By Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam
Author’s Note: The information war (InfoWars) on Ethiopia today is in full swing.
Lies, fake news and disinformation intended to bamboozle, hoodwink and confuse Ethiopians are spreading on social and legacy media like the bubonic plague.
The vectors of this social pandemic are social media rodents, online mind-sucking ticks and cyber tsetse flies that spread anxiety, sleeplessness, confusion, demoralization, anger, misery, despair and a malaise of doom and gloom on a vulnerable population.
Last week, I got dozens of inquiries by phone, email and text about a tweet allegedly sent out by President Donald Trump (screenshot below). I would have ignored and dismissed the whole episode as a childish prank but for the fact that the people contacting me, often cheerfully, were well-known members of the Ethiopian diaspora establishment including respected academicians, businesspersons, religious leaders and retired public officials.
I was stunned how a patently and manifestly fake Trump tweet could fool so many people who are judicious, cautious and even shrewd in their professional lives. I wondered how such a simple piece of photoshopped disinformation could reverberate throughout social media land and confuse, mislead, deceive and fool others who lack sophistication, discernment and tech savvy.
There is an organized and concerted effort to bury the people of Ethiopia under a social media avalanche of evil propaganda, disinformation and fake news 24/7/365. The aim of this effort is to perpetrate psychological terrorism on naive, gullible and unsuspecting people undergoing emotional turmoil about the political and social situation in Ethiopia.
The strategic aim of the digital psycho-terrorists is 1) to use fake news, disinformation, conspiracy theories and psychological warfare to delegitimize, destabilize and discredit the current leadership and changes taking place in Ethiopia after 27 years of ethnic apartheid rule, and 2) to create total chaos and anarchy in the country and create an opportunity for the those who were kicked out of power and and their Johnny–come–lately lackeys (ye dil tor arbegnoch) to return to power as savior white knights in shining armor.
Their tactic is a simple one. “Repeat as many lies, disinformation and conspiracy theories often enough and they become truth”. Or as Mao Zedong said, “A lie told a hundred times becomes the truth.”
I call this information/psychological warfare “digital psycho-terrorism”.
I shall argue in this commentary that it is necessary to organize and implement a digital psychological counter-terrorism program to fight lies, disinformation and conspiracy theories on social media and online.
I tender the old maxim paraphrased, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of lies, disinformation and conspiracy on social media and online is for good men and women to remain dupes and do nothing.”
It is the moral obligation of all people of good will, good mind, good heart and good faith to fight digital psycho-terrorists on and offline day and night for evil never sleeps.
I have been warning on the coming of digital psycho-terrorist troll infowars on Ethiopia(ns) for years
I have been warning my readers and followers of the looming digital psycho-terrorist infowars for some time now.
In my September 5, 2016 commentary, I discussed the lies and disinformation campaigns of the previous ethnic apartheid regime. I explained how the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) waged a 25-year-long disinformation campaign to keep itself in power. I identified 10 elements of the TPLF’s coordinated disinformation campaigns.
In my September 16, 2016 commentary, I warned we should never let the TPLF con men scam and flim-flam us with their targeted disinformation campaigns.
In my September 25, 2016 commentary, I examined the TPLF’s massive disinformation campaign to discredit the widespread popular uprising (which ultimately occasioned its demise) against its oppressive rule in Ethiopia and challenged the cry wolf TPLF boys who were creating alarm and fear by announcing imminent genocide.
In my March 2017 commentary, I wrote about the “Lords of Living Lies” and their “infernal life of complete mendacity on Planet Denial-istan Ethiopia.” I deconstructed 10 boldfaced and shameless TPLF lies in the TPLF fictional narrative by simply fake (fact) checking them.
In my August 12, 2018, commentary I explained how the Forces of Darkness have weaponized, tribalized and vulgarized social media in their infowars to polarize Ethiopians and derail the peaceful revolution in Ethiopia. I called on all Ethiopian social media warriors to come to the aid of their country to fight fake news, disinformation and conspiracy theories.
In a joint opinion piece dated August 17, 2018, we expressed concern over the lies and rumors spread on social media to create instability, violence, death and destruction in Ethiopia. We condemned the rumor mill operated by a well-organized group of digital thugs to delegitimize Prime Minster Abiy and his government and rob public confidence in the peaceful change that is taking place in Ethiopia.
In my March 2019 commentary I demonstrated how the “Chicken Littles of Ethiopia” were in full hysteria mode clucking, “The sky is falling on Ethiopia.” I examined the relentless psychological war of attrition aimed at manipulating minds, crushing hearts, fraying nerves and breaking down the spirit of the Ethiopian people.
