U.S. Fighting DisInformation? Look at Presidential election of 1932

Regulation and targeted response strategies to fight disinformation worked after FDR took office in 1932, and it’s likely to work again today when someone will muster the national trust of residents ready to take action. Without that kind of popular support, and by instead making conciliation to technology companies, it’s unlikely we’ll see any progress today.

DefenseOne writes there’s been a necessary shift in security from a focus entirely on confidentiality towards more integrity. They then propose three steps to get there.

First is better, faster understanding by the U.S. government of what disinformation American adversaries are spreading—or, ideally, anticipation of that spread before it actually happens. […]
Second is, in appropriate circumstances, the swift, clear, and direct intervention of U.S. government spokespersons to expose falsities and provide the truth. […]
Third is an expanded set of U.S. government partnerships with technologies companies to help them identify disinformation poised to spread across their platforms so that they can craft appropriate responses.

Point one sounds like a call for more surveillance, which will obviously run into massive resistance before it even gets off the ground. So there’s a tactical and political headwind. Points two and three are unlikely to work at all. The most effective government spokesperson in past typically was the President. That’s not possible today for obvious reasons. In the past the partnerships with technology companies (radio, newspaper) wasn’t possible, and it’s similarly not possible today. Facebook’s CEO has repeatedly said he will continue to push disinformation for profit.

I’ve been openly writing and presenting on this modern topic since 2012 (e.g. BSidesLV presentation on using data integrity attacks on mobile devices to foment political coups), with research going back to my undergraduate and graduate degrees in the mid-1990s. What this article misses entirely is what has worked in the past. Unless they address why that wouldn’t work today, I’m skeptical of their suggestions to try something new and untested.

What worked in the past? Look at the timeline after the 1932 Presidential election to 1940, which directly addressed Nazi military disinformation campaigns (e.g. America First) promoting fascism. 1) Breakup of the organizations disseminating disinformation (regulation). 2) Election of a President that can speak truth to power, who aligns a government with values that block attempts to profit on disinformation/harms (regulation). 3) Rapid dissemination of antidotes domestically, and active response abroad with strong countermeasures.

Roosevelt defeats Nazis at the ballot box: “By 1932, Hearst was publishing articles by Adolf Hitler, whom Hearst admired for keeping Germany out of, as Hitler put it in a Hearst paper, “the beckoning arms of Bolshevism.” Hitler instead promoted a transcendent idea of nationalism—putting Germany first—and, by organizing devoted nationalist followers to threaten and beat up leftists, Hitler would soon destroy class-based politics in his country. Increasingly, Hearst wanted to see something similar happen in the United States.”

The question today thus should be not about cooperating with those who have been poisoning the waters. The question should be whether regulation is possible in an environment of get-rich-quick fake-it-til-you-make-it greedy anti-regulatory values.

Take Flint, Michigan water disaster as an example, let alone Facebook/Google/YouTube/WellsFargo.

After officials repeatedly dismissed claims that Flint’s water was making people sick, residents took action.

America has a history of bottom-up (populist) approaches to governance solving top-down exploitation (It’s the “United” part of USA fighting the King for independence). A bottom-up approach isn’t likely to come from the DefenseOne strategy of partnerships between big government and big technology companies.

I’m not saying it will be easy to rotate to populist solutions. It will definitely be hard to take on broad swaths of corrupt powerful leaders who repeatedly profit from poisoning large populations for personal gains. Yet that’s the fork in our road, and even outside entities know they can’t thrive if Americans choose to be united again in their take-down of selfish profiteers who now brazenly argue for their right to unregulated harms in vulnerable populations.

If Zuckerberg were CEO of Juul… right now he’d be trying to excite investors by saying ten new fruity tobacco flavors are coming next quarter for freedom-loving children.

The boss of e-cigratte maker Juul stepped down on Wednesday in the face of a regulatory backlash and a surge in mysterious illnesses linked to vaping products.

I wrote in 2012 about the immediate need for regulation of vaping. Seven years later that regulation finally is happening, sadly after dozens have been dying suddenly and without explanation. A partnership with tobacco companies was never on the table.

Bottom line is if you ever wonder why a Republican party today would undermine FCC and CIA authority, look at FDR’s creation of them to understand how and why they were designed to block and tackle foreign fascist military disinformation campaigns.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.