There is a powerful weapon that Russia and the United States have been using against each other for decades. It is powerful because it works not by force or firepower, but on the mind.

It’s a weapon that’s been used on you over the last few months, without your knowledge. Even today, it is working on you, and you have little chance of resisting, without knowing what it is.

Before I reveal that secret weapon, I want to talk about a powerful counter-weapon, which is called a “free press.” The free press neutralizes this secret weapon by using a set of core values:

Accuracy: Ethical journalists provide well-researched, fact-based information. They do not work off gossip, hearsay, or political spin.

Independence: Ethical journalists are free from outside influence. They cannot be “bought.” (For a terrific example, watch the movie Spotlight.)

Impartiality: Ethical journalists must stay impartial. They must report on all sides of a story: one of the easiest ways you can check a story for bias.

Humanity: Ethical journalists have the power to disrupt human lives, so they treat subjects with respect and dignity.

Accountability: Ethical journalists are ultimately responsible for the quality and accuracy of the work they produce.

Trust in these values is important, for the same reason that trust in our medical system is important. Here’s an example.

The Sketchy Hospital

Let’s say you get wheeled into the emergency room of your local hospital with a mysterious pain in your abdomen, but you’re not entirely sure the doctors are trustworthy.

First, you’ve heard rumors that a few of the doctors sell organs on the side. That can’t possibly be true, you thought at the time, but now that they’re poking at your abdomen, you think, but maybe it is.

bad doctor

“Hi everybody!”

Now you start to view every doctor with suspicion. Is that male doctor with the earrings just a new breed of hipster physician, or did he just walk in off the street? That mysterious smell in the emergency room – is it embalming fluid? You see two nurses giving each other money: an organ payoff?

Imagine the doctors eventually conclude that you have appendicitis, and will need emergency surgery. Now you’re really freaked out. No time for a second opinion. Will you wake up in a bathtub of ice with your kidney removed?

You literally don’t know if they’re operating in your best interest.

The trust we place in the medical system is similar to the trust we place in the press. Without trust, the system collapses: we’re never sure if news stories or true, or rumor, or paid for by wealthy billionaires.

The flip side is that we can’t believe everything we read. Ethical journalists make mistakes, just as doctors make mistakes. But trust in the overall motives of the press – that they’re out to help us, not to harvest our kidneys – is important.

Imagine a world where you were never sure whether a news story was real, or paid for by the government. You would eventually learn to distrust everything you heard, because even good news would sound like political spin.

Because you wouldn’t know whom to believe, you’d become skeptical about everything, and this skepticism would eventually harden into cynicism and apathy. It would be like living with the searing abdominal pain, instead of risking your organs being harvested.

This is the kind of thinking we must resist.

The Weapon of Dezinformatsiya

For nearly a century, world superpowers have used a weapon called disinformation, or to be more blunt, “spreading lies.” [Read the Wikipedia entry here.]

The lies have to seem credible, so they are often mixed with the truth. For example, in the 1980s, Russia spread the lie that the United States invented AIDS. Once you get the idea in your head, it sticks. Even if you believe, that can’t possibly be true, a part of you thinks, but maybe it is. (It isn’t.)

Lies also spread like AIDS, except even more dangerously, because they spread in the mind. When you’re exposed to a lie, you’re at risk for “catching it.” The only vaccine is the truth, but some people are resistant to the truth, for reasons that remain a mystery to scientists.

A fascinating article in The New York Times tells how Russia has become the world leader in disinformation, using social media and fake news sites. While the United States has spread its share of whoppers, the Russians have the most powerful disinformation military in the world.

It is not a stretch to believe that Russia bought the most recent U.S. election: not through actual vote-rigging, but by pouring in so much misinformation that we didn’t know whom to believe. Ask yourself:

• Do I trust our politicians?
• Do I trust everything I read online?
• Do I find that I am more and more skeptical about news stories?
• Do I feel like I don’t know whom to believe?

If the answers are yes, the weapon of dezinformatsiya could be working on you right now. Here’s how you can resist it.

Lies Matter

We resist disinformation by resisting the idea of “alternative facts.” There is still “truth” and there are still “lies.” Lies matter.

We resist disinformation by speaking the truth. I run a media company, but we are all the media, if we blog or post or tweet.

We resist disinformation by holding ourselves to the same values as ethical journalists. Even if you’re just sharing a news story or posting a corporate blog, ask yourself:

• Is it accurate?
• Is it independent and impartial?
• Am I respecting the humanity of others?
• Am I ultimately accountable for what I’m saying?

The wars of today are being fought not with bodies and battlefields, but in our minds. Resist disinformation. Believe in a free press. Be part of that free press. This is how we win the war.

John Hargrave is the CEO of Media Shower.

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