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Did you ever wish you could jump into a spy story—running beside (okay, behind) Jason Bourne through a film or untangling conspiracies in a James Rollins novel? Of course, YOU wouldn’t be fooled by the nice operative who seems to be helping when he (or she) is secretly plotting your downfall. “This is too obvious!” I mutter as I read. “No one would fall for this.”
But, naturally, everyone DOES fall for the deception. I like James Rollins’ novels because he bases them on real science and vulnerabilities—secret powerful societies and dangerous plagues. Now and then, I don’t like James Rollins’ novels because even some “obvious” plots are too scary—too believable. However, (to my knowledge) James Rollins has not yet written a plot that’s based on manipulating people with misinformation online. Perhaps it’s difficult to engage readers in an attack that seems too techy. Who but computer nerds knows what a “bot” or a “troll” is? How dangerous can a silly online message be?
We’ve all been conditioned to accept whatever is written—especially if it’s written in a source that seems honest—such as a note from a friend. It started when a teacher said, “Just memorize what the book says and stop over-thinking!” Today, many people have decided they know more than the books or authorities. In the 70’s, the saying went “Never trust anyone over 30.” Today many don’t trust anyone who seems to be too educated. One college student of mine told me she would trust her grandmother’s opinions over research any day, so she fed her newborn whiskey and complained that the baby kept falling off her double bed onto her head.
Today, investigations are revealing that the American public and probably our government, as well, are being jerked about like puppets by Russian intelligence interference. We don’t yet know which Americans—if any—have been bribed to cooperate. During the recent election, Americans who tried to conduct political discussions favorable to Hillary Clinton on Twitter were blocked by automatic “bot” messages (true and invented) or troll posts by fake citizens (who were actually people in Eastern Europe) that made Clinton look bad—bad enough to justify voting for someone else. (Did you really believe she was involved in murder and substituting body doubles?) The messages prevented the exchange of favorable information and spread lies designed to divide.
How damaging are rumors? Have you ever been the victim of a vicious rumor? If you have, you know the answer. Bullying kills. Lies ruin relationships. “Loose lips sink ships”—what if the loose lips are spreading lies as intelligence agencies often do during war? Can disguised lies distributed to millions of people be any less damaging outside war?
Long ago, someone whose identity I don’t recall warned us that information is power. We all rushed to join the computer age so we could have access to instant resources. What we didn’t realize is that misinformation is power, too. Why did the Russian information attack choose to help elect Donald Trump? The counter intelligence investigation seeks to answer that question.
Republican statesmen (including women, of course) are as concerned as any other American. The FBI knows the American people are being conned—using techniques that will only become more sophisticated and effective as the Russians perfect their interference. The Russians are confident they’re destroying American power.
I follow the interviews on THE RACHEL MADDOW show with a sinking heart. Because we don’t comprehend manipulation on this scale, we remain vulnerable. We want to trust people. We aren’t sure whom we can trust. Sadly, many Americans still believe our situation is simply another partisan disagreement.
I don’t want to jump into this spy novel, but a spy novel has enveloped my life through my computer. Americans are endangered because they’re so tech-savvy yet naive. I stopped using Twitter at all. I screen each interview I watch on TV or posts on Facebook, checking the qualifications of the person speaking and the credibility of the source before I accept what’s being said. I contact my senators and representatives directly.
Fact checking is no longer a game for intellectuals. Your opinions are only as solid as your information. We’re utterly dependent on the current counter intelligence investigations to help us see where our American dream has turned into a nightmare. We’ll find a good old American way through this, but it won’t be comfortable. Please, James Rollins, write us out of this mess!