I don’t know much Russian, other than nyet. That’s what Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council said in exercising its undeserved veto of the resolution denouncing its invasion of Ukraine.
But now in cities across the 11 Russian time zones, citizens take to the streets with protest signs proclaiming “HET BONHE.” I don’t have a backwards “N” on my keyboard, but it’s easy to fashion one with a Magic Marker if you want to write your own Russian protest sign. Translation: “NO WAR.”
Most of these protesters are young Russians connected to the outside world through social media. Judging from interviews with Western news reporters, it’s not hard to find Russians who speak passable English. They represent the gravest miscalculation by Vlad the Invader, the world’s current No. 1 war criminal, who minimizes the invasion as a “special military operation.” That’s why these protesters are summarily arrested. As if that will shut them up.
Vladimir Putin must think it’s 1968, back when the Soviet Union steamrolled through Czechoslovakia. But the “Prague Spring” following that invasion didn’t work out so well for the Kremlin. A generation of uprisings against Communist autocrats led to the Soviet empire’s 1991 collapse, when Putin was a mere KGB agent. Since coming to power nine years after the fall, Putin’s personal obsession has been to reconstitute the last thing the world needs now or ever again: a nuclear-powered Soviet Union.
All but tyrants and their now-useless idiot flatterers want Putin to fail. Hopefully, a Kyiv Spring will end Ukraine’s plight sooner than later. Although the Ukrainians’ spirited defense of their country is still likely to be overwhelmed by Russia’s brute force, there is no prospect that Vlad the Invader will succeed in his insane goal of Soviet resurrection.
What will stop him? Could it be the free flow of real instead of fake news? It may have been one of President Joe Biden’s shrewdest decisions in the weeks leading up to Putin’s so-called military operation. Biden authorized the release of U.S. intelligence regarding the impending invasion, holding back only that which might compromise sources and means of such intelligence.
It may be a cliche that “truth shall set you free.” While there are no guarantees, as we’ve seen through history’s darkest periods, there may be verity in the corollary: “truth will keep you free.”
So let’s not mince words. Unless brainwashed, anyone receiving unfettered reports of what is actually happening in Ukraine realizes that Putin is a liar. There is no justification whatsoever for his invasion – no evidence that the Ukraine government is committing genocide against Russian-speaking Ukrainians. In fact, many Ukrainians speak some Russian. That most citizens now favor the Ukrainian language is due in part to Putin’s piecemeal decimation of their sovereign territory since 2014. The most obscene lie emanating from the Kremlin – that President Volodymyr Zilensky, former comedian and now resolute wartime leader who happens to be Jewish, leads a Nazi cabal out to destroy Russia – cements Putin’s standing as a lunatic. Just what the world needs: a psycho paranoiac commanding the planet’s No. 2 nuclear arsenal.
Ukrainians know the truth about this man and his Soviet predecessors – notably Stalin who punished Ukraine by starving them by the million. It’s time the rest of us know the truth about Putin and fellow dictators everywhere around the globe. But the truth struggles to emerge where a free press is “the enemy.”
In the United States, free press is threatened on two fronts: First by social media – Facebook can’t hide its sins by calling itself Meta. They did so initially by depleting newspapers of their advertising-based business model. But that’s a result of capitalist fair play: The Internet is a more efficient vehicle for highly profitable want ads, but also by targeting readers in the market for specific merchandise or services. The second means, however, is far more insidious.
Social media sites that carry news from both legitimate and bogus sources pay nothing to post either. Not only do many of these sites fail to differentiate between the two, they construct algorithms that drive consumers to more and more far-fetched sources of fake news to keep them engaged. Each click is worth $$$. The old model of authoritarian censorship was to block real news from the proletariat. The new model recognizes that you can’t block news in an Internet age. But you can train readers to self-censor. By feeding them “information” that endorses their prejudices – we all have them to some degree – social media inflames personal biases into rage.
In America, we saw the fiercest expression of wholly misguided rage on Jan. 6, 2021. It was further incited by manifest lies by a president, the sorest loser in U.S. history, who purposefully led his followers into an insurrection that almost led to overturning the results of a presidential election, which would have amounted to a pre-inaugural coup. And the lies continue to demand that we disbelieve our eyes and ears about what happened at the Capitol on that day.
Yes, I know there are millions of Americans who still believe the election was “stolen.” But Donald Trump, long before he was elected president – which may yet turn out to be the worst day of his life – was a master of projection. He routinely accuses “enemies” of sins he has already or is about to commit. When it became apparent Joe Biden would defeat him in 2020, he declared that he could only lose if the election was stolen – and then obsessively tried to steal the election not just from Biden, but from the American people.
Coming full circle, he and die-hard cohorts take Putin’s side over Biden, with Trump after the invasion calling Putin the “smart” guy and U.S. leaders “dumb.” That’s Donald, still projecting.
And what about myriad misinformation still spreading on social media about COVID vaccines. How many tens of thousands Americans might still be alive if not inundated by lies about Anthony Fauci personally profiting from coronavirus deaths? Or that the vaccine causes infertility, erectile dysfunction, birth defects, cancer, heart failure, autism, whooping cough, baldness and acne – you name it. How about insanity for believing in any of this claptrap? Or that wearing a mask to protect your neighbor or loved one is an infringement on your freedom?
I believe that any life of those living among us is a primary freedom.
So what can we do about the free flow of reliable information in a nation riven asunder by lies disguised as news? Facebook and other irresponsible social media behemoths should be reined in by the Justice Department with threats of breaking up such conglomerations if they do not agree to restrictions as publishers of news rather than mere purveyors. They should be required to make the default result of searches a legitimate source. Determining what is and is not a legitimate source would entail a prodigious task by an independent commission. Think of an independent prosecutor model in which certain publications, online or in-print, would be deemed legitimate and others not so much. Eligibility could be fluid by meeting certain standards.
Free speech would not be an issue because any theory of “news,” no matter how fake, would be available online for any consumer to search beyond the first dozen or hundred or so choices. Preposterous lies and crazy theories – how about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton running a child sex-trafficking ring from a D.C. pizza parlor? – would be relegated to Internet wilderness.
Just as vital, every legitimate news organization or source of expertise would be remunerated under a federal regimen of social media sites. That’s you, Mark Zuckerberg. Pay a nickel, a penny, whatever, for every click on a story published by, for instance, any legitimate newspaper. That would go a long way toward supporting local news that builds trust in what we all share with our literal neighbors.
And it would also address the second greatest threat to a free press in America – hedge funds that buy up local newspapers and whole chains of big-city papers – to sell off their real estate and fire/retire reporters, editors, photographers/videographers and support staff in order to to enrich their clients, not to mention CEOs. I’m looking at you, Alden Global Capital. The Baltimore Sun, one of my professional alma maters, is fighting back against these wolves who think that real news shouldn’t cost them anything to gather or disseminate. The truth may free us, but it costs due diligence, as well as money, to expose lies – including those of journalism usurpers.
It’s worth fighting and even dying for as Ukrainians now remind us. Let us all pay attention.
Steve Parks is a retired journalist now living in Easton.