There is nothing very new about “alternative facts”; they have been in use since the times of ancient Greece.
They are the prime ingredients of propaganda – information of a biased or misleading nature used and widely disseminated to promote or publicise a political cause or point of view. The definition and the implications of the use of propaganda are usually negative and imply deliberate effort to manipulate the thinking or opinions of the recipient parties. It is not balanced, it is not objective and it is developed and propagated for the purpose of obtaining support for some political end.
The Spaniards in the 16th Century were criticized by the British for widely publicising throughout Europe in advance of their intended invasion of Britain their victories in battles over British naval forces. The Spanish Armada suffered total defeat in 1588 and never invaded Britain despite the Spaniards having widely publicised that they had! Alternative facts.
Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, ran an organization of about 2,000 people with the purpose of moulding and controlling the intellectual and cultural life of Germany. The Ministry had the role of gaining massive support amongst the citizenry for Nazi party policies, as well as demonstrating to other nations that the party had the overwhelming support of the population. Fights between different political groups were staged and widely publicised in order to garner support for the Nazis. Radio, a relatively new technology of the time, was much used in order to spread messages glorifying state policies to the German population. When during the Second World War, the German forces overran and occupied other countries, the Ministry would recruit local radio announcers to broadcast material favourable to the occupying forces and the cause and policies of National Socialism.
Glavlit, the censorship department of the USSR, was very active in the misinformation area to the point of denigrating real sources of scientific knowledge in genetics and cybernetics. Youth was formed into groups of Young Pioneers, which were managed in ways to instill good clean communist values into young people.
Enemies, be they foreign or Russian, were ridiculed and insulted, sometimes even invented. Wall posters were displayed showing small sized caricatures of “enemies of the state” being crushed by the huge boots of much larger communist soldiers.
China followed during and subsequent to the communist revolution. Facts were twisted for wide dissemination throughout the population. An initiative by the United Nations in providing gifts of milk for babies was publicised as waste milk being dumped on the Chinese. Foreign ships carrying out normal trading activities at Chinese ports were portrayed as massive incursions into Chinese markets by imperialist states intended to damage China’s own trading economics. As in the Russian cases, those deemed enemies were publicly ridiculed and insulted. Use was made of cartoons to caricature enemies with captions in very crude language, which appealed to the masses.
So, “alternative facts” are nothing new. They have been in use for thousands of years, and they are once again in use now, but not in totalitarian states, in democracies. The manipulation of men’s minds. But not, it seems, to attempt to justify totalitarianism or nationwide violent revolution but purely for political advantage. Social networking now replaces the radio as the new technology for dissemination. In China, and in Russia to a lesser degree, censorship is still very active; the Chinese masses can only hear the version of the truth that the communist party wants them to believe. Even quite recently, the People’s Daily published “news” about the latest restaurant crazes in the UK, eating live monkey brains, and most of the readers actually believed it! [I’m fairly sure that it wasn’t true!!]
Given that the use of propaganda based on alternative facts is so effective, you have to wonder why it has not been put to use in the democracies of the world for the last 70 or so years since the Second World War. Could it be due to some sense of decency? Aside from many recent statements in American politics were the statements made in the Brexit campaign in the UK. Many false statements were made and widely publicized, but in democracies where freedom of speech is an important right it doesn’t really matter what you say – it’s left to the recipient regardless of their level of knowledge to determine whether or not to believe the statements. After the votes are counted and the winner is announced even though the alternative facts are admitted for what they are, it doesn’t change anything.
In democracies the use of alternative facts can be a recipe for political success, how ironic in the world of today in which almost everything has to be audited to such an excruciating level of detail in order to be assured that what is stated is the truth!
Mike can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org