Back in my May 2011 commentary, I demonstrated how TPLF Uber Boss Meles Zenawi had been making hyperbolic claims of economic growth in Ethiopia by cooking statistics and massaging GDP (gross domestic product) numbers to claim Ethiopia is in a state of runaway economic development. I demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that Zenawi’s voodoo economics was built on lies, damned lies and statislies (statistical lies).
But it was in my August 2007 commentary that I made the TPLF an offer they can’t refuse: “If they will stop telling lies about us, I will stop telling the truth about them.”
But lies, of course, course in the blood stream of the TPLF. After all the “LF” in TPLF stands for Lie Factory.
The TPLF leaders are pathological liars and they can’t help it. They are congenital mythomaniacs afflicted by “pseudologia fantastica”. Simply stated, they are born liars!
The truth about the fake Donald Trump Tweet
President Donald Trump allegedly tweeted about Ethiopia on October 29, 2019.
On that date, the real President Donald Trump who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania posted 7 tweets in which he: 1) claimed Nancy Pelosi is hellbent on destroying the Republican Party, 2) criticized the Federal Reserve as “clueless”, 3) praised the rise in consumer confidence and housing sales in the U.S. 4) commended a book entitled, “Plot Against the President”, 4) attacked democrats and demanded to know the identity of whistleblowers”, 5) announced the bagging of the terrorist mastermind Al-Baghdadi, 6) claimed a 95 percent approval rating for the Republican Party and 7) attacking the “corrupt media”.
The absolute dead giveaway the tweet was bogus is evident in the fact that the text is boldfaced. Donald Trump has never, never tweeted in boldfaced text.
What is truly mind boggling is the fact that the dozens of diaspora Ethiopia’s crème de la crème who called me about the fake Trump tweet were so happy they were blinded to the tale-tale signs of fakery.
On its face, the “tweet” does not pass the smell test. Take one quick whiff and you can tell it is a fake, a sham, a hoax.
The bogus tweet was manifestly written by one or more arrant ignoramuses, virtual illiterates. Perhaps it was the work of a group of clever digital manipulators who wanted to demonstrate Ethiopians can be made suckers even with a manifestly ridiculous tweet.
In the tweet, White House is written as “whitehouse”. Ethiopian is written as “Etiopian”. Extremist is written as “extremist”. Groups is written as “gruops“. Intolerant of is phrased “intolerant to”. Immediate actions against is written as “immediate actions to”. Who hold is written as “who holds”. U.S. passport is written as “USA Passport”.
There is no way President Trump would write such a tweet, but so many people bought the bogus tweet hook, line and sinker.
What a lowdown crying shame for so many “intelligent”, “highly educated” and “well-informed” Ethiopians to fall for such a dumb hoax.
Shame on us for being such dupes and suckers!
Digital psycho-terrorists and the necessity for a digital counter-terrorism strategy
Terrorism has been defined as “the premeditated use or threat to use violence by individuals or sub-national groups to obtain a political or social objective through the intimidation of a large audience beyond that of the immediate victims.”
The hallmark of conventional terrorism is the use of violence to cause carnage and destruction and as a consequence spread fear, anxiety, alarm, hate and loathing in the wider population.
Conventional terrorists inflict physical violence with the general aim of destroying the social capital of a nation, e.g., its unity, norms, values, good will, fellowship, cooperation, etc.
Digital terrorists inflict psychic (mental) violence with the targeted aim of destroying a nation’s social capital, e.g., its unity, norms, values, good will, fellowship, cooperation, etc.
Digital terrorism is a form of psychological warfare (psywar). It is different from cyber terrorism which is a politically motivated attack against information, computer systems, computer programs, and data.
The self-styled social media warriors spreading lies, fake news, disinformation and conspiracy theories in Ethiopia are the archetypal digital terrorists. Their aim is to demoralize the general population, crush their self-confidence and confidence in the future and cripple their will and break their resolve to fight or resist.
Their tactic is to brainwash the population, by an unending stream of lies, disinformation and conspiracy theories, into believing their lives are miserable and will remain so. They have no hope for the future because another group is oppressing them. They must defend themselves by preemptive unprovoked attacks against their neighbors.
Their aim is to foster and spread a belief in victimology and nurture a mental state of victimhood. They want people to believe they are victims of the wrongs of their families, neighbors, townsfolks, faith, ethnic brethren and even history.
The dogs of infowars offer no verifiable evidence to support their bogus claims. Yet they have managed to wreak havoc in the minds and emotion of many unsuspecting Ethiopians.
There are all types of digital psycho-terrorists who use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other online media to incite violence and spread fear, anxiety, alarm, hate and loathing.
Some of them are well-organized and funded by political groups and call themselves “digital this or that”. These digital psycho-terrorists are version 2.0 of bush terrorist (listed in the Global Terrorism Data Base) that menaced Ethiopia in the 1980s and created an ethnic apartheid system in over the past 27 years. They are the O.T.’s (original terrorists) who have passed on the legacy of terrorism to their children who now wage it in cyberspace.
Just as the bush terrorists decades ago used direct physical violence and destruction on local populations to get their way, their children today hide in the digital cyber-bush to inflict psychological terrorism to destroy the hearts and minds of the Ethiopia people.
One such psycho-digital terrorist group describes itself in its Manifesto as an “invisible digital force without structure” and “a digital defensive line for the people of Tigray.” It claims to operate on the principle of “one for all and all for one.” It boasts of using “state of the art information technology to wage a digital struggle.”
These are the cyber ghosts of the dethroned kings of ethnic apartheid in Ethiopia hellbent on seeking revenge and digitally plotting to return to power.
Other psycho-digital terrorists are less organized and operate more or less independently guided by communalism, sectarianism and ethnonationalism.
There are many lone wolf psycho-digital terrorist who operate as social media information scavengers (hyenas). They scour social media and the internet for carrion in the form of lies, disinformation and conspiracy theories for redistribution.
The psychological impact of digital psycho-terrorism
In November 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared, “’fake news is fueling the Somali regional crisis.”
He advised Ethiopians “not to buy and spread fake news. Let’s not spread fake news because a lot of people are hurt by it. We need to carefully consider the reliability of their sources of information. I ask everyone to be attentive to the spread of fake news.”
In war, especially in infowars and psychological warfare, truth is the first and last casualty.
The digital psycho-terrorists have weaponized, polarized, tribalized and vulgarized social media to crush truth to earth.
What is fascinating to me is the psychological impact of reality mangled by lies, fake news and propaganda and the invention of alternate reality, an Orwellian social media parallel universe made up of lies-truth.
In talking to so many Ethiopians from different walks of life, I have made anecdotal observations that nearly all of them suffer from what I call “fear and anxiety induced stress syndrome (FAISS)”, a form of low level post-traumatic stress syndrome that results from constant bombardment by fake news and disinformation on social media.
FAISS victims suffer from shattered self-confidence, feelings of disempowerment, irrational, absurd and foolish thought patterns. Many of them are so desensitized to facts, they are willing to accept whatever nonsense comes their way. They cast critical thinking out the window. They are easily duped and easy to confuse.
Whenever they talk to me about “what’s going on in Ethiopia”, they present panic reactions, mental confusion, grief, anxiety and elevated suspiciousness.
Some are emotionally numbed and express deep grief, emptiness and hopelessness about the fate of Ethiopia.
Some common doom and gloom statements I have heard include:
“Look at all the killing and displacement. Ethiopia has no hope.”
“’They’ are taking over. We are finished.”
“We had so much hope but were tricked and duped.”
“Only God can save Ethiopia now. We are doomed.”
“I could not sleep last night worried about what’s going to happen.”
“He has to do something. If he does not do something, the country will implode in civil war.”
It’s all about defeatism, fatalism and apocalypticism.
Digital psycho-terrorism has denied diaspora Ethiopians peace of mind and induced a state of general malaise among them.
I shall argue the infowar campaigns of the digital psycho-terrorists must be fought with a digital counter-terrorism campaign of truth and facts.
My prescription: “The only way to fight the infowars of fake news, disinformation and conspiracy theories is by simply exposing them and educating people with the truth and facts. We must cut off the lying sacks at the Facebook and other social media passes.
As they race to the bottom with their lies, we must race to the top with our facts.
When they go low like snakes in the grass, we must go high with the truth and soar like eagles.
I am putting out a call once again to all Ethiopian social media warriors of good will and good faith to come to the aid of their country in fighting the fake news, disinformation and conspiracy theories of digital psycho-terrorists.
“Battle plans” for social media and other online infowars
Those who underestimate the lies, disinformation and conspiracy theories of digital psycho-terrorists are doomed to regret their silence and inaction.
These digital psycho-terrorists are like infectious viruses that live and replicate in the body politic of Ethiopia.
Digital psycho-terrorists are deadly social media pathogen that work by attacking Ethiopia’s political immune system.
Like the HIV virus (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), they are difficult to completely eliminate.
It is necessary to develop multiple anti-retroviral drugs that act on different viral targets of digital psycho-terrorism.
That is precisely what the strategies (cocktail of antiretroviral treatment for digital psycho-terrorism) recommended below are intended to achieve.
