About the Book
Disinformation is as old as humanity. When Satan told Eve nothing would happen if she bit the apple, that was disinformation. But the rise of social media has made disinformation even more pervasive and pernicious in our current era. In a disturbing turn of events, governments are increasingly using disinformation to create their own false narratives, and democracies are proving not to be very good at fighting it.
During the final three years of the Obama administration, Richard Stengel, the former editor of Time and an Under Secretary of State, was on the front lines of this new global information war. At the time, he was the single person in government tasked with unpacking, disproving, and combating both ISIS’s messaging and Russian disinformation. Then, in 2016, as the presidential election unfolded, Stengel watched as Donald Trump used disinformation himself, weaponizing the grievances of Americans who felt left out by modernism. In fact, Stengel quickly came to see how all three players had used the same playbook: ISIS sought to make Islam great again; Putin tried to make Russia great again; and we all know about Trump.
In a narrative that is by turns dramatic and eye-opening, Information Wars walks readers through of this often frustrating battle. Stengel moves through Russia and Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and introduces characters from Putin to Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Mohamed bin Salman to show how disinformation is impacting our global society. He illustrates how ISIS terrorized the world using social media, and how the Russians launched a tsunami of disinformation around the annexation of Crimea – a scheme that became the model for their interference with the 2016 presidential election. An urgent book for our times, Information Wars stresses that we must find a way to combat this ever growing threat to democracy.
Praise for Information Wars:
“With the eye of a historian and the passion of a man in the arena, Richard Stengel has given us a compelling and illuminating memoir of his time at the highest levels in the fight against disinformation and for American values. Richly observed and thoughtfully rendered, Stengel’s book is essential reading.”—Jon Meacham
“Information Wars is a gripping insider account of the U.S. government’s struggle to understand and fight back against a new generation of online threats from extremist messaging and Russian disinformation. As a celebrated journalist who moved into the frontlines of this fight, Richard Stengel sheds new light on how bad actors leverage technology to undermine trust, and helps us better understand what must be done to protect our democracy.”—Madeleine K. Albright
“With colorful behind-the-scenes stories and razor-sharp insights, Stengel provides the first insider report from the front lines of the disinformation wars waged by Russia and ISIS. At the heart of the struggle was the way the internet allowed people to weaponize grievances, as Donald Trump did in his campaign. Countering this trend is the most crucial challenge for our democracy and free society. Stengel shows how we’ve failed and what we can do in the future.”—Walter Isaacson
“Information Wars ought to be a wake-up call. The message is that open, democratic societies are in retreat. There’s only one force powerful enough to save the day (one too little mentioned these days), and that’s the readers and viewers who consume information.”—David Ignatius, Washington Post
“As a Washington insider and former journalist, Stengel writes from a rare and illuminating double perspective… Stengel’s recounting of the events and individuals, including Putin and Trump, involved in the surge in and fight against propaganda and misinformation is jarring yet hopeful as he concludes with a blueprint for remedy and change.”―Booklist
“With great clarity, [Stengel] recounts the hurdles he encountered: bureaucratic procedures, acronyms and government-speak, endless vetting and turf battles, all of which slowed efforts to bring his print-oriented office into the era of social media… A revealing look at America’s difficult struggle to combat false, misleading narratives”―Kirkus
“The book introduces ways to reduce the impact of disinformation and propaganda, including real-time disclosure of who’s paying for political ads and more transparent sourcing in news reporting. Readers interested in how disinformation fits into today’s foreign affairs landscape will want to give this a look.”―Publishers Weekly
“As Richard Stengel argues in his important book Information Wars, certain governments, such as Russia, and terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State (ISIS), engage in disinformation to create their own false and extremist narratives, which democracies, such as the United States, are proving to be ineffective at countering. Mr. Stengel is especially suited to discuss these issues.”—Washington Times
“I read many books on current events and politics. None have put me in the front lines of political decision making quite like Richard Stengel’s Information Wars. And none have given me such an insider’s perspective on the differences between private and public sector processes. Stengel (a former Time editor) transitioned to public service in the State Department, with a goal of combating ISIS’s (and later Russia’s) messaging. Social media platforms are the modern battleground for radicalization and winning minds. It is disheartening to see the slow progress changes make in the governmental process. Fortunately, Stengel can highlight important international successes, and offers a battle plan for the continuing war against disinformation.”—Rosemary Pugliese, Malaprop’s (Asheville, NC)