Warfare in the modern era

Nowadays wars aren’t only limited to the physical traditional war but can also be in less obvious forms. The problem with these kind of wars is that they are not very visible to the average person. One form in particular that I would like to write about here is information warfare.

In simple terms information warfare is the act of a foreign nation interfering with another nation’s affairs through different methods that spread harmful information in the pursue of the foreign nation’s own interest.

In a way, the information war’s idea is not new and has existed before the internet era through traditional information distribution channels. However, due to social media’s nature and the newly evolved sources of information, now there are a lot more information exposure which has increased significantly the effectiveness of information war.

To understand better what is information warfare, we need to understand the reasons why would countries be carrying out such activities in the first place. The most common motives a foreign nation would be conducting an information war on another country could be summarized under three main points.

First motive would be changing the public opinion and disrupting decision making. This is typically done by interfering in public debates of the targeted country.

Second motive is more focused on hindering decision making to achieve specific goals that benefit that foreign nation. For example, polarizing a debate to slow down agreement of policies that would not be in the interest of the foreign nation.

Finally, the third motive comes under exploiting social vulnerabilities to support the foreign power’s goals and potentially disrupt the whole society. Some examples of social vulnerabilities are inequalities, corruption, and social tensions among minority groups.

Now that we know a little bit more about some of the general motives and goals behind an information war, let’s look into some of modern methods that are used to conduct one.

One of the most common ones nowadays is spreading fake media without facts to back it up, these “fake news” are typically personalized to your own profile.

Also, social media is typically a good tool as for mass marketing to send malicious ads that are personalized specifically to you. Another method is leaking confidential information in a certain time-frame and sharing it through mass media. A good example of that was the personal emails leakage of the US presidency candidate Hillary Clinton to the public in the middle of her 2016 campaign.

Some tools that are utilized to start an information wars are more automated such as a computer program known as a “bot” that automatically spreads news and give impression something is more popular than it really is. Another tool that is perhaps a little bit older technique but still an effective one is supporting “independent” influencers that would advocate for issues that would indirectly contribute to the foreign nation’s interest.

To give a concrete example of an information warfare, let’s refer to the Russia-Ukraine crisis that started in 2014. According to Yle [1], Russia has conducted a form of information war with the goals of public harm through spreading false information and silencing the activist who try to the bring up the topic to public debates. The act had different mediums, one was having hundreds of bloggers and social media activist to flood forums and social media both in Russia and abroad with anti-western and pro-Kremlin posts. Another medium was having a Russian-state funded international channel spreading similar messages.

One responsibility to an individual citizen is simply to be aware of the information you are exposed to and understand that in some cases this might be part of a bigger information war campaign that a foreign nation is organizing. To help you identify if a piece of information is genuine. Here are some of the questions that could help you:

  • Is the information in question seem to be more deceptive and not transparent about the sources of the information?
  • Does the information has a malicious intention that intends to limit a constructive open debate?
  • Does the information disrupt or weaken the society in unnatural manner?

According to statistics our time is the most peaceful time in the history in terms of number of wars. Even though this is a very positive fact, we need to keep in mind that war can be in different forms and your country could be at war right now.

Resources:

1- https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/finnish_researcher_russia_ramping_up_its_information_war/8385245 — Finnish researcher: Russia ramping up its information war