Before I get into this, I feel I need to give a disclaimer. I’m not here to talk about which narrative is accurate and who I may personally support, even though that may show. This article will look at the confusion I feel with all this information, making me and most people either become radicalized in their thoughts or left feeling disenfranchised. And why that’s a problem we need to address.

What am I talking about?

If you hadn’t noticed, the term “fifth generation warfare” is thrown around a lot. If you have no idea what it actually means, I don’t blame you. The term is used interchangeably with propaganda and fake news, and while they are relevant to each other, they are different.

Fifth generation warfare reflects the changes in military combats over history. The first three generations were direct warfare. Fourth generation and fifth generation warfare involves both physical and psychological warfare, usually targeting non-state actors.

Psychological warfare uses multiple different techniques, including fake news, to get a certain reaction from the targeted group. In other words, Fake news is just propaganda with a new name. Whether you call it yellow journalism, fake news, propaganda or just plain lying, it’s all the same.

Why am I talking about it?

In the past few months, nearly everyone within our public sphere has used this term. Even today, #mediaaccountabilty has been trending all day. Between the crackdown on the PTM, to the 3 consecutive arrests in 24 hours, everyone is using these terms to describe the other. With so many different narratives being presented to us, what are we supposed to believe?

What purpose does Propaganda serve?

As mentioned earlier, the concept of propaganda is to create a narrative that causes a certain reaction from the targeted audience. The way advertisements try to persuade the audience to purchase a product is a simple yet effective example of how propaganda is used to get a reaction out of someone. Taking this into the political sphere, propaganda and fake news can be used to sway large groups of people into action.

For example, during the Second World War, the Nazi’s used radio channels to try and demotivate soldiers that were fighting for the US. In more modern days, many speculate that the Russians used social media trolls to spread fake news to get Donald Trump elected.  And if you want a more local example, propaganda posters were key in enlisting the Indians of the subcontinent for the British war effort in WW!.

Why is it so important to talk about it now?

Well there are a couple of reasons as to why we need to talk about it. For one, when we are told multiple different narratives, it creates massive confusion as to what the truth really is. The propagandist can take advantage of this confusion and guide targeted groups into acting against their self-interest. Given the precarious state Pakistan is in right now, it’s time our society learned how to distinguish between sources of information and decipher the truth.  

Alarmingly but unsurprisingly, according to recent studies, people are more likely to believe something they see on the news. Moreover, with the advent and rise in popularity of social media, it has become a lot harder to control the dispensation of information. For example, Whatsapp mass messaging has led to lynching in India, with fake news spreading like wildfire.

Why this is so important to talk about in Pakistan?

Nawaz Sharif used this famous slogan to change the narrative after he was removed as Prime Minister

Fake news usually has two purposes to serve; to persuade or confuse. Persuasion is to induce a certain reaction within a group, while confusion serves to just prevent the truth from being known. In Pakistan, people generally have a deep-rooted distrust of institutions because of the culture of silence that goes all the way to the top. Historically, Pakistanis have oft remained in the dark about matters of significance occurring both locally and globally. Think about it this way, we still don’t know who killed Benazir. Or how Fatima Jinnah died. And it was only after the United States declassified old files did we even find out about who killed Liaquat Ali Khan, nearly seven decades later!

Indian portrayal of Kashmir

As a country that has been largely ignorant, our perception of events, whether they be assassinations, legal orders or economic conditions, has remained highly convoluted, rendering us far more prone to believe any conspiracy theory that comes our way. This makes propaganda so effective within our region. Until and unless we recognize that, we will continue to fall for fake news. While we all are susceptible to agreeing with news that fits our worldviews, let’s be better. Let’s be able to recognize our own inherit biases, and look beyond them.