The international group of journalists’ uncovering of an Israeli company which specializes in disinformation and election manipulation is important and most interesting. It gives names and faces to activities which are conducted in deep darkness. In addition, a reference to the company’s having an office in Greece adds a new dimension to the surveillance scandal, raising new questions about skullduggery that could affect the political climate. However, the revelations and the boasts of the company – which was trapped by journalists pretending to be possible customers – are no surprise. But they provide an opportunity to consider the difference between politics and disinformation.
For years, groups of former secret agents from Israel, Britain and other countries have been selling their special services to customers all over the world. As technology develops, so does the catalogue of services offered to businesses, private individuals, political parties – perhaps even states. These include consulting, spying on rivals and gathering intelligence, disinformation campaigns, fake accounts on social networks and dissemination of fake news. “State players” have been accused of carrying out similar practices, intervening in the politics of other countries with money or technological means. Since 2016 we have heard much about Russian intervention in the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election. But like the companies that sell such services, state agencies have an interest in playing up their effectiveness, or the magnitude of the foreign threat. The world of deceit is rife with hyperbole and lies, and such interventions have not proved to be decisive.
Of course, the work of mercenaries on the dark side of politics may cause serious problems and broaden divisions in society. On its own, though, it cannot affect politics practiced through institutions and the mass media. However heated the “civil war” in social media may become, elections are decided by the political proposals on the table, by the exhaustion of one side and the hope offered by another, and by the way that these are presented to the public. And a major aspect of politics is the correct – or wrong – handling of every kind of threat against institutions and normality.