you know, has led a lot of people to ask the question about whether. You know, the marketplace of ideas, metaphor wins out because the marketplace of ideas concepts was that it’s okay to have lies. Whatever the truth will win out. The best information will float to the top. But that’s completely unclear when you can create, um, this information so easily online, just at a click of a button at rates that are unheard of before. Um, I could go on, but

Turi: [00:06:47] that’s the starting point as a starting point. That’s fascinating. And the thing, which, I mean, as I, as I read your book, I spent a long time in the middle East and, um, I kept on translating it into a different, uh, framework, which is the middle East, as you know, is not terribly famous for its love of free speech. Um, in fact, sort of the opposite across the entire board with the exception of Lebanon. Hmm. And, um, Lebanon suffers from precisely what you’re describing this absurd surfeit of free speech or whatever it is, where there is, um, vast amounts of competing information and sort of no referee of any kind. Um, I kept on thinking. You know, we are all Lebanon today. Every group has got its own media. Every group has got its own TV channel. Every grocery store got a newspaper. And, and there’s, there’s no sense of, of, um, of anything other than this mass of conversation. None of which is, um, if it gets to a point you, you flagged technology here, right at the beginning of your, of your, of your first comment here. Every, every new technology brings with it, a, um, a raft of new issues, um, when it comes to the information ecosystem, can you point to, you’ve talked about bots, you talked about these armies of, of, uh, of bots. Can you talk to some examples that you’ve seen Philippines, Russia elsewhere, um, where we get a sense of the tools available to those people, interested in destabilizing the discourse?

Peter: [00:08:16] So, so part of the mission of my book, Was in the chaos of days, you know, you know, inflammation, clusterfuck, what’s the goal. I want to see go around the world and see whether we source systemic things. And I do know that the way I built the book, um, the way I kind of stitch that together, and what I really wanted to do was to move between. Countries that maybe people don’t put together. Usually we might think of them as the other and show actually how we’re seeing systemic things. So, so what I’m doing bots and trolls, um, I look at the Philippines and talk about Duterte. Who’s the new president. There were nuisance sort of. The latest one, uh, and his use of, of digital, he was, he was an outsider candidates to a certain extent. And so, you know, he kind of pushed himself through, through digital means. Um, but Berisha how that’s being used in Russia. Then I, then I kind of referenced some research, which shows how this has been used, both in democracies and non democracies. I mean, the Chinese have their 50 cent army the called because they got paid 50 cents for every comment they post online. Um, but. There really, isn’t a regime in the world, which isn’t using some form of this, whether it’s kind of like troll farms, the way the Russians do, or just having, you know, enthusiastic activists like the Donald Trump campaign, who kind of, you know, the, the Trump administration feeds them. Um, you know, from these alt-right online groups, like, you know, a journalist they should target and they go after them like a pack of wolves and dox them and threatened them. So the relationships can be different, you know, it can be kind of linear or they can be much more loose. But, but there is not, you know, that there really isn’t a country with high digitization that isn’t using this because at the end of the day, look, a lot of PR companies do this like actual PR companies. Um, during our research, uh, at the parliamentary committee on this information that I worked on, we got to see some of the kind of promotional documents that SEL that’s the sort of the Cambridge Analytica. Company had, and they openly boasted about, we will create fake avatars and fake bots in order to promote your campaign. You know, that it wasn’t, they weren’t hiding it. It was, this was part of the package and we’ve see British PR companies, uh, do this across the world. And this is now part of the package that a lot of PR companies do. Um, so, so there really isn’t anyone who’s untouched to me and fits that are on touch the places with very low. Uh, internet penetration, but you know, there’s very few of those left, um, Germany, very interested in German, lost German, federal elections, all the parties, apart from the AFD, which the right wing party. Uh, and it’s worth double checking this, but this is why I heard on, on, on the scene. Um, because we researched the election, all the parties kind of admits. Said that they would not use fake accounts. They wouldn’t use bots and stuff like that. So they, they, they said like, we’re going to have a, you know, that’s kind of a social taboo. We don’t want to, we want to have an election that’s transparent, but everywhere else, I mean, it’s just, it’s just standard now. Um, and it will be standard. So the regulation changes because you know, it’s a fierce war for competitive advantage. So this is really what are the points I make in the book is, is that in that way, if in the cold war, It was really easy to say, look, here’s the democratic information space, which has pluralism freedom expression, all the things I talked about. And here’s the totalitarian one where they don’t have that. And you could easily tell the difference between the dictates is media systems and the democratic media system. Now it can be very hard to tell the difference, the systems of governance different, obviously. I mean, you don’t go to jail in America or, or, or, or. Or, um, uh, uh, or yes, the governance is different. Yeah. Uh, but the actual use of bots, trolls, all that kind of stuff. That’s the same everywhere now. So there’s actually very hard to tell the difference in some ways between the media, you know, the media effects in the digital space. Um, so. And that’s not good.

Turi: [00:12:25] No, I hear you. I hear you. And this is, this is fascinating because for lots of people in the liberal middle, um, found themselves extraordinarily surprised to find the hard right. Pick up all the tools, which they felt belonged to the left at the tools of the 1970s in know outrage, um, political activism, free speech as the move.

