Russian columnist Oleg Kashin recently brought attention of disinformation fighters to old-but-new strategy in Russian media – infoshum. For those who hardly recognise the word, it’s a Russian wordplay on term “white noise”, which is ambient sounds and slight noises usually used as backgrounds in sound editing to avoid complete silence, or just noise that is known and common to human ear, that we don’t even hear it anymore – computer keys, boiling water or oil in the heaters, soft wind and similar crazy sounds around the house. So, infoshum, which literary translates as “info-noise”, has been spamming the headlines and news producers for a while, but now it started to draw attention.
Probably, it hasn’t been a day that anybody complained about ridiculous “news” (can’t even describe it as news, but for the lack of better word, let’s stick to it), which covers the top spots of news sites – like a politician mispronouncing a difficult word, or new haircut of a known person which people haven’t heard about for a couple of years, or how Jeremy Corbyn confused Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė with a male Prime Minister. I mean, you get the picture. I believe, the disgust in this kind of digital news headlines is a global trend, isn’t it? And then there’s nothing else left but wonder, why a decent news site (not Express.co.uk, but others) gets flooded with unnecessary click-bating news with no journalistic value what-so-ever.
But for some, it seems more familiar than it should be. The samples above are quite on the nose, but there are others, more delicate, which gets noticed only after some time, when the actual outcomes reach the surface – when government or business release a rant about minor solution, discussion between members of parliament or something to keep journalists busy, and in the background releasing information on important decisions that get buried by this all, you get it, noise.
What Kashin says is that this infoshum is sponsored and produced by the government, to flood the news sites with irrelevant material and maintain the noise, so that this pseudo-news, as he calls it, would become viral and make more noise, thus distracting readers from actual news. Pseudo-news doesn’t need to be completely accurate – it can be only partly true, and it’s enough for internet users to share a spicy story with their friends and everybody around, to have a water-cooler conversation on non-topic.
But the most worrying factor is that clickbait is easy to spot and skip from one’s newsfeed. The actual pseudo-news, outside Russia, talking about Russians themselves, or Russian communities in other countries, or just spreading baseless rumours and historical conspiracies, are difficult to track and capture. It is one of the tools to distract and disrupt the society. And it is being used explicity.
How and why?
Well, first I will have to explain Why Baltic states will never shut up about Russia.
Until then, stay awake and keep away from the trolls!
Cartoon credits @ Jen Sorensen