I sometimes wonder whether anybody pays attention to newspaper headlines. More particularly, I wonder whether I ought to, given the capacity of most of our newspapers to deceive. The headline is a very useful framing device, so even if they convey so briefly and concisely sometimes false or unsubstantiated information there will be some who certainly do pay attention, not least within the rest of the media. They are designed to set the agenda. So look at today’s Daily Telegraph’s unequivocal ‘Russia launches cyber war on UK.’ Not ‘to launch,’ ‘may launch’ or ‘considers launch’ but ‘launches’ – so we are now under attack in a ‘cyber war.’ What is the evidence for this unambiguous and worrying development? The paper says “Whitehall sources last night confirmed a 20-fold increase in ‘disinformation’ being spread by Kremlin-linked social media ‘bot’ accounts since the missile attacks on Syria.” It goes on with a sentence beginning “There are fears . .” (emphasis added) and somewhat later in the story quotes Boris Johnson telling Andrew Marr that he was “worried about cyber attacks on the NHS, the national grid and other infrastructure.” A Pentagon spokesperson is quoted saying the “Russian disinformation campaign has already begun. There has been a 2,000 per cent increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours.” So that’s where our ‘Whitehall sources’ got their information from . . . this all sounds like business as usual. The Telegraph story is padded out with commentary on other aspects of the Syrian missile strike, just to add gravitas to a hyped-up non-story whose headline seeks to convey the impression that we are now facing the worst crisis since Brexit (not that the Telegraph would put it that way of course).
These playing loose press tactics are merely part of the freedom of the ‘free press’ of course. In our free press there is no more chance of being fed propaganda in the UK then say by . . err, I don’t know, RT, is there? In these times, one has to be extra sceptical. All information is disinformation unless proven otherwise. The main factoid in the above story is the ‘20-fold increase’ in alleged Russian bot activity. What we’re not told is how many. Why not?