Strategy #1: Beat the digital psycho-terrorists at their own game. Convert their fake news/disinformation infowars into a battle of ideas for the truth
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” We must fight the digital psycho-terrorists by exposing their lies, their whole lies and nothing but their lies to the whole world. Our choice of weapon must be the TRUTH. Digital psycho-terrorists cannot handle the TRUTH. We must fight them by telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about their lies, bare faced lies and damned lies.
Strategy #2: Always use the smell test scavenging for information carrion on social media
Always a simple smell test for any information obtained on social or other media. Factcheck information on Fakebook, Twit-er and YouBoob.
Be skeptical because what walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims like a duck on social media is very likely not a duck. It is likely a daylight hyena in duck feathers. Ethiopians using social media should always take a sniff and determine if they smell a troll rat, or more appropriately a daylight hyena, in what they read and hear.
Strategy #3: Fight herd mentality and group think
Herd mentality can best be described as sheep blindly following the flock no matter where they go just because that’s what the herd is doing. People act based on emotion instead of logical and rational thinking. They don’t ask questions; they just follow the crowd. Group think can best be described as a process in which individuals hold an opinion in a group believing the group is right. They agree on an opinion without much questioning, critical reasoning or scrutiny of the evidence. Ignorant people are the easiest to control and manipulate not only because they lack substantive knowledge, but most importantly, because they lack critical thinking skills and do not know how to ask the right questions to get the right answers. So many Ethiopian elites fell for the bogus Trump tweet because they followed the herd; they let the group do the thinking for them.
Strategy #4: Educate people of good will and good faith
Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Use social media to teach and to empower ordinary people. Use social media to learn and to collaborate for good deeds.
Strategy #5: Overwhelm the negative messages of the digital psycho-terrorists with positive messages
Someone once said, “In every day, there are 1,440 minutes. That means we have 1,440 daily opportunities to make a positive impact.” When we are on Fakebook, Twit-er and the rest for 10 minutes or one hour, let’s make a positive impact on those who read and interact with us.
Strategy #6: Don’t feed the digital trolls
Do not waste time and energy feeding digital trolls. They feed on our anger, sorrow, fear and anxiety. Avoid tit for tat. But try to show them the way of truth and love.
Strategy #7: Develop emotional intelligence
We must develop the ability to identify and manage our own emotions and the emotions of those around us. We must not be Chicken Littles who get all hysterical simply because someone wrote something silly or stupid on social media or put out a YouBoob video. We must develop heightened awareness that we are constant targets of emotional manipulation by digital psycho-terrorists.
Strategy #8: Evil never sleeps and the price of peace of mind from the attacks of digital psycho-terrorists is eternal vigilance
The price of defeating the digital psycho-terrorists is constant awareness and eternal vigilance. That means we must be relentless, ferocious, implacable, unflinching and single-minded in our struggle against digital terrorists. I have proven the value of defiant tenacity against evil over the past 14 years!
Strategy #9: Never wrestle with digital psycho-terrorists in the social media sewer
Never engage in mudslinging and pissing contests with digital psycho-terrorists. The old saying about pigs applies equally to digital psycho-terrorists. “Never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”
Strategy #10: Never fall victim to click-bait YouTube channels
There are a bunch of trashy YouTube (Boob) channels that try to make money by putting provocative titles on their covers. Their aim is to get you to click on their garbage YouTube channels. They make money every time you click and you get heartache and bellyache.
Strategy #11: Practice the old adage: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
We should never allow digital psycho-terrorists play tricks on us time and again. Let’s not allow them to make us suckers over and over. We should practice the wisdom of the old saying. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.”
Strategy #12: Practice my policy of mind over matter.
To me, social media cretins are a source of laughter and entertainment. I visit social media from time to time to observe how the dregs of humanity think or don’t. It is a matter of mind over matter for me. I don’t mind social media cretins and creeps and they don’t matter.
A call to “white hat” social media warriors
For the last 14 years, I have fought the Forces of Darkness and social media psycho-terrorists in my weekly commentaries. I fought their lies, fake news, disinformation, conspiracy theories every week (sometimes several times a week) without missing a single week.
Today, the Forces of Darkness have reinvented themselves as digital psycho-terrorists propagating their message of hate, division, chaos and confusion.
I am calling on all “white hat” Ethiopian social media warriors to join me in fighting digital psycho-terrorists and cyber-thugs on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and in blogosphere and everywhere in cyberspace.
We must fight digital psycho-terrorists in the schools, in the colleges and universities, in the internet cafes, in the conference rooms, in the streets, in the urban and rural areas, in places of worship and public gatherings, and in every hamlet, village, town and city.
Let’s join forces and fight the Forces of Darkness and digital terrorists propagating fake news, disinformation and conspiracy theories against Ethiopia!
Fool us once, shame on digital psycho-terrorists. Fool us twice, shame on us!