Bullshit, the noisy conqueror of the information space

In 2018, we wrote(opens in a new tab) about a special kind of pro-Kremlin media content: infoshum.

The word infoshum has its roots in the internationally known term “white noise”, i.e. random and meaningless noise, or otherwise known as “info-noise”. It is in the grey zone between information and disinformation(opens in a new tab). And we have evidence that it is actively being pushed by pro-Kremlin media.

An important concept to help us understand infoshum is bullshit.

Interestingly, there actually exists a theory of bullshit(opens in a new tab) and it has implications for disinformation.

This theory was presented in the book “On Bullshit”, by philosopher Harry Frankfurt(opens in a new tab). The very first lines are:

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this.”

According to Mr Frankfurt, bullshit is speech intended to persuade, without any concern for truth. This lack of concern distinguishes the bullshitter from the liar. The bullshitter is more radical.

The liar knows and cares about truth, and this is precisely why he tries to cover it. The bullshitter however, does not care whether he utters truth or lies. His focus is solely on persuasion.

Frankfurt does not claim that there is more bullshit in society(opens in a new tab) than in the past. Instead, he explains that all forms of communications(opens in a new tab) have increased, leading to more visible bullshit.

Think about this. Frankfurt published the book 2005. Already then, he wrote about the amplification of bullshit. However, this was years before the spectacular rise of social media. In 2005, the most valuable companies of the world still managed oil and money, instead of information; and Facebook had meagre 6 million friends, mostly US college students.

Fast forward to 2020, bullshit has become a lot darker than even Frankfurt perhaps predicted. Sometimes, it seems our democracies drowning in bullshit. Sadly, our database(opens in a new tab) covers quite some bull.

A recent and extravagant example is the Danes being painted as zoophilians.

Aleksey Zhuravlyov(opens in a new tab), member of the Duma, stated(opens in a new tab) that facilities for zoophiles have been opened in Denmark, where one can go and “rape a turtle.” This resonates with earlier narratives(opens in a new tab), in which the Danes were portrayed as zoophiles. It also fits a larger narrative of the moral decline of the West(opens in a new tab).

There are more examples. What should one make of “the time Russian TV claimed gay couples could buy an actual baby at a fair in Brussels?”(opens in a new tab), or when it was claimed that the “Council of Europe was trying to divide men and women of the Russian delegation into 6 sexes(opens in a new tab)”?

Occupying the information space

Why would anyone spread bullshit? In the end, the goal is to occupy the information space.

As we flagged in February(opens in a new tab), the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, a Kremlin-funded think tank, published an essay(opens in a new tab) titled “Securing Information for Foreign Policy Purposes in the Context of Digital Reality”. The paper claimed that:

“A preventively shaped narrative, answering to the national interests of the state, can significantly diminish the impact of foreign forces’ activities in the information sphere, as they, as a rule, attempt to occupy “voids” [in the information flow].”

This strategy points to the ambition to take away attention from a certain truth. Therefore one who applies this strategy is a liar, not a bullshitter.

However, both the tactical liar and the bullshitter share an attitude. Substance is secondary, and the primary goal is to flood the information system.

With this perspective, even false information that does not seem to be directly harmful, is dangerous because it occupies space, hurting the general conditions to establish truth.

In this regard, it is in itself telling that in Russia, almost half of all political conversation on Twitter is conducted by bots(opens in a new tab).

Researchers proved that this is also the case with regards to Covid-19. They scrutinised more than 200 million virus-related tweets worldwide and concluded that since January about 45%(opens in a new tab) of the tweets were sent by accounts that behave more like computerised robots than humans.

In 2018 Facebook deleted(opens in a new tab) 835 million fake accounts – that’s almost ten percent of the earth’s population.

Steve Bannon once notoriously said: “The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

The falsifiability of bullshit

If you want to flood the information system, bullshit is a fine instrument, because it might be harder to falsify than a lie.

The well-known philosopher Karl Popper called this falsifiability: the capability of a claim to be contradicted by evidence.

For example, “all swans are white” is falsifiable. You need only one black swan to disprove it.

Whereas, “this human action is altruistic” is a non-falsifiable statement. This is because we have no instruments to decide, whether or not an action is driven by self-interest.

In the disinformation context, this works the same.

For example, if you push the narrative that the BBC claims the MH17-flight was downed by a Ukraine fighter jet, this can easily by disproved(opens in a new tab). The documentary was clearly misrepresented.

It becomes more challenging, however, if you want to refute the following claim: George Soros is the driving force behind a secret society supporting colour revolutions, their hidden intent is to overthrow all nation states, to make space for a world government.

This can never be disproven completely. However, that does not make it true. Rather, it strongly suggests we are dealing with bullshit. And as we know bullshit is not innocent.

But wait a minute, isn’t it a strange coincidence that Soros was a student(opens in a new tab) of Karl Popper?!?! Very strange indeed…

(c) EU vs Disinfo

5 comments

  • The problem with bullshit, is not the bullshit itself, but the millions of idiots who believe everything they read, and the world is full of them.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Bullshit, lies, disinformation and propaganda ALL dilute the truth. Whether it’s the Moskali foreign policy of simply spreading filth everywhere to diminish all other states and bring them down to the Moskali level, or the one-sided media in the West that no longer serves their readers but serves a “greater purpose” which would be best classified as propaganda.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Here in the US “news” is mostly BS. That is intentional. Knut loves that sort of idiocy as he is as corrupt as the politicians he loves so well.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Isn’t it the problem in the U.S. that most media is partisan?
          I just opened both Fox and CNN.

          The homepage of Fox is sprouting bullshit on the election being rigged and Democrats are being portrayed as the devils themselves. I even saw probably the worst pictures I have ever seen of Biden and the crew he appointed.

          On the CNN side of things you basically see similar things about Republicans. I think CNN is more factual, but still all articles on the homepage are all from a certain angle. And a large share of all the articles is about Republican scandals, while all articles on Democrats are all equally positive.

          Knut doesn’t like this kind of idiocy: we both watch news in Europe, which is generally not really partisan. Even the Dutch state channel is not pro-government nor pro-opposition.

          Because in the U.S. all media is partisan. Fox news watchers consider their channel “neutral” and believe everything, while CNN viewers do the same thing.

          Fox News viewers won’t believe any scandal on Trump, as Fox only report on things Democrats allegedly did wrong.

          In the European press, it doesn’t matter if it is Bill Clinton that bangs the wrong wife or whether it is Donald Trump that bangs a hooker: it is not filtered as (except for in the UK btw, in which the Guardian is pro-Labour and all populist press Conservative or UKIP), most media is not partisan.

          Everything is partisan in the U.S.

          You are either supportive of street riots when you are against the killing of a black guy by the police, or a member of the KKK.

          There is nothing in the middle, and this middle ground, is what the U.S. terribly needs.

          Liked by 2 people

  • Today’s world is filled with bovine excrement. It used to be found mainly in mafia land, North Korea and China. Now, it has spread across Europe and North America. And, most (dumb) people not only eat it with gusto but are asking for seconds.

    Liked by 3 people

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