By RICK DUNHAM
Citizens around the world need to avoid disinformation and ignore divisive politicians as our communities combat the coronavirus pandemic, a leading expert on public diplomacy told Tsinghua University students on May 6.
"We become the smartest when we begin to think as one," the veteran professor and author told participants in the Global Business Journalism Lecture Series. "COVID-19 has taught us that borders are meaningless. We've got to get beyond these barriers, these borders in our minds."
Professor Snow, a frequent visiting scholar at Tsinghua, told her GBJ audience that some world leaders have calculated that division will improve their chances of retaining power.
"It's the wrong type of thinking because all it does is make our blood boil," the emeritus professor at California State University Fullerton said in the lecture, shared worldwide via Zoom.
Snow is the author, co-author or editor of 13 books, including "Information War" and "Propaganda, Inc." An expert on nation branding, public diplomacy, persuasion and image-building, she has been given the nickname "Dr. Propaganda." She splits her time between Japan, where she is Pax Mundi Professor of Public Diplomacy at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, and a home near Syracuse, New York.
The pandemic has been accompanied by a rise in nationalism and xenophobia, exposing "the underside of globalization," Professor Snow said. She said the pandemic has damaged the reputations of both the United States and China. In particular, she noted that U.S. President Donald Trump has "a real credibility problem" in the world.
"I'm used to having my country criticized," said Snow, an American who worked in the U.S. State Department during the 1990s, "but I don't think I've ever heard it at this level."
The United States will not begin to rebuild its global reputation while Trump remains in office – which is Trump's top priority – she told the audience.
"For the Trump administration, it is now about saving the economy so he can be re-elected," she said. "He's all about deflection, downplaying and distraction – the 3 D's."
The propaganda expert warned about the widespread disinformation being spread in social media, on the internet and through official government news channels in some nations.
"We're having an era of misinformation or an 'info-demic,'" she said. "Ultimately, you have to rely on yourself [to separate fact from fiction]."
The pandemic and its fallout will change human behavior around the world, she believes.
"We are going to learn to adjust our behavior," she said, "to adjust to this new normal, which is a forever normal."