Peter: [00:12:49] even more than that, did you read the, um, did you read the manifesto of, of one of these kinds of right wing shooters in America? The last one, I think he went into them to Walmart and shot a lot of Hispanic people. So he wrote a manifesto and in there he says, aye, I’m against, into marriage because I support diversity into marriage is making us all the same. And I want a diversity of races. You know, he’s completely co-opted liberal language in order to, uh, advance the cause of, um, well, not just racism, but actually kind of like, you know, uh, apartheid.

Turi: [00:13:35] Yeah, that again, all sorts of surprises that we’re seeing. Um, I think that there is an element, um, one beyond where you’re going, which is not that the narrative, some are being controlled in quite the same way, but actually that the very idea of Truth is being destabilized as a, sort of a collective global gaslighting going on. And you’ve, you’ve Harry Frankfurt’s fabulous essay on bullshit talks to this. I feel like this relates to your, your idea of sort of post-modern propaganda post-modern communication. Um, Can you, can you talk to, because this is sort of a central element to your book. This is a, that, that somehow, if relativism is driven into everybody’s assumption about the media landscape, it sort of achieves all the work without actually having to advance a particular narrative at all. Is that right?

Peter: [00:14:28] Yeah. And here it’s very interesting, like there’s that if I ever, I do a grownup work, like a proper grownup book, Um, and academic work, uh, on media sociology. I want to do it about the relationship between the medium and the message. So to what extent is. The things that you just mentioned, this kind of, um, this change from trying to convince people of something of the ideals of communism or the ideals of Nazi-ism or the ideals of democratic capitalism, this ideological competition that you had in the, in, in the 20th century to this kind of these leaders who don’t care. About even trying to convince somebody may just set out to confuse and see doubts, bullshit. But I think it’s even deeper than Harry Franklin, as I say, it’s, it’s, it’s really just append the very idea that Truett is out there. Um, you know, how did that come about? Is that, is that something that emerged out of culture and history or is that something that’s. And what is the relationship of that to the medium? Um, sort of the, the fragmentation of media where there’s no need. I mean, there’s no way to even dominate all the TV channels. So why would you even try, um, to a certain extent, you know, when you see authors, hereon, rulers, like. Like Putin adopting these strategies. It’s it’s from a sense of helplessness, you know, it’s, they can’t sensor anymore. They can’t control all the media anymore. Even though they put people in prison, they can’t do that. So the only effective thing to do when there’s so much information is to spread out conspiracy theories, uncertainty. That’s actually the only thing you can do. So in some ways, this has been brought out of a sense of helplessness. Um, on the other hand, that does seem to be something deeper and more historical going on, which is what I look at a lot in this book, because actually in the book, I move away from technology as a root cause and start to look at the deeper cultural, historical things going on, especially between the cold war and now, and, and, and kind of the conclusion that I come to, which, which is a tenuous conclusion. Um, and again, it’s why I want people to engage with me. Cause I don’t think it’s a final answer, but it’s maybe. And answer CME relativistic already is that, um, in the cold war you had two systems, democratic capitalism, communism that were both trying to convince people that they were rational systems, which were achieving, uh, a real kind of utopian future. Communism claims to be scientific democratic capitalism claim to be full of enlightenment values. And, and because they were trying to prove this rational future, they needed the language of evidence and facts and arguments to prove they were getting there. That was kind of their roots, uh, and in political language, facts and evidence and truth are very allied to an idea of. A future that you’re proving that you’re achieving you, the evidence to prove you’re getting there. And I don’t know if you’re listening to remember, but the Soviets right to the end had these bizarre think tanks, whose job was to prove that the communist experiment was succeeding and they’d come up with bizarre evidence that it was actually all working. I mean, there’s wonderful concept. They had that people were not unemployed in Soviet union. The fact they had so much free time. Was a sign of its success. I just think this kind of like desperately trying to still like have a rational basis that the experiment was working. Um, and then what happens is, is these ideas of the future kind of disappear? Firstly, no communism obviously collapses, but then in Russia, by 1993, democratic capitalism has collapsed and you see, uh, any discourse about the future will turn away and. You see the emergence already in Russia in the 1990s, the politicians that you see in the West, I think much later of politicians who are, who just don’t give a toss about the truth anymore was you’re an Oscar was the great example of it. Who’s a kind of a Trumpian politician several decades before Trump and the whole discourse moves away from trying to prove a rational future that you’re attaining to, to nostalgia and nostalgia kind of takes over. The Russian discourse in the 1990s emerging with this idea that journalists ski first raises them to sin. Makes really his, his byline, um, bringing Russia kind of off its knees, which is kind of make America great again, but in Russian and in the West, the idea of the future kind of dissipate slowly, obviously 2008 is a massive one. This idea of kind of like a liberal, you know, globalist liberal future kind of breaks apart. Uh, and then various, I think, I think Iraq is a, is a big puncturing of the ideal that democracy is, is a. Is a, is a necessary, is inevitable. Uh, and then we’ll have a, Bob was sort of talking about the arc of history, but he doesn’t even seem to believe it anymore. That was one of the weird things about bomber. He was so wonderful in so many ways, but, you know, in his policies, actually, he’s retreating from that into kind of a, um, an American, uh, an American in return already. Um, and, and, and, and, and, and you see these kinds of. Politicians emerging all over the place. Who, who, who are all connected by a not caring about the truth and B and not caring about the language of facts and be the rule nostalgist. So whether it’s Trump or vulnerable, so narrow or do tattoo, or, you know, some elements of the politics of Britain, they’re not ideologically very similar, uh, but they are all allergists. And I think that’s very telling.

