This is truly disturbing. The Guardian has published a shocking report that not only has Russia’s Vladimir Putin been using social media to disrupt elections in the world’s finest democracy, the United States of America, but he has now found a way to worm his black propaganda into the minds of Hollywood’s unsuspecting glitterati.
If this is not stopped, the Guardian reports, there is a real danger that the Academy judges may fail to give the documentary Oscar to the Last Men in Aleppo, about the White Helmets, a US and UK-financed “rescue group” that works in al-Qaeda-held areas of Syria.
The director of the film, Feras Fayyad, warns: “It is like Russia wants to hack the Oscars like they hacked the US election.”
The Guardian notes that there is every danger that the Oscar judges will be swayed by a spate of articles on what it terms “alternative news” websites. Under the pretence of free speech, they have portrayed the documentary as inaccurate and criticised Fayyad for taking a partisan position. A few people have even gone so far as to take to Facebook and Twitter and call Fayyad a “liar and terrorist sympathiser”, while others have suggested he may be working for the CIA.
This, as the Guardian’s reporter Olivia Solon notes, is straight out of “a playbook of Russia-backed disinformation and manipulation”. Solon adds that it can only be part of “an organized attempt to tarnish the film-maker’s reputation”.
Other documentary makers confirmed the dangerous nature of the “smear campaign”, warning that the Academy panel could be influenced by the public debate about the film.
Producer Amy Ziering said such “white noise disinformation campaigns” could “damage an Oscar campaign’s success, but even more importantly it can damage the ability for important and necessary truths to be told.”
Sadly, the Guardian only hints at the solution rather than spelling it out: we need much stronger curbs on irresponsible uses of free speech, especially so-called “alternative” political analyses and opinions, to ensure that only those using their speech responsibly are heard.
If we allow this cacophony of conflicting opinions to continue, there is a real danger that people will start to doubt the narratives that have been carefully crafted for them by their political and media elites. Who knows where this might lead? If we do not crack down on this abuse of free speech – on fake news – immediately, it might even infect Hollywood opinion-formers.