Too Much Information About Disinformation?

When I lived in the Baltics back in 2002, the region deeply admired the United States and aspired to join the European Union and NATO. We were their mentors. This recent video startled me, as it was a stunning role reversal. Suddenly, Baltic leaders were the experts advising American officials, who kept asking elementary if not naïve questions, at which they shrugged.

For them, this is an old story about a government that has invaded them for generations — with everything from tanks to ideology to cybercrimes. As a result, many nations in Eastern Europe have installed progressive reforms to defend against disinformation, which they agree is a major threat to their young democracies.

So our video team produced Episode 3, which includes solutions from Eastern Europe and calls on the United States government to consider more urgent and bold reforms. Because we were also busy covering the news and felt the urgency of this rapidly evolving story, Andrew Blackwell, an Op-Docs editor, volunteered to join the project as a co-director on that episode, in which we argue that Western governments are unequipped to grasp the crisis, let alone defend us from state-sponsored information warfare.

After the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, we were on the ground in Afghanistan in less than a month. When the warfare is digital, we drag our feet in ignorance, if not denial. The attacks on the 2016 election were first plotted in early 2014, and some of our leaders are still debating who was behind those attacks and if they were real.

On the other hand, Russian leaders aren’t politicians as we understand them. From Vladimir Putin on down, many are former generals and intelligence officers who have made K.G.B. stagecraft, including information warfare, a practice of the state.

Last week, we decided to publish the series before the story takes yet another turn. Sadly, we are confident this project will remain relevant for quite some time.

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