Jacob Siegel: The great “disinformation” hoax
The writer talks to Freddie Sayers about America's new censorship complex
From state actors all the way down to fact-checkers, the ‘disinformation complex’ has blossomed in recent years. Broadly defined as false information which is intended to mislead, disinformation as a concept is opaque and has taken on several meanings — some benign, others less so.
In a 13,000 word essay for Tablet, Jacob Siegel delineates all the nefarious ways disinformation has evolved over the last 70 years in America. As Siegel explains it, ‘disinformation’ is an invention, one that has morphed into a tool of governance. Declaring information as true or untrue is a means to control public discourse and to undermine and censor information which is “unflattering” to political elites. He joined Freddie Sayers to discuss it further:
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
How did this ‘tool of governance’ become so mainstream? The US Government, Siegel points out, has long engaged in promoting what could be described as disinformation, but the ‘war on disinformation’ in which the US now finds itself engaged was begun by Barack Obama. One of the last things the former president did while in office was sign into law the ‘Countering Foreign Disinformation Act’, which fully committed the US political class to a counter-disinformation campaign, which according to Siegel “was really always in spirit, and very quickly in practice as well, an information war directed against the American people”.
With the appearance of Donald Trump on the political scene, the ‘foreign’ dimension of this war became increasingly irrelevant:
Siegel argues that the consequences of this mode of censorship for American society should not to be minimised:
Siegel is not hopeful that America will be able to overcome this crisis with ease. He calls for structural changes to the internet as a whole, a system that prioritises data rights. The Big Tech companies are too powerful and until they are reined in, transparency will be a thing of the past and the information/disinformation war will rage on
This was a fantastic interview. Siegel is already one of my favorite Unherd contributors.
Toward the end of the interview, Mr. Siegel said he was better at describing problems than proposing solutions. I think that’s true of most of us, but we live in a time when we desperately need solutions to our cultural problems. I would encourage Unherd to find interviewees who have ideas for how to deal with disinformation, media bias, left-wing dominance of our institutions, among other issues. Focusing on solutions, not just problems, would really distinguish Unherd from the herd.
”I would encourage Unherd to find interviewees who have ideas for how to deal with disinformation, media bias, left-wing dominance of our institutions, among other issues”
What are you talking about J? They found that guy – they found such a perfect disinformation guy they hired him. I run into him here on Unherd all the time….. He has a great big, orange, rubber stamp that says:
”Awaiting for Approval”
and he stamps my posts with it all the time. Just protecting the ‘Purity of Essence’ (POE) of all you readers, less you be corrupted by my streams of Malinformation and wrong think.
Every time I come here I say a thank you to Freddy, that he protects me from your wrong think – and protects you from my wrong think.
Awaiting for Approval,
the site banner that means we are kept safe from eachother..
Just agreed with your UnHerd’s orange rubber stamping :Waiting for Approval as my comment was rubber stamped 😉
Personally I favour a sh¡t list, ie the Name & Shame solution.. a huge great spreadsheet with + and – scores on a whole variety of issues all culminating in “decency” score. We will know who to eat first when things get really bad!
Lol. The people on the top of the shit list probably are much bigger and would eat you first. That’s how you would get to the top of a shit list in the first place isn’t it?
An important component of this is the role of the media. Although traditional media has always carried water for the govt, there has been enough diversity in the media to credibly push back against govt disinformation. The internet has crippled traditional media. When pharmaceutical companies are the single biggest advertiser during a pandemic, getting unbiased info is wishful thinking. And while the internet has fostered even greater diversity, people have to actively seek it out. Diversity isn’t delivered to our door or living rooms. I think the vast majority of people have no interest in seeking out information. They simply absorb the mainstream narrative.
“although traditional media has always carried water for the government”.
In my lifetime there were major publications, not just in U.K.,but also America and Europe, which were very critical of governments and their domestic or foreign policies. Great journalists were digging deep into controversial issues and didn’t let governments get away with anything. They also didn’t slavishly let “scientists” get away with their theories, but found contradicting scientific views and published them . To me the “old days” of most MSM journalism seems to be long gone. I gave up on all the big newspapers and most TV News program. Also most major political parties are now moving in the same bland direction, only slightly varying in minor policies, and even people, who were considered left-wing find themselves homeless, being often called fascists and Nazis. I recently noticed this with Bill Maher, who also seemed to be on many issues homeless now .
I agree with E.Bjorn, that even at UnHerd, which I mostly enjoy and particularly helped me through the last 3 years of Covid mayhem, reading their articles and loving their interviews with scientists, who didn’t toe the mainstream line. But it is also true that UnHerd seems to deem some of their readers too delicate for slightly controversial comments, which will end up in the dark hole of “ Waiting for Approval” or scrapped altogether.
