Putin’s throwback propaganda playbook
Behind Russia’s information warBy Yardena Schwartz, Columbia Journalism Review
January 18, 2017
Russian President Vladimir Putin had dreamed of becoming an intelligence agent ever since high school. “What amazed me most was how one man’s effort could achieve what whole armies could not,” the former KGB agent later recalled. “One spy could decide the fate of thousands of people.”
Putin’s prophetic words weren’t uttered during the Cold War, when the US and Soviet Union were waging battles of opinion, using the weapons of propaganda to widen their spheres of influence. Putin’s remarks are from his autobiography, First Person, which was published in 2000. They are perhaps more relevant now than ever, as the world is recognizing–just a tad too late–that Russia is still playing by the rules of the Cold War.
Russia’s campaign to influence the 2016 US presidential election could go down in history as Putin’s masterpiece. Yet it is a mission he accomplished with an elegant simplicity that much of the media coverage has overlooked. This was not a complicated, high-tech, impossible-to-understand orchestration, but a simple plan drawn up by a leader who has masterminded geopolitical misinformation.
Instead of leaflets, TV commercials, and posters, Putin accomplished his feat using much simpler, cheaper, and more effective means: bots that spread misinformation on social media sites including Facebook and Twitter, anonymously-operated third party sites that churn out fake news, and official state-run news networks like RT and Sputnik.