THIS is with reference to the article ‘Anti-fake news or anti-free speech? The debate over Punjab’s new defamation law’ (Dawn.Com, May 22) and an earlier article ‘Censorship and disinformation’ (April 27) which presumed a correlation between digital censorship and disinformation without corroborating the perception with any set of data.

Away from the ‘here’ and the ‘now’ of the debate, however, disinformation is a concept which finds a mention in Sun Tzu’s Ping Fa (The Art of War) more than 2,000 years ago. Even before Sun Tzu, however, Chanakya Kautliya in Arthashastra favoured disinformation as a warfare tool within his larger concept of kuta-yuddha (unprincipled warfare as different from dharma-yuddha, or righteous warfare).

The principles outlined by Tzu and Kautliya were used not only in World War II, but also during the Cold War period. The Israeli relay station at Sinai, for instance, blocked signals from Cairo to Amman, cooked them before quickly re-routing them to Amman. As a result of this deceptive plan, Amman and Cairo could not coordinate their attacks. Captured agents were forced to radio false information to their own countries or handlers.

In The Naval Memoirs of Admiral J. H. Godfrey, the admiral explained how the French exaggerated the number of their lightly wounded in World War I to convince the British to take over more of the line. The Germans underestimated their casualty lists, and Sir Winston Churchill and Admiral Sir Dudley Pound trebled the U-boat casualties.

A basic principle of disinformation is to never lose sight of truth. A half-truth may have the potential to appeal more to audiences than a stark lie. The very same rule applies to fractions of untruth, twisted truth, and to a truth concealed. Pathological lying is not the art of disinformation. Psychologists would tell that even under stress, a mature person would suppress truth rather than tell a blatant lie.

According to Richard Deacon, “truth twisting … unless it is conducted with caution and great attention to detail, will inevitably fail if practised too often … It is not the deliberate lie which we have to fear, but the half-truth, the embellished truth and the truth dressed up to appear something quite different”.

It is unfortunate that social media users, even pundits, do not understand the art and science of propaganda in Pakistan. They merely pollute people’s minds, resulting in sheer chaos and vandalism.

Amjed Jaaved
Rawalpindi

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2024

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