As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across the world, there is another quieter pandemic creeping across the country: the disinformation pandemic.
And a pandemic it is, because this is a global problem. Insidious actors outside of the United States who want to increase their nefarious influence on our country are using bots and other technology to spread lies and attack America's democracy. Given that America is the leader of the free world, these attacks should be seen as no less than a brazen attempt to seize global control and weaken our standing as a superpower.
It should come as no surprise that the worst villains in this story -- the ones who have a vested interest in impugning America and damaging our global standing -- are China and Iran.
A recent article in AND Magazine pointed out that sowing disinformation is not always considered as serious as gathering classified information or stealing secrets. But make no mistake about it; underestimating this crime is a grave mistake.
Each carefully orchestrated lie developed by these regimes is designed to persuade people to believe an untruth, to subtly influence thoughts and perceptions, and to, ultimately, wreak havoc on our nation. Under each manipulation lies something unpleasant from which they want to turn away our focus.
These distractions can have fatal consequences. Had China not lied about COVID-19, perhaps the world would not have ground to a halt. Thousands of lives could have been spared. The scope of the disaster could have been much more limited.
America's response as a country must be to remain strong and stand up to these devious designers of disinformation. President Donald Trump's rhetoric in recent weeks has been admirable as he lambasts China for its untrustworthiness. The dictatorship deserves all the criticism it receives, and more. It is clear now why we cannot continue to rely on China as a partner, and must instead turn to faithful allies with whom we share common values.
The rules of the game are different now when it comes to conflict. The tools have evolved. War does not look the same as it once did. But this is surely war.
In the Revolutionary War, soldiers from opposing armies lined up, shoulder to shoulder, to march down open battlefields. As times changed and technology evolved, bayonets were swapped for tanks, planes and machine guns. With the rise of global terrorist threats, the lines between war zones and safe areas have increasing blurred.
And still, that has little resemblance to the shadow wars of today. Today's fighters deny responsibility for their actions as they hide behind cutouts and third parties. They mask their identities online. They use trickery and deception, taking advantage of the First Amendment guarantees Americans hold dear.
We must keep our guard up, and we must stand our ground. It is critical that America be prepared. We are the No. 1 target of these shadow war players.
As these bad actors try to sow discord and infighting among us, we must recognize that this is a part of their strategy to weaken us. We must remain united and one step ahead of these bad actors.
The United States should be working to improve our technology and find new and creative ways to protect ourselves. Technology companies have a key role to play and must hold themselves to a high standard. They are gatekeepers to the information that circulates online, and they need to play a constructive role by pushing back against falsehoods and hatred. No longer can we allow Facebook and other social media platforms to hide behind First Amendment claims. This is a war. Our national security is at stake. When foreign actors plant disinformation for a hateful purpose, it must be stopped at all costs.
It is incumbent upon these tech companies to create new policies and begin rigorously enforcing them. They have benefitted from building their businesses in this country and they have a responsibility to ensure its safety by preventing it from being torn down with disinformation.
The world is a dangerous place, and not every nation plays by the same rules. We must find a way to protect freedom online while ensuring that disinformation is not allowed to spread and infect every aspect of our lives.