The risk of political violence increases when people are unable to agree on facts, a leading author on disinformation has warned, as the US braces for more protests from Donald Trump supporters ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Professor Thomas Rid explained how information can be used as a weapon – by hostile foreign states and domestic actors – to amplify divisions in a society, undermine the credibility of those in authority and win support.
He was speaking on Sky News’ Into The Grey Zone podcast.
Episode Two, out now, explores a battle between truth, lies and every variation of distorted reality in between that is threatening democracies around the world.
“The line between truth and lie is a continuation of the line between peace and war so the stakes here are extremely high,” said Professor Rid, who is a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University in the US.
“The danger is this: If we collectively undermine the authority of the factual, then we will risk losing our ability to resolve conflicts peacefully here at home in our democracies.
“We resolve conflict by definition because we can agree on certain facts: How many votes were counted in a specific precinct or what does science say about COVID? And does this vaccine work? Is the climate warming as a result of human action or not?
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“Once we lose our ability to agree on facts… then we will have to ultimately go after not ideas and facts, but after the people who hold them, in other words, political violence becomes much more likely.”
His warning became a reality on 6 January when supporters of President Trump stormed the US Capitol building in Washington DC, spurred on by a false belief he had won the 2020 presidential election instead of Mr Biden.
Five people died in the chaos, including a police officer.
It was the first time this beacon of US democracy had been breached since British forces invaded the site and set it on fire in 1814.
Prof Rid has written a book called ‘Active Measures – the secret history of disinformation and political warfare’.
The term active measures is used to describe an entire mode of covert manipulation of information, people and events developed by the then Soviet Union almost a century ago, but used most prolifically during the Cold War.
It is part of a grey zone of harm that sits deliberately under the threshold of war.
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Source : Sky News