Turi: [00:20:14] That’s um, that’s fascinating. I want to ask you where you are precisely where you’re going here, but I want to, you’ve got, you’ve got a raft of politicians pushing in a particular direction using this tool, nostalgia that you’re talking to, which is not, which is not politics.It’s not ideology. It’s a gesture a bit in the same way that, um, people have always described fascism, not as an idea so much as there’s a move. Um, but. That is, it’s a, it’s a brand of, it’s a form of populism. It’s a populist move. It needs a population to be. Turned on by it, for it to work. It needs a supine is the wrong word. It needs a population to be, um, open to that kind of politics. That kind of move. Why, why are we also open to this anti rational sort of anti-progress retrograde, nostalgic, backward, looking emotional feely kind of politics. Now.

Peter: [00:21:11] So, firstly, not all of us are there are people who well we do, because I would say apart from doing kind of reporting, I do, I do a little bit of social research as well in my role at the, this thing, hang I run at the LSE. Um, and it’s very, very interesting. I mean, it’s, um, uh, we look to the Ukrainian. Uh, election, but, but a friend of mine Safia gasoline does a lot of work at nostalgia has found the same. And in many countries, people who feel their lives are getting better, are the ones who still were votes are kind of the old rational policies, you know? Cause they feel their lives are getting. I mean, it’s it’s, I think it’s very, of course people are very receptive. This is why these politicians are. Well, I’ll do well. If people don’t feel that their lives are improving, if they don’t feel their children’s lives are going to be better than that. If they didn’t see any, if all of the future as presented to them, tells them is unpleasant things, then why on earth would they look to it? Um, you know, so, so I think it’s,

Turi: [00:22:05] um, So it’s just that. So you’re, you’re framing this as, you know, the future doesn’t sound appealing, then look to the past, and that is an emotional move and therefore, a political move that people make.

Peter: [00:22:14] I mean, I think it w w w we could get into what we mean by appealing. I don’t think it’s just economics. I think it’s a lot, a lot, a lot of other things as well. Um, but, um, I think in terms of voting, uh, it’d be very keen to go. By, uh, you know, block by block voting block by voting block over the last elections and see to what extent they, they aligned by, by that sense of, do you feel that your, you know, over the course of your lifetime things have got better or not? I think, I think it could be very, very telling. Um, which way people voted based on that? Uh, or do you think that your children will have a better life than you? Uh, that can be much more of a uniting thing than, than left or right. Or there’s other things? Uh, I mean, what’s very telling is that young people feel this as well. So, so, you know, there’s phenomenon in France from us to now is, is, is being supported by young people. It’s the young people in a lot of countries who feel that. Especially so young people are especially nostalgic, nostalgic, isn’t it isn’t about any real parks. That’s how she was about not liking the present and the future. Um, so, so I think, I think, I think yes, then I think, um, uh, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, um, you know, it’s, it’s, uh, Um, that’s a very broad swath of people who might actually not even like each other very much will know each other very much. It’s not divided into classes necessarily. Um, but, um, uh, if you can tap into that, It’s very interesting. Uh, I mean, populism bites nature is very, very heterogeneous. It’s it can’t be too ideological, which is why left populism always fails because it’s less populism. And it’s always boxed in to the 30% of people who are left or the 15% of people who were left true populars and can be left. Right. Um, nationalist, internationalist, all in one go, there was a great. Radio documentary about Boris Johnson that I listened to trying to work out. Who’s the real Boris Johnson and, and they can work them out. Cause he was everything he could be nationalists. Internationalists liberal, slightly authoritarians. He could do all those things and somehow sell themselves to all those different audiences. Um, and that is that, that is the popular skill. I mean, there was all these people in America, uh, Germany saying sort of, Hey Trump, you said you hate a socialist, but the economics that you’re doing during, during Corona is socialists that you get that’s contradictory. And that’s the point, uh, populous populism doesn’t have an ideological logic. It does whatever works in that moment. Um,

Turi: [00:24:50] focus on the negative definition of self, right? So I, you, you, you bring up town move. The leftist populist in your book who I’ve read. Um, and, um, She has that. I mean, her attempt to build a left-wing populism is just to say, okay, if we can, if we can make the people that we are not, if we can find the people who on whom we’re going to blame all that stuff, hateable by enough people, we end up with a very large group who will therefore Jeremy Corbyn was broadly the theory that it’s all around, figuring out who the bad guys are, um, and making sure they’re hated enough on by and by enough people for those who are not the bad guys to former. To form a core. Is it, is that negative definition of who you are that drives that, is that the only kind of continual core of populism? Isn’t that right?

Peter: [00:25:42] Yeah. I mean, I think that’s, that’s, that’s what it is, is creating of non people that you can be a people against. Um, I mean, that’s that, I mean, there are many definitions of populism about that, but I think that’s the one where everyone kind of agrees is, is, is pretty, is pretty, um, uh, it’s pretty, it’s pretty consistent that kind of discuss with pods. Um, uh, so, so in my book, I try to put this idea of what I call pop-up populism. I try to, again, I try to, I want to get out of, you know, I’m trying to, I try to put different stories next to each other to show how. You know how this tight guys isn’t, isn’t just about sort of Europe and America or even India. So I have three moments of what I call, uh, you know, of, you know, populism as a strategy, Shantelle move is there as well, um, ever present. Um, but I also look at Islamists and how they try to build this idea of an Ooma, uh, you know, uh, political Islamists, uh, I kind of, uh, Um, Islamic community and how similar that is to the popular strategy. And then I look at Russia in the 1990s where, you know, all the old ideologies collapsed as we discussed, and one had to construct this idea of the Russian people. Groups around first Yeltsin and then Peter, um, th there, it was known as the Putin majority. Then you don’t have the Bush in store, you know, for the many, not the few basically, uh, and how similar it is and how they’re all working. Uh, the political Islamists, the Brexit is move and, and rush. And these political strategies from Russia, the 99 years, they’re all working in this. In this strange space where there’s no ideologies competing for the future anymore. So what you can do is build identities. Yeah. You know, everything becomes about building new identities, who opposed the other identity. There’s no idea of what your arguments to win. And then we’ve talked about this a lot. I mean, she talks about how the essence of politics is building, building nucleus school identity. Um, and, and that’s what I said, because identity politics, by the way, don’t see politics or some weird American thing, which I find. Very hotspot understand. It seems very kind of. Yeah, no, it’s just, it’s some sort of American condition that we have to understand in the context of America. I’m talking about something much, much bigger, which has the job of the political strategists is not to win an argument. It’s to create new ideas of the people create new political identities. Um, Uh, on the fly and constantly you have to constantly reinvent them and do them again and recreate them. And they collapsed. So a flux that you’re creating household, um, and, and you know, none of it is particularly future orientated. Not a bit can be long long-term. None of it knows how to government, by definition, it’s constantly campaign mode. You know, Trump is constantly campaign mode. That’s all cause your concept to generate the enemy. And it’s very hard to govern if you’ve brought together. People with completely different grievances and just, you know, cobbled them together for one vote is, you know, we saw how five-star have struggled in Italy, who was probably maybe the purest, uh, populist movement we’ve seen so far. Um, we’ve seen how Trump, you know, he reached struggled to, to, to, to have to be constantly at war with the world. Um, um, and constantly moving, um, you’re, you’re, you’re constantly, you’re leaving bombs every time. One bomb explodes. You move on to the next day,

Peter: [00:29:03] literally it’s in campaign mode or, you know, he hasn’t stopped campaigning. Now he’s constantly looking for the mainstream media, the establishment he’s very well read for someone who’s won an election to be a conspiracist. You know, conspiracy usually loses. We need the excuse he’s in power and has to carry on looking for the enemy that somehow undermining him. Well, he was looking for that

Turi: [00:29:26] So, um, my question to you was going to be, um, in the absence of truth. What replaces it. And you’ve talked about identity and this kind of driven tribalism, we’ve spoken about the relativism push, the kind of the gaslighting of all these trolls and bottom has everything else, but there is also a conspiracy move isn’t there. And you talk a lot about this shift towards conspiracy as a way of thinking as like a sort of government mandated way thinking you’ve brought up Trump, but you love the same. Um, tell me a little bit about that and you have this lovely term in the book. You talk about white jamming - the shift to conspiracy? Why is it so useful? Who does it appeal to?

Peter: [00:30:07] So we’ve always had conspiracy on the fringes, but now we see conspiracy as a. Kind of a dominant thing of, of political discourse from leaders. You know, Trump is the obvious example. Uh, Putin’s been using for a long time Africa and, um, like everybody, this, th th this is very interesting. Um, and they’re kind of endless conspiracy theories. I mean, there’s not like the Nazis had that one. Conspiracy theory is the Jews are behind everything. This is more kind of a conspiratorial discourse. You know, there’s always a hidden hand or Zionist or Soros or something else behind everything. It’s small. You know, in Europe clear ideologies, conspiracy has become like a world view now. Um, And I think it’s very important to look at its functions. Um, so for the user, it’s, it, it, it, it, it creates a service because it creates, um, you know, if you’re feeling confused in a very fast changing world with globalization and the loss of all social roles, conspiracy becomes a way of. You know, expanding the kales. Moreover, it becomes a way of, um, giving yourself an excuse if you haven’t done very well in life, because it’s all the conspiracy schools. So that’s quite a nice service that it delivers and it kind of relieves anxiety and guilt that way. Um, but I think for the leaders, it does two very interesting things. One it’s in a world where you can’t really say that my guys are left-wing and the opposite is right-wing. Cause you’re trying to play to both. So all those, um, so all those needs at the same time, conspiracy is a very good way of defining us in that. I mean, that’s what it does. That’s what it does as a kind of a function. Um, and, uh, one of the most telling bits of research on this, I think is that the people who voted for the populist party that’s in charge in potent, the thing that really United the. More than anything else was not left. Right? Conservative, liberal attitudes, all this grammar of policy. It was fact they, they will believe in the conspiracy theory about plane crash. We should kill the bunch of Polish politicians quite a few years ago, but which had become this massive conspiracy that actually, this was a deep state operation to get rid of some political leaders. Uh, and they believed that, that I would love to go back to the Trump vote. Uh, I don’t know if anyone’s done this and see if they’re actually knighted by or something. You know, it was that actually the defining factor, because there are some bits of the Trump vote, which makes sense. Others are just old school Republicans, but then there’s a lot of middle-class people who voted Trump. A lot of suburban moms who were to Trump. And I wonder factually may is the thing that unites them all a predilection force. Climate change conspiracy theories, but there is some, I don’t know, uh, you know, that Bama was both born in America, so, so it’s a very good way of defining us and them of saying I’m on this side or that side. It’s very hard to argue with conspiracy theorists, because it’s often not about the facts. It’s about defining an identity. Um, And that’s the second thing, which I feel conspiracy theories do the way they’re being used by Trump and Putin and aggregan and Vous church and all these other all ban, obviously, which is an ad here. I, you know, this is my sense. I’d love to do some research to prove it. Is that the way they kind of pile conspiracies on for you one off to the other. It makes you feel that you live in a world where you can’t change anything because you live in a world. Endless shadowy hands where one glove is inside another hand. And in this world, you know, you’re never going to change anything, you know? So it undermines your sense of agency and democratic. Um, activists and the desire for democratic activism and it makes you go, well, then this mochi wall, I need a Putin or Trump or Oban to lead me and shelter me in this dark world, which is unknowable. Um, I mean, that’s my sense that it’s very, very good in an environment where you can’t, um, be con sort of control things like, you know, The border, uh, it’s still a way of making people feel that they have. No power. They need a strong man. And of course it undermines faith. I mean, like, you know, you just say, look, BBC’s a conspiracy. You have, you know, whatever a conspiracy of Fentress dads, um, don’t trust it. It’s a way of undermining trust in everything as well.

