We’ve had a few days of welcome rain but it does feel like summer is already over. No point to complain about the weather though, especially not to Campbell, my friend and sparring partner over our weekly pints.
“The rain here is welcome relief,” Camp said, but do the names Olivia, Mangkhut and Florence mean anything to you?”
I had to confess my ignorance.
“Mangkhut is a typhoon, presently bearing down on the Philippines; Olivia is a massive tropical storm that made landfall on Hawaii’s island of Maui yesterday morning and Florence is that monster storm that’s about to slam into North Carolina’s coast as we speak. Epic and devastating is what this hurricane is; like never seen before. Over a million people displaced, a foot and a half of rain, supposedly to continue for days.”
I shook my head in dismay at the tragedy such a storm creates for the people in its path. Nothing Camp or I could do about it. I changed the subject to something we could both get involved in, even if it was just on an argumentative and opinionated level.
Camp, did you ever hear about a Russian news service called Rossija Segodnja (RT)? It’s an umbrella organisation that owns TV stations and the online news platform ‘Sputnik’. They’re financed and controlled by the Kremlin and their aim is to undermine western institutions and at the same time promote the authoritarian Russian system.
“I can’t say I’m surprised,” Camp said. “Putin needs all the help to distract from the catastrophic financial situation in Moscow. Only a desperate government is cutting pensions. Russia doesn’t have the economic and military might of the west therefore they use disinformation and propaganda to compensate their weakness.”
“Apparently RT has a large and diversified audience. They claim over 600 million hits. They produce U-tube and Facebook segments in many languages including Arabic, Spanish and of course English. According to Dimitri Kisseljw, RT’s boss, they produced over 70’000 videos in the past two years. They’re called trolls.”
“Another reason why I’m happy not to subscribe to any social media platform. I can get all the misinformation from the mainstream media and I see trolls in my sleep.”
“It’s more like information overload,” I said, “which leads to information fatigue and cynicism if not outright lethargy. The interviewer asked Dimitri if they really were able to influence the USA elections. He said that what they were able to do was use the already deep divide in the American society and pour gasoline on the fires like abortion and gun ownership, therefore increase mutual distrust between people and therefore weakening their societies.”
“Russia considers world politics a zero-sum game. The more they can weaken the west, the stronger Russia appears in the international system,” Camp said, echoing Dimitri’s opinion.
“It seems to work,” I said “and the secret of the Soviet propaganda and disinformation lies in the fact that it is very entertaining, sort of like intercontinental gossip.”
“Not much different from the tabloids you can buy at the super market checkout. Even if you don’t believe their content, the message is subliminal and the Russians aren’t the only ones to use trolls and misinformation to influence opinions. Just look at Cambridge Analytica, a British company that does exactly the same with Facebook and Instagram and they have been implicated in the US elections and the Brexit vote.”
“Watch out for trolls,” I said, taking a refreshing swig.
“We’ve recently come across a bundle of letters, handwritten, between Clare and myself,” I said. “Dozens of them which we wrote over a period of eight months during which time we were separated. I remember waiting impatiently for days for a reply to my latest missive and agonizing over a turn of phrase or something I shouldn’t have written.”
“Yes, the written word is a powerful tool,” Camp said. “I should know, being in business to sell the stuff.”
“You two boys enjoying the cooler weather?” Vicky asked while serving us our refills.
“Not as much as I enjoy this new beer, Life Lager is it?”
“Yes, very refreshing with a hint of citrus I’m told.”
“You don’t drink beer?” I asked.
“No, I don’t drink alcohol,” Vicky said. “I’m into sparkling water and vegetable juices. You should try my beet and carrot juice some day.”
“I’ll stick with barley and hops thank you,” Camp said, “but only after 4 PM. It helps me to transition into the evening.”
“Transitioning,” Vicky said, shaking her ponytail. “You two never fail to amuse me.”