Book Review: This Is Not Propaganda

In This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality (Amazon,) Peter Pomerantsev lays out how the very tools that “democratize” information has been turned against democracy itself.

We live in a post-fact world where we are caught in a social-media driven doom-loop:

Social media is a sort of mini-narcissism engine that can never quite be satisfied, leading us to take up more radical positions to get more attention. It really doesn’t matter if stories are accurate or not, let alone impartial: you’re not looking to win an argument in a public space with a neutral audience; you just want to get the most attention possible from like-minded people.

It’s a lamentable loop: social media drives more polarised behaviour, which leads to demands for more sensationalised content, or plain lies. ‘Fake news’ is a symptom of the way social media is designed.

Social media technology, combined with a world view in which all information is part of war and impartiality is impossible, has helped to undermine the sacrosanctity of facts.

Peter Pomerantsev in This Is Not Propaganda

The book came out in 2019 and my personal experience has been that things have become worse. We now have WhatsApp groups where people self-select to receive the version of truth they desire. Political parties have setup up hundreds of such groups to make sure that we always hear what we want to hear.

While it is easy to blame social-media and messaging apps for the current state of polarization, traditional media has also embraced the post-fact world.

About The New York Times, for example:

Under Sulzberger, “there has been a heavy investment in the growth of opinion at the Times,” the journalist continued, noting that Bennet is a friend. “That was something that A.G. wanted and approved, because it drives their subscription strategy. New York Times readers like to read opinions—especially opinions that align with their own—and they increasingly don’t like to read opinions that don’t align with their own.”

The Daily Beast

We often don’t appreciate what we have and take the current state of the world as granted. However, democracy, freedom and progress are all recent occurrences. For the the vast majority of human history, monarchy, serfdom and stagnation was the norm. If we can’t even be bothered to be informed, do our choices mean anything? Before we know it, we’ll be back to the dark-ages.

Recommendation: Worth a read.

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