Turi: [00:34:34] Beautiful. No, that’s a very good

Peter: [00:34:38] Yeah, that’s one of the things that I really want to research a lot more because there’s something different between the fridges using conspiracies, have that conscious use by political leaders.

Turi: [00:34:50] Yeah, I think that’s fascinating. Um, and we’ve seen it across the entire board and there is no us and them here. It’s all of ours. Um, and not pretty, um, I want to ask you, I want to go full conspiracy and relative here, we’ve all been involved in inflammation, information warfare forever. Um, God, this COVID thing is a hideous example that Chinese flu, the American flu, um, But let’s not forget that BBC world service is also part funded by the foreign Commonwealth office. And the U S has been running voice of America around the world and endless Arabic versions of, of, uh, sort of, uh, the American view into, into Iraq and Syria and elsewhere. Um, so I suppose the question here is. Other Russians or any of the others, um, right when they ask whether there’s anything qualitatively different between their version of the story and the objective or version of the story, you have a lovely line in your book. Some Russian official says objectivity is a myth that was imposed upon us. So is objectivity a judgment call? Is it a myth? Is, is objectivity actually more true fee than their stuff?

Peter: [00:36:01] So a bunch of stuff to, to unpack that. Um, so in terms of, I mean the simple answer is, uh, is, is yes, there is a qualitative difference, just it’s it’s about objective and they are objective editorial standard. Um, so, uh, well service that you mentioned and radio for Europe and Western America have very strict editorial standards, um, which has. You know, employed and things, uh, like accuracy and, um, retractions and, and so on and so forth. So we do have, um, you know, there are a bunch of journalistic rules, which actually most people, I think she stopped most people in the street, they still recognize, you know, so I wouldn’t follow too much of what, of what of that stuff. So I think that there is a qualitative difference. So that’s, that’s one side that, that that’s one point that’s kind of like the easy point, because that’s something that kind of, you know, there’s some thin consensus around. Um, socially, but, but you know, the clever aunts will be, it doesn’t matter. You can have those standards, it’s agenda setting and framing. And it really isn’t about like telling one lie here or there that’s actually sloppy. The clever thing is to like, you know, not lie and push your, uh, and sort of distort people’s sense of what’s important and how you talk about it. So, so, you know, there’s a sophisticated answer to that kind of very simple onset. Um, I would be very, very. Capital around this time information will. So the way I seen it, um, the way I’ve seen it used in Russia, it grew from being a definition of information operations by various States, which, which yes, that happens all the time. They wouldn’t actually include the organizations that you mentioned in that there are other organisms at bits of the, of the military and secret services, which, which no doubt do. Information operations all the time, uh, and who see those information, information operations in a miniaturized way. So not to convince or form public opinion, which is, you know, what. What media might be accused of doing, but in a very militarized way to confuse, um, delay dismay and instrumentalize use of information where the information itself is irrelevant. It’s just this kind of effects in, uh, in a, in a kind of political warfare operation. That’s, that’s important. So I’ve seen, and that’s an illegitimate way to talk about information warfare. That’s the way the military would use it. It’s their sort of militarized use of information. So. I’ve seen the definition, Russia grow from that narrow one to a kind of course. I philosophy that that, that has replaced the cold war. So it’s, again, what happens when the old ideologies guy and it started with a bit of historical revisionism? Yeah, it started. And this was in the early two thousands with a bunch of sort of cranky academics saying that. The Soviet union lost the cold war, not because of its economic policies or rubbish, not because the philosophy was rubbish, not because of the ideas were nonsense. Not because the government was corrupt, but because of information warfare from the West information viruses planted, uh, inside the Russian information ecosystem through reformers. Bronco Petrov through Western radio through iTunes D is like freedom of expression. And these inflammation viruses brought down the USSR. So it’s a way of saying there are no values in the world. Yeah. There are no arguments. There are no values. There all information is just a form of manipulation. Always. Yeah. Get a bad, say information warfare is a way of kind of like stripping history and life out of any values and meaning, and just reduce it to this completely cynical wasteland, where there is no difference between. Um, you know, there is no difference between supporting human rights and supporting neo-Nazis between, um, legitimate forms of public diplomacy or international broadcasting, which try to win arguments and, you know, did, did they do that kind of thing where the information matters in and of itself and, and, um, you know, a distant co-op whose aim is simply to cause confusion. So. It’s a very deeply, deeply cynical worldview. And I seen it grow and grow and grow. And when the Putin regime kind of needed an excuse to explain various types of, uh, democratic movements across the world and middle East, and most importantly in Ukraine, they tied to that everything is information warfare, uh, and it’s become a dominant way of explaining the world really. And that’s very, very corrosive and dangerous. Um, So coming back to things like OBS, I mean, if, if you buy into that, I mean, that really is, you know, the answer ideology, these that is so dangerous these days. And we also see Donald Trump, you know, this sense that, that no values, there’s nothing to fight for. Human rights is a myth. Everything that democracy has fought for and claimed as a value is just the mosque for manipulation. And that’s, that’s, uh, that’s a. That’s a deeply pernicious worldview. And if one continues its logic, um, and I think it takes much, much nation about where it leads. So we are in a, in a place where fighting for the idea of values has to start all over again. You know, the 20th century showed us why you fight for those values because when you don’t have them, you know, it ends up in, yeah, that