At one level it is becoming more difficult to know who to trust. But it is still possible to double check and cross check information received, and indeed the internet makes this a very much faster and more efficient process.
There is really nothing new about the fact that our governments and administrations lie to the people. What is new is the skill, but also the contempt, with which they do it.
As individuals I think our duty is simply not to be cowed, and to call out all such lies, preferably in the faces of the people making them, in a calm and convincing manner.
The reason they lie is that they are terrified. They are faced with a world which they do not understand and cannot manage. If they do not restore the trust of their populations then our daily lives are likely to become somewhat more chaotic than they now are, and our civic protections are likely to be rather reduced.
And since this seems fairly likely, our second duty is to quietly be sensibly prepared, as individuals for this to happen. Hitherto, people have tended to laugh at those they have described as conspiracy theorists and preppers. Well, anyone who is still laughing might find themselves being caught out, I’d say.
”The reason they lie is that they are terrified. They are faced with a world which they do not understand and cannot manage.”
BS, these are our Psychopathic Overlords, they are not terrified of us – they openly abuse us, lie, sick their Security and secret police on Political dissidents, they funnel $ Trillions to themselves and their fellow Lizards – they tend to be pedophiles (allegedly), warmongers, and corrupt to their very core. They hate you, hate the Enlightenment Classical Liberalism, hate Democracy and Freedom. Most of all they hate the Family if it is yours, and are well on the way to stamping it out.
Their plan is to destroy the Middle Classes and the Working classes (the ones who work and have not been destroyed yet) – making us powerless clients instead of free people, fracturing society to antagonistic groups, promote crime and destroy education. Read their website – (wef) they openly tell you so.
But do they like puppy dogs?
While I don’t disagree with your main assertions I do think the two (they also fear us) are not mutually exclusive.. It’d be a strange world if the 0.1% didn’t fear the 99.9% tja4 they steal from and crush since there is always the risk of being found out, ie exposed for the leeches they are. If I were one I know I’d be constantly looking over my shoulder wondering if that waiter bringing my caviar wasn’t one of the thousands I stepped on? Why do you think they hire body guards and live behind high walls in their mansions?
The reason they “lie” might be because they think it is true.
Indeed, most people actually think what they say is true. And their fellow man was put here to modify or change that–but only if the latter are willing to do the same sometimes.
But admittedly, it is soooo much more fun to think anyone who disagrees with you is a Capaitaltist/Marxist/pedophilic/homophobic/tool of Putin/George Soros/Great Thunberg.
Totally agree. The people we elect are not comic book villains. Most think they are doing the right thing. They are simply incompetent. You see this with the What’s Up files.
Calling something “disinformation” is the go-to tactic that poisons all contemporary public discourse. And it isn’t just govts. Every side use it in one way or another.
Its “genius” lies in a simple, but immensely powerful argument:
“What you say isn’t just false, but you KNOW that it’s false!”
The proponent of an opposing idea then ceases to be a person of limited knowledge and intelligence, like all of us. They also aren’t someone whose opinions we might change through dialogue.
Instead, they become the “enemy within,” a member of the secretive fifth column that is undermining all that we hold dear.
The alternative is to assume that those who disagree with us may actually think they have good reasons to do so. Try to understand why that is so–and come up with better arguments to refute them.
Or–God forbid–modify some of your own opinions!
The mainstream media serves the regime, and they have already decided this isn’t happening (or it is a good thing). Nothing substantive will change anytime soon.
Freddie had a go (24:27) at telling Jacob Siegel that the story he was telling was ‘his truth’. I’m glad Siegel pushed back against that one.
There are two T’s in twenty, Freddie.
Great interview and article. AI will take over control of policing the Overton Window very soon. The panopticon is getting close now.
Freddie – journalistic coup of the year would be an interview with RFK Jr now he has just declared.
In everyday English, the definition of entropy has three components: (1) You can’t win, (2) You can’t even break even, (3) You can’t get out of the game.
So too, with information: Is there solid belt-and-suspenders research behind this – properly done, that other sources have independently confirmed? Or are you looking at the end result of one personal opinion that’s been re-tweeted or emailed thousands or millions of times?
More than one newspaper has printed “We tried to do a follow-up on this story, but the original tweet has been deleted.” Rarely done, I’ll admit… but often enough to make me wonder how often that was the case but my local newspaper chose not to divulge.
The fog of war will persist. With information as with entropy, “You can’t get out of the game.”
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe