The trouble with liberal democracy, the problem that bears a striking resemblance to every utopian impulse from time immemorial, is the desire to create a perfect world while stigmatizing and ignoring basic human desires. Love your neighbor like a brother, tear down your walls, relinquish your power, things don’t work this way. People don’t love their country or supranational organizations or the entire world, they love their family. Their own prosperity will always come before the success of their country. Race and religion will remain an important part of people’s identity regardless of whether we have been told that there is no God, that we are all equal, and that national borders are obsolete. These truths are here to stay, no matter what liberal democracies want us to believe. As for lies, they are here to stay as well.
The internet changed how we consume information, and consequently, how we form opinions. Older media, for better or worse, acted like a sieve; only carefully curated facts made it through. Respectable older media gave us facts that were both curated and verified. The death of newspapers and the disappearance of gatekeepers in today’s digital media have destroyed this sieve. Today, the amount of information we are bombarded with is overwhelming, while our less charitable impulses have remained the same. Thus, we are left with little defense when exposed to lies.
Lies Are Perfectly Capable of Spreading in an Informed Society
The world is unstable, full of liars and con men, riddled with conspiracies. While we are overwhelmed by such news, we also feel that it is logical, that in some way, all the little pieces fit together. This is why the neologism “infodemic,” a blend of “information” and “epidemic,” is so apt.
There are plenty of examples. Within the last five years, the Donald Trump years, widespread ignorance and shocking fanaticism are evident in widely believed conspiracies and useless debates based on lies. The line between fact and fiction is thinner than the border between Belgium and the Netherlands. Western democracies, it turns out, are vulnerable. We are suspicious of everyone and everything.
Trump did not need to do much to help America believe that COVID-19, the “China virus,” was artificially made and is being used as a political tool. Trump also did not need to say that much to engender debate on the legitimacy of voting by mail, a practice used by Americans for decades. But this is small potatoes.
Have You Heard of the Conspiracy Theorists QAnon?
According to QAnon, Trump is doing battle with Satan-worshipping pedophiles who drink the blood of innocent children. QAnon is a vast network that exposes the deep state and the deep state’s constant effort to stage a coup against Trump; in coordination with Vladimir Putin, he is saving the world. Nonsense, you say? Every conspiracy theory is built upon some tiny, or not so tiny, truth. Do you remember the financier Jeffrey Epstein? The one who committed suicide in his jail cell while waiting for his case to proceed? The one accused of trafficking and abusing children? He was murdered! Have you heard of the 2016 conspiracy called “pizzagate”? Democratic party pedophiles would meet at Comet Ping Pong, a Washington, D.C., pizzeria whose owner is openly gay. Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta is friends with the owner. Hillary wouldn’t order a pizza, but a gay child. This fiction was reported by The New York Times, Fox News, everyone. An armed gunman, believing the story to be true, went to Comet Ping Pong to personally investigate and look for imprisoned children.
Such conspiracies are an expanding spider web – the whole world is ruled by Satanists who are also pedophiles. The Clintons and the Obamas, the Soros family and the Rothschilds, the Arabs and Putin—all are involved. Putin is the leader of the Satanists. A believer in this theory killed the Gambino crime family boss Frank Cali in March 2019, because the mob was involved as well. Of course it was.
Didn’t you know that Angela Merkel is Adolf Hitler’s granddaughter?
Or that Kim Jong Un is a CIA operative? Or that Prime Minister Boyko Borissov is incredibly close to all of the important European leaders?
The Democrats claim that this insanity comes from Trump and his inner circle, and that it’s purpose is to slander and hurt them. Republicans believe that “fake news” comes from the Democrats so that Trump’s supporters are branded as credulous fools. If we consider Sacha Baron Cohen’s opinion, then it’s all Mark Zuckerberg’s fault because Facebook is a Trump ally as well as the “greatest propaganda machine in history.”
Let’s not forget that there is a worldwide conspiracy in which Trump is Putin’s puppet, a conspiracy that was both investigated and reported. Melania disappeared in 2017 and has been replaced by another woman.
Where Is Bulgaria in All This?
We are entirely submerged in a parallel universe. What is real is up for debate. Just take a look at Bulgarian articles on the COVID conspiracy: “Doctors, wake up! Listen to Dr. Mikovic’s truth! COVID-propaganda and the mob!”; “Dr. Rumen Stoilov: the virus is a tool that will test how far people can be pushed to obey”; “Vanga predicted coronavirus remedies”; “Chilling prophecies from the Greek Nostradamus shock the world wide web, some have already come true”; “Human rights activist: how to refuse a ‘mandatory’ COVID vaccine.” Bulgarians repeat international conspiracies in which Bill Gates will insert a chip into everyone.
We are not even discussing news such as “Eight facts that expose the fake moon landing,” “UFOs sighted above the Thrace freeway,” “NASA: The sun will cease to radiate light starting in November,” “Snowden: Aliens are among us, they live underground,” or “Extraterrestrial city appears in the Bermuda triangle.” We are getting increasingly closer to the United States with articles such as “Microsoft attacks the CIA and NSA” or “Brad Pitt: Elite pedophiles rule the world, the Illuminati are trafficking children for sex in Hollywood.” Plenty of European conspiracy headlines are popular as well: “Two more countries ready to leave the European Union – the Netherlands and Sweden”; “the European Union wants to ban Christianity.” More serious headlines follow: “Protesters are paid $6,500,000”; “Bulgarian protests poisoned from the skies to quash unrest! Video!” Even more dangerous: “Prof. Zhivko Zhelev: 5G destroys the immune system”; “The Prophet Ivan Todorov: 5G will undoubtedly destroy your brain.”
All these headlines, most of which are published not by tabloids or gossip magazines but by “respectable” news sources, are read and believed by thousands. Real people are refusing vaccines, real live men and women are protesting against 5G while many others believe that those who protest, no matter the cause, are always paid actors.
Officially sanctioned lies are even more dangerous. Here’s an example: “Borissov is welcomed in Europe.” This is an alternate reality in which Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are waiting for Boyko Borissov’s call and instructions.
Unwritten lies, spreading from person to person, are more powerful than written ones. Writing a lie down detonates a disinformation avalanche. A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes. If you ask me, the scariest lie is the lie that tries to displace an unequivocal truth. For example: a picture, confirmed to be genuine by multiple independent experts, shows the Bulgarian prime minister’s nightstand with an open drawer full of cash. The prime minister’s party, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, claims that bad people are waging a political war on their party while Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has sent a drone to spy on the prime minister from his front lawn.
If we allow lies to fight with the truth on an equal footing, we will accept a country in which we are all rich and healthy, our infrastructure is fantastic, our economy is booming and happy retirees are vacationing around the world. In other words: a country which is made up.
Finally, don’t forget, Russia has no access to novichok, the United States created Ebola, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was a European actor called Simon Elliott. Borissov has stashed his money in a Middle Eastern country, while Bulgarian politician Ivan Kostov’s money is in Austria.