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How to Lose the Information War

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Member Reviews

Thank you for the opportunity to review a copy of How to Lose the Information War by Nina Jankowicz in exchange for an honest review. 

I requested this book because I am a researcher in political science and interested in the digital, information age. The author Nina Jankowicz takes the reader on a journey through five Western governments' responses to Russian information warfare tactics - all of which she claims have been failures. With the rise of misinformation and "fake news" across the internet and digital realm, this book is timely and fresh for readers of all levels of interest in current global affairs. This book has a focus on the impacts of Russia in this 'information war' with the Western countries, especially the United States and electoral processes. Additionally, several other Eastern European countries are discussed in this regard, such as Poland and Ukraine. 

This book is well-researched and presents a problem-cause-consequence of the "information war" and a perspective on countering the rise of disinformation, as well as the consequences of inaction. After a second read, I am considering requiring a few chapters as a class assignment. Highly suggested for all readers who think this type of non-fiction would be of interest to them.
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Fantastic survey of the current (dis)information landscape, full of fascinating anecdotes, vital research, and timely case studies. Jankowicz takes readers around the world to the frontlines of the information war before returning to our own unfolding crisis here at home, offering critical perspective on what governments – including our own – must do to solve this pressing challenge.
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How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News and the Future of Conflict by Nina Jankowicz is a well-researched book about information warfare tactics that has been used in five countries, and the lessons we must learn from them. Ms. Jankowicz has been advising Ukraine’s government on strategic communications, her work has been published in several national newspapers, and is an expert in Russian and Eastern European affairs.

This book is short, but packed with important information and policy suggestion which, unfortunately, I’m sure will be ignored in the current political climate.  The other aspect of How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News and the Future of Conflict by Nina Jankowicz, is that it’s pretty much terrifying, but a must-read for any political junky out there.

I have to give Ms. Jankowicz credit for not taking sides and attempting to be as bipartisan as possible. She writes about how many entities on the political spectrum in the US embrace Russian disinformation tactics to their advantage. The author goes on to acknowledge that the tactics used are not necessarily to change people’s minds, but to muddle the facts, dirty the water so you can’t see clearly. Disinformation “preys on real misgivings, fears, and societal fissures, and heightens emotion ensuring that reason is overwhelmed”. While being bombarded from all sides with “plurality version of the truth”, it is very difficult, even for the most savvy of us who pay close attention, to separate information from disinformation.

The Russian tactics are not new, but the way they are used are a challenge to overcome. You simply take something people are already angry about, and start a disinformation campaign to get them frustrated,  disengaged, or distrust institutions – hopefully all three. The author goes on to say that studies from the 1970s show that people remember what they heard first, even if it was false.
And suddenly all the bombastic rhetoric and statements make sense.

The author uses her advantage of languages and international connections to create a case for taking actions to limit influences, but also for our institutions to shore up and make people trust them again, they simply cannot play the political games our representatives do. The US has been slow to respond, but luckily we have a playbook from countries such Ukraine, Estonia which the disinformation tried to divide through history (Unions vs. Confederates?), Poland which was a victim of an anti-vaccination disinformation campaign (sounds familiar?), Ukraine who are still trying to undo the damage done to their reputation in Holland, and the Czech Republic who found out that the disinformation became an “opinion” (again, sounds familiar?).

The book ends on a bright note, it’s not too late but something needs to be done on a bipartisan policy level. It’s impossible, in a free democratic country, to stop all disinformation but it’s up to our elected officials and institutions to set the record straight.
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Through a detailed discussion of what has transpired in the US and five case studies of western countries that have felt the influence of Russian internet meddling Jankowicz offers both a snapshot of where we are and a general roadmap for how to combat the misinformation assault. Just a hint, there is no quick easy fix but we must start doing something both in spite of and because of our political quagmire.
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This is a fascinating and informative read that talks about our time and how misinformation/fake news/disinformation are changing the way people think. It's well researched and full of facts.
It's an important book that should be read by a lot of person to better understand what's going on.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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Following the election of President Trump, the US and Western allies have woken up to the threat of online warfare and attacks from Russian.  The question that remains is what will they do about it?        

Disinformation, misinformation, fake news, active measures, influences campaigns… shall I go on?  Anyone who had dipped their toes in this information space knows we’re navigating a complex landscape.  However, the United States does not need to do it alone.  Jankowicz shares the story of five Western governments’ responses to Russian information warfare tactics.  While, these efforts all failed, it’s clear the United States can lean on its allies and partners to beat Russia.

This book was fantastic and I cannot wait to recommend it to others.  I was fascinated with the research that Jankowicz was conducting and how it all came together.  The use of disinformation in other Western states also shows that this is not a new phenomena and that the US is behind.  Her suggestions to shape and improve disinformation were fantastic and not overly complex.  This is such a timely and important topic that I hope everyone takes the time to read.
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I really enjoyed this book. It's a whistle-stop tour of Russian disinformation campaigns, with each chapter focusing on a different Eastern European country (Georgia, Poland, Czech Republic, Estonia and Ukraine) - its history of relations with Russia, the story of the information war they've already been fighting for some time, what the underlying fissures are that fuel disinformation, and what the West can therefore learn from each of these 'case studies'. 

I learnt a lot, feel far more armed with information around disinformation to better make sense of the current discourse, and was really fascinated by both the historical and recent stories of countries I know little about. It's a really easy read too - not at all academic, and littered with human stories and nice personal touches from the author.

Only thing I found a little distracting - it's very much written from a US perspective, which makes sense given the author's background, and is of course interesting considering the current state of disinformation in the US, but sometimes it was a little off-putting how much Jankowicz referred to America as this aspirational democracy. I can understand that being really appealing to a US audience, but didn't really do much for me as a Scot / European, and it sometimes felt a little insincere - 'let's learn lessons from the pretty traumatic pasts of these eastern European countries so the American dream can be alive'. It's obvious this wasn't the author's intention, however (she makes her views towards the current state of America very clear), so I think this is more due to me not being American and wanting a more global focus, which perhaps requires a whole other book.

I'd highly recommend reading this book - it's a brilliant whistle-stop tour of the history and current status of disinformation, as well as being a fascinating dive into Eastern Europe.
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How to Lose the Information War is a book about tackling Russian disinformation and how the examples of a few particular countries could offer lessons for others, especially the United States. Jankowicz looks at five examples of Russian information warfare targets—Estonia, Georgia, Poland, Ukraine, and the Czech Republic—to consider what happened in these countries and what has been done as a result, talking to people from within these countries to get a sense of different opinions on the events and on fake news. She then brings this together into a final chapter looking at what could be done more generally, beyond short term 'whack-a-troll' attempts, to fight in what is termed the 'information war'.

The book provides a fascinating insight into the spread of information and the impact of Russian influence in the chosen case study countries, looking deeper than what people might have seen in US or UK news outlets (if at all).  Jankowicz draws comparisons between what has happened in these countries and what has happened or might happen in the US, which isn't surprising, to set up the concluding chapter which presents a vision of a future America and then offers some suggestions for what to do to combat this vision. Her conclusions—including information literacy, invigorating journalism, and trying to hold social media platforms accountable—aren't new ideas, but this is a readable investigation into the impact of the war over information that looks at the issues not just from a US or UK perspective.
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How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News and the Future of Conflict by Nina Jankowicz is an essential but disturbing read for anyone concerned with the future of the United States and, in fact, of self-governance anywhere.

Through a detailed discussion of what has transpired in the US and five case studies of western countries that have felt the influence of Russian internet meddling Jankowicz offers both a snapshot of where we are and a general roadmap for how to combat the misinformation assault. Just a hint, there is no quick easy fix but we must start doing something both in spite of and because of our political quagmire.

One necessary and sufficient element that each country Russia has attacked has is a wealth of major fissures that can be exploited. Make no mistake, any modern nation-state is going to have fissures which means no country is immune from attack. But one way to make a country less susceptible is to make those fault lines less severe and moving toward improvement. It certainly doesn't help that at least since Nixon the US political machines, both parties, have been more about playing up those divisions than bridging them. Since the political parties had already weaponized our divisions it was easy for Russian operatives to exploit those cracks and drive them ever deeper and wider.

One major takeaway here is that in addition to actually taking action to limit this influence, which the US has been slow to do, we must learn from other country's mistakes and successes. We don't have to start from scratch, we can and must understand that those previous campaigns in other countries can teach us something, we are not that special.

I highly recommend this to anyone wanting to know more about how the disinformation war is shaping up. This is not about left or right, this is about whether we want to continue the democratic experiment or become a satellite country of another country. I will warn you, I found myself at times feeling like we stood no chance. I did not ultimately come away with that feeling, though I now know it will be a constant and conscious effort to oppose, so if you start to feel that while reading, take a break, take a deep breath, then dive back in. We all need to arm ourselves with this information.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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