Turi: [00:41:47] was gonna be, that was gonna that’s my last question to you, Peter, which is, um, Precisely on the back of this democracies, depend on voters, a having a consent reality, um, and therefore believing in something called objective truth and B having access to real information about that reality in order to make the best decisions at the ballot box. So I suppose my question to you is can democracy survive in a. Modern information ecosystem that postmodern information ecosystem, relativistic, um, conspiracy driven, tribal identity focused that you’ve described. And, um, and if it can’t, which I think is where, where you’re going, how do we, how do we fight against it?

Peter: [00:42:37] How do we fight against what democracy. Oh, right. Um, well, we are in the middle of, of the lockdown. Um, I don’t know when you’re going to be broadcasting this, but I’ve, I’ve just been interviewing a psychoanalyst, uh, about, you know, I was interviewing him about how people reject evidence when it clashes with their identities, which is something that’s been shown. Extensively by, by bits of social science research, um, and why that’s become more intense recently. And it was for all the reasons that you and I have talked about. So it was old ideologies and all social roles, collapse, new identities are formed and people cling to them, um, in ways that, uh, are much more passionate because they feel anxious and uncertain. Um, So, but there’s variations cause um, he was like, he thinks there’s a new, kind of a new kind of broader national identity forming in, in England, probably Britain due to the coronavirus. And he was very witty. He’s caught, he’s got a guy called Josh Cohen. He’s also a literary critic. And he was saying that, Uh, he was sort of saying that it’s going, because everyone was talking about, you know, Brexit and remain anymore. Uh, you know, that, that those identities have just disappeared from other schools. And he would say, what we’re saying is the formation of a new kind of common identity with a new common enemy, the virus. But he said he was very seeing how it was proceeding alone. Um, classic Freudian lines. So our first instincts, when this whole thing started was to kill our parents. So wherever it came from, was it the government, someone else? There was a scenario. This idea that went through society that, Oh, just let the old people die. It was a scribe Dominic Cummings, who is the England, by the way, there was a new Rosis thing that was having neurosis. His name is Dominic Cummings. Um, he’s fascinating that way, like, you know, and these easy sits within that and manipulates it. I mean, it’s not wonderfully sort of frightened me, but essentially that it was described to him. I don’t know if he said it, but it was ascribed to, you know, Johnson spin doctor and the guy who engineered the Brexit campaign. Um, and so, but also this also this pair to say, we’re going to kill our parents. Um, in the classic Freudian way, everybody felt really guilty and we had a complete U-turn and now it’s protect your parents. You know, we’ve gotta do everything to save the old people. And, you know, they don’t go out and have fun because you’ll end up killing your parents. And then Josh was like, well, this is the classic Freudian way. The way kind of civilization starts first, the desire to kill the father, that guilt repression and kind of prayed to the parents. Um, and he said, we’re going through this. This is, this is how. You know, group identities and indeed civilizations are formed and, and it is being group rounds. You know, at least people are talking about the fact, there’s a lot of debates about them, which is what’s actually normal for scientific discourse, but we’re looking for authority again, you know, we’re looking to who is in a reality in which objectivity has a role, you know, there’s questions interrogated, but it’s, it’s clearly in the middle of it. You know, we are talking about the fines. Science is just a bit, it’s a bit open-ended by its nature. So, so finally he was like, we are going to have a new group. I didn’t see much out of this, which does have facts and evidence that its center. Uh, so he was very, he wasn’t optimistic. He was realistic. He said, um, which is interesting because if you look at America, which is only going into an election cycle, obviously we see the opposite happening. We see even something which is a scientific public health thing. And I mean, the coronavirus doesn’t give a monkey’s about whether you’re a Trump voter or not, um, being conned into a partisan. Of partners on board and the search for different enemies. Um, when, you know, w being really cool about this Trump’s for a bit of times for a bit of governance falls, bit of all of our fault. I mean, actually probably the blame is, you know, Trump, wasn’t competent, no doubts, but you know, if we’re going to be really fair about it, there’s a lot of blades go round, but it’s not, it’s certainly not a big debate at that way. You know, see the all transport are all China’s faults and it’s devastating watching that happen. Um, The, the question is, you know, there’s two ways of coming to us, coming to our senses because at the end of the day, look evidence and facts. Aren’t pleasant, but they’re useful because they, because they kind of like, they’re good, quite good for survivability. So either we just have some horrific event that makes people engage with kind of, you know, evidence and deliberation and painful consensus building through that. Or, you know, I just hope that if that isn’t too bad, I mean, you know, maybe this is that events were just going through the, I mean, people are going to be so pulled by partisanship in this period that they’ll they’ll they want to move beyond it. I mean, it’s been very interesting in Europe. How the AFD in Germany have gone quiet Salvini. Has been relatively quiet from us to now relatively quiet. It’s very interesting how this kind of identity politics is just like people aren’t, it’s not working right at the moment in America. America is the big exception. America is the big exception, but even there it’s, um, you know, Biden is making this big fat pitch for like, let’s not, let’s stop doing this. Let’s stop dividing ourselves. And who knows, maybe it’ll work. We’ll see how it plays out. Now I am for the first time talking to. My Trump learning relatives. And we are having, I mean, about politics because we’re talking about coronavirus and we never stopped talking, but at one point we stopped talking about politics. Um, cause it was just, we would just, the realities were so far apart, you know, it was, it was impossible. And. But now we’re talking about stuff. Cause we have something, you know, they’re, they’re, they’re actually, you know, they have scientific education, so we can talk about Corona and we can talk about the evidence and we can then, uh, suddenly we’re all talking within scientific discourse. So, so maybe it’ll it’ll bring us all together.

