Saturday, November 26, 2016

Before ‘fake news,’ there was Soviet ‘disinformation’

By Adam Taylor November 26 at 6:00 AM, WashPost

On July 17, 1983, a small pro-Soviet Indian newspaper called the Patriot published a front-page article titled “AIDS may invade India: Mystery disease caused by US experiments.” The story cited a letter from an anonymous but “well-known American scientist and anthropologist” that suggested AIDS, then still a mysterious and deadly new disease, had been created by the Pentagon in a bid to develop new biological weapons.

“Now that these menacing experiments seem to have gone out of control, plans are being hatched to hastily transfer them from the U.S. to other countries, primarily developing nations where governments are pliable to Washington's pressure and persuasion,” the article read.

The Patriot's article was subsequently used as a source for an October 1985 story in the Literaturnaya Gazeta, a Soviet weekly with considerable influence at the time. The next year, it ran on the front page of a British tabloid. After that, it was picked up by an international news wire. By April 1987, it was suggested that the story had appeared in the major newspapers of more than 50 countries.

The problem? The story was patently false.

A variety of credible experts quickly came out to say that the idea that AIDS had been deliberately or inadvertently created in a laboratory was ridiculous; even the president of the Soviet Academy of Medical Sciences went on the record saying AIDS was of natural origin. Yet even after the Cold War was over and the threat of AIDS became more widely understood, the idea that the disease was man-made persevered around the world.

The conspiracy theory even persisted in the United States: A 2005 study found almost half of African Americans believed that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was man-made.

In the parlance of 2016, we would probably refer to the Patriot's front page story as “fake news.” It's not so dissimilar to the flimsy or outright false stories that spread online in the United States this year. There may be a shared Russian link too: This week, a number of groups alleged that a Russian propaganda effort had helped spread these “fake news” stories to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton's chances in the 2016 presidential election.

But during the height of the Cold War, these false stories were referred to as something else: “disinformation.”

(More here.)

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home