Book Review: Information Wars by Richard Stengel

Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It by Richard Stengel is a non-fiction book about disinformation and how we fight it on the new front of social media. Mr. Stengel, former editor of Time magazine, was at the frontlines in this new type of warfare while serving in the Obama administration as an Under Secretary of State.

  • 368 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1611856388

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Information and disinformation wars are as old as time, however with the rise of social media it has been easier than ever before to muddy the water with disinformation designed to confuse the populace. In his book, Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It author Richard Stengel writes of a firsthand account he had being an Under Secretary of State trying to figure out how to build a counter narrative.

The author writes about the Russian fascist, strategist and political analyst Aleksandr Dugin who wrote the “playbook” that Russia has been using the past several decades for their information warfare:

“Alexander Dugin is especially scary, he is known as Putin’s Resputin and has advocated the rise of conservative strongmen in the West, as Russia works to replace liberalism by the conservative superstate of Russia. “He has said all truth is relative and a question of belief; that freedom and democracy are not universal values but peculiarly Western ones; and that the U.S. must be dislodged as a hyperpower through destabilizing American democracy and the encouragement of American isolationism.”

Mr. Stengel makes an excellent case about the first part of his subtitle, but sadly the second part “what can we do about it” is not convincing. Mostly because of the government bureaucracies, slow moving administrative machinery, and simply the way democracies work. After moving from Time magazine to the State Department, Mr. Stengel “found government too big, too slow, too bureaucratic. It constantly gets in its own way.”

The government is not the answer, the author believes, but it is part of the solution. He calls for the media to be more responsible, check before they report. But that’s not enough, he adds, consumers of media need to also use reasoning and critical thinking before pressing the “share” button, disseminating disinformation to hundreds, if not thousands of people.
It only takes 10 to 30 seconds for most of those.

The book was a bit choppy, but fascinating nonetheless, and somewhat disturbing. Mr. Stengel does drive in the point that disinformation is dangerous to democracy, and has been weaponized by our geopolitical enemies to great effect.

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Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer: I got this book for free.
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