Turi: [00:48:45] Maybe

Peter: [00:48:47] I hope, I hope so. because, because the only other one that becomes, or an authoritarian model where you have a big fat buddy saying, this is the truth and how we’re acting, because at the end, the fact that this partisanship. This crazy polarization. So identity politics is not actually, I think, you know, totalitarianism at all. It’s just going to be, it’s just incompetence. Um, um, and, uh, and competence and impotence, um, at the end of the day, it’s not, I don’t think, you know, I don’t think Trump is about to turn America into totalitarian state and I find the parallels of the 1930s are not always helpful that way. It’s, it’s much more kind of just like. You know, just the collapse of, of, of any kind of action and being able to do anything. And then the people who take over the world are, are these kind of determined authoritarians who, who, who can act. So that’s the flip, is that

Turi: [00:49:44] because it’s on the one hand you’ve got this return to authority finally, actually believing in facts might save your parents live your parents. You did want that, but actually probably not so much anymore, but then you felt really guilty. Exactly. But the flip there, another, another, uh, sort of gesture to authority as a gesture to these efficient autocracies you and I have mentioned before, but Robert Kagan’s book the return of history where he argues that the 21st century would, would see a fight between. Efficient autocracies on the one hand and inefficient democracies on the other, um, of genuinely open fight. But right now, if we look at what coronavirus is, uh, has, has shown up, there’s a clear winner in this one. So you say you may, we have, we, we, we have a return to authority either in the shape of facts or in the shape of body politics.

Peter: [00:50:36] Okay. Let, let me, let, let me, uh, let me give you a third way, a third way that we’ve been looking at. Um, in our tiny little experiments. So because social media is that w she, by the way mentioned the most important thing that was important difference between propaganda then and now is that now everybody’s a propagandist every time, not just because you can write a blog, but every time you like share, you are distributing information and propagandizing. And in that sense, the days propaganda is very similar to this virus. Cause what’s been fascinating with the coronavirus having had it is the. You were very aware that you’re not just a victim of it, but that you may have spread it. You’re very, w it’s it’s very strange. Actually, when I got it, I was not so much fearful for my own safety cause, cause I’m at that kind of age where I, I still. You’re not stupid enough to think that I, I, I wouldn’t get a disease, which is very stupid, but, um, but I was much more worried about who had given it to you. I knew we, I mean, we’d given it to our cleaning lady, uh, why was worried about like a teacher that comes around, teach art to the kids? You know, it’s the sense of awfulness that you help spread out. And that’s the big change today on, on, on social media, especially is that you’re, everybody is not just. A receiver propaganda, passive audience. Everybody’s also spreading it every time you press share or retweet. So in a way, our focus now has to be much less. I think in trying to, you know, think about objectivity and always enlightened values at source because that’s going to be impossible. You know, that’s very, very hard to, to. To control, but much thinking about it much more in terms of the discourse media generates. Um, so you’re right. It is much harder proving that you are being fair and balanced for, for many reasons, for philosophical reasons, because of the amount of media out there. It’s very hard to understand what being balanced between. Um, but what we can think about is doesn’t media produce or foster an online conversation. Which is rational and civil and grounded in facts and what people are having, you know, the sort of thing that we need for democracy to survive. And we can measure that. So we did a project in Italy with coriander, Della, Sarah, looking at how they wrote about migration and looked at what kinds of articles produce, what kinds of discourses. On the Facebook page and there is a way of creating contents that creates a conversation that’s trusting that’s less toxic. Uh, So there’s ways of doing that. It’s the problem is it’s not instantly profitable, but there are ways of doing that. So maybe we should start thinking of these enlightenment values of evidence-based debate, deliberative democracy, which are just aspirations by the way. But, but, you know, well let’s, how do we hold on to the aspirations? Can we start thinking? Not about whether the piece of content itself is. Ideally objective and impartial and all these things, but whether it’s provoking a conversation, which has that. So let’s start thinking about media much more than its effect. Now something which has a terrible effect, I think, or what we think called as, as a very democratic form, uh, which is political debates. That’s terrible. The way that it’s not at the moment, it’s like it increases partisanship. It undermines debates because the way they’re designed, for example, the democratic debates in America, if you watch them, they’re designed. Like a reality show, like a punch of duty show. If you, as a candidate attacks somebody else, they have 30 seconds to reply. Then you have 30 seconds to reply so that they incentivize people bitching at each other. And you have this horrific sight of super bright people. Like doing this kind of sob, Kim Kardashian, big brother attacks on each other just to have a bit more oxygen. Yeah, terrible. You could redesign debate shows in order to encourage completely different full with debates. And then I think encourage a complete different form of reaction from, from the viewer. Um,

Turi: [00:54:55] Describing is so close to our hearts, obviously with Parlia, which we’re trying as best we can to build a new

Peter: [00:55:02] logically. It’s not hard. I mean, there’s been actually decades of media effects analysis, showing how you can think about this. So that’s new. I don’t think anybody working in journalism thinks about the effects of their. Content, they started to a little bit more of Trump because they’re kind of like, hold on. Are we actually helping him by repeating his life a thousand times, there’s been a bit of thinking about disinformation, you know, by debunking it, are you actually making it worse? Um, so they, at least it’s entered journalists heads, but you know, I worked in media for a long time. Not for a moment. Did we ever think of the effect of our, of what we did on discourse? I mean, we might think about it in terms of framing. You know, we want to have more minorities on TV, stuff like that kind of stuff, but it’s harms of whether our storytelling or our, or our formats. Was making democracy healthier and better and discourse better and encouraging, you know,

Turi: [00:56:00] the whole idea was that if you did think about it in those terms, you were somehow intervening in the politics of the news and therefore that’s exactly what you didn’t do now. You’re right. Um, those, uh, those, those walls, I think I agree with you. I think that that’s starting to come down and not in a bad way. Um, so we have something positive here to look forward to. We either have a return, uh, to, uh, to authority through COVID or other things, because we realized that science actually helps us stay alive, or we have a return to authority because we’re so frightened by these, these stabilized selves that we existed, that we go and find strong men rulers to, to, to tell us what is true, or we have something much more prosaic and much more beautiful, which is, um, we start thinking about new ways to tell stories, new ways, to engage people with each other, um, and, um, try and help bridge these, I suppose, what we’re trying to build that consent, that reality consensus, right?

Peter: [00:56:56] We’ll try let’s even as you can sense, this sounds creepy. It’s much more basic than that. But when I look at propaganda and I think about what it is mostly, it was in communication and propaganda. It goes, it goes to something very, very simple and very, very human. It’s fine to have an opinion. It’s fine to be the representative of your state. It’s fine to any public diplomacy. We should all have countries talking to each other across borders, and they’re always going to give their opinion. That is actually fine. It’s whether that is done in a, in a discourse that allows the other person to respond and join in a conversation. When you do conspiracy theories. That kills the conversation. You know, you can’t argue with them. That’s the way of stopping conversation. When you create covert campaigns that pretend to be Americans. When actually it’s a trot and st. Petersburg, you can’t have a genuine conversation that troll. That’s the problem. They break down discourse and where do they take away the right of the other person to their share in reality, you know, you’ve already taken something away from the other by not allowing them to have that conversation with you as an equal. So it, and we know all that in our personal lives, you know, there’s a difference between. Having an argument with someone who’s having a genuine argument with you and you’re debating, you might hate each other’s guts, but it’s a real conversation. And, and somebody who is, who is destroying the conversation, I’m sure it’s, you know, a troll online. It’s not trying to have a conversation with you. It’s trying to just, you know, just, just destroy the possibility of conversation through seeding doubt and so on. So on and so forth. And we know the difference whenever we confront that. And, and, and that’s what it is. It’s I mean, relative to consensus, not it’s just. The possibility of communication, which, which is deeply again, it’s about recognizing the other, you know, it’s about, you know, it comes down to these very, very deep humanistic values. Uh, and of course we’re back to populous populous, and by definition says, That the other, the, you know, whether it’s the MSM or the liberal elites, they’re all bad. You call it hooks to the word, evil Tories or whatever, or, you know, or the unspeakable left by definition. It says that the other is someone that you can not have a conversation with because they are inherently non people, which has. Which is why I didn’t write populism in any form. It’s terrible. That what I do, which has tried to create a media that, that reaches out just by definition, populism rejects that notion. I’ll give you a last quote, the populism or the public. I believe in the public. I believe in public. You know, discourse and public service media populism by definition says there is no such thing as the public is competing with the idea of the public. It says there’s the people in the non people. So populism hates the public, uh, and I’m on the side of the public and against the populists. Okay.

Turi: [00:59:52] Beautiful. What a great, what a great way to wrap this thing. This has been a huge fun. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.

Peter: [00:59:58] Bye bye. Take care.

This page was last edited on Friday, 30 Oct 2020 at 12:36 UTC