Posts Tagged ‘Emerson’

What Do We Know, What Can We Do?

January 24, 2019

This is the twelfth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” Having raised an enormous number of problems, it is fortunate that the authors also proposed possible solutions.

The military is already training and experimenting for the new environment. The Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana is a continuously operating field laboratory. The laboratory is good not only for training, but also for simulations to respond to different situations, so that possible solutions can be evaluated in a simulation prior to actual conflict. The Army needs to understand how to train for this war. Fort Polk has a brand-new simulation for this task: the SMEIR (Social Media Environment and Internet Replication). SMEIR simulates the blogs, news outlets, and social media accounts that intertwine to form a virtual battlefield.

The authors have also claimed that LikeWar has rules, and has tried to articulate them:

“First for all the sense of flux, the modern information environment is becoming stable. The internet is now the preeminent communications medium in the world; it will remain so for the foreseeable future. Through social media the web will grow bigger in size, scope, and membership, but its essential form and centrality to the information ecosystem will not change.”

“Second, the internet is a battlefield. It is a platform for achieving the goals of whichever actor manipulates it most effectively. Its weaponization, and the conflicts that erupt on it, define both what happens on the internet and what we take away from it.”

“Third, this battlefield changes how we must think about information itself. If something happens, we must assume that there’s likely a digital record of it that will surface seconds or years from now. But an event only carries power if people also believe that it happened. So a manufactured event can have real power, while a demonstrably true event can be rendered irrelevant. What determines the outcome isn’t mastery of the “facts,” but rather a back-and-forth battle of psychological, political, and algorithmic manipulation.”

“Fourth, war and politics have never been so intertwined. In cyberspace, the means by which the political or military aspects of this competition are won are essentially identical. Consequently, politics has taken on elements of information warfare, while violent conflict is increasingly influenced by the tug-of-war for online opinion. This also means that the engineers of Silicon Valley, quite unintentionally, have turned into global power brokers, Their most minute decisions shape the battlefield on which both war and politics are increasingly decided.”

“Fifth, we’re all part of the battle. We are surrounded by countless information struggles—some apparent, some invisible-all of which seek to alter out perceptions of the world. Whatever we notice whatever we “like,” whatever we share, become the next salvo. In this new war of wars, taking place on the network of networks, there is no neutral ground.”

“For governments, the first and most important step is to take this new battleground seriously. The authors write, “Today, a significant part of the American political culture is willfully denying the new threats to its cohesion. In some cases, it is colluding with them.”

“Too often, efforts to battle back against online dangers emanating from actors and home and abroad have been stymied by elements within the U.S. government, Indeed, at the time we write this in 2018, the Trump White House has not held a single cabinet-level meeting on how to address the challenges outlined in this book, while its State Department refused to increase efforts to counter online terrorist propaganda and Russian disinformation, even as Congress allocated nearly $80 million for the purpose.”

“Similarly, the American election system remains remarkably vulnerable, not merely to hacking of the voting booth, but also to the foreign manipulation of U.S. voters political dialogue and beliefs. Ironically, although the United States has contributed millions of dollars to help nations like Ukraine safeguard their citizens against these new threats, political paralysis has prevented the U.S. government from taking meaningful steps to inoculate its own population. Until this is reframed as a nonpartisan issue—akin to something as basic as health education—the United States will remain at grave risk.”

Censorship, Disinformation, and the Burial of Truth

January 20, 2019

This is the eighth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media. Initially, the notion that the internet would provide the basis for truth and independence was supported. The Arab Spring was promoted on the internet. The authors write, “Social media had illuminated the shadows crimes through which dictators had long clung to power, and offered up a powerful new means of grassroots mobilization.

Unfortunately, this did not last. Not only did the activists fail to sustain their movement, but they noticed that the government began to catch up. Tech-illiterate bureaucrats were replaced by a new generation of enforcers who understood the internet almost as well as the protestors. They invaded online sanctuaries and used the very same channels to spread propaganda. And these tactics worked. The much-celebrated revolutions fizzled. In Libya and Syria, digital activists turned their talents to waging internecine civil wars. In Egypt, the baby named Facebook would grow up in a country that quickly turned back to authoritarian government.

The internet remains under the control of only a few thousand internet service providers (ISPs). These firms run the backbone, or “pipes,” of the internet. Only a few ISPs supply almost all of he world’s mobile data. Because two-thirds of all ISPs reside in the United States, the average number across the rest of the world is relatively small. The authors note that, “Many of these ISPs hardly qualify as “businesses” at all. Rather, they are state-sanctioned monopolies or crony sanctuaries directed by the whim of local officials. Although the internet cannot be destroyed, regimes can control when the internet goes on or off and what goes on it.

Governments can control internet access and target particular areas of the country. India, the world’s largest democracy had the mobile connections in an area where violent protests had started out for a week. Bahrain instituted an internet curfew that affected only a handful of villages where antigovernment protests were brewing. When Bahrainis began to speak out against the shutdown, authorities narrowed their focus further, cutting access all the way down to specific internet users and IP addresses.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has poured billions of dollars into its National Internet Project. It is intended as a web replacement, leaving only a few closely monitored connections between Iran and the outside world. Italian officials describe it as creating a “clean” internet for its citizens, insulated from the “unclean” web that the rest of us use.

Outside the absolute-authoritarian state of North Korea (whose entire internet is a closed network of about 30 websites), the goal isn’t so much to stop the signal as it is to weaken it. Although extensive research and special equipment can circumvent government controls, the empower parts of the internet are no longer for the masses.

Although the book discusses China, that discussion will not be included here as there are separate posts on the book “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall” by Margaret E. Roberts.

The Russian government hires people to create chaos on the internet. They are tempted by easy work and good money for work such as writing more than 200 blog posts and comments a day, assuming fake identities, hijacking conversations, and spreading lies. This is an ongoing war of global censorship by means of disinformation.

Russia’s large media networks are in the hands of oligarchs, whose finances are deeply intertwined with those of the state. The Kremlin makes its positions known through press releases and private conversations, the contents of which are then dutifully reported to the Russian people, no matter how much spin it takes to make them credible.

Valery Gerasimov has been mentioned in previous healthy memory blog posts. He channeled Clausewitz in speech reprinted in the Russian military newspaper that “the role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown. In many cases, they have exceeded the power of the force of weapons in their effectiveness.” This is known as the Gerasimov Doctrine that has been enshrined in the nation’s military strategy.

Individuals working at the Internet Research Agency assume a series of fake identities known as “sockpuppets.” The authors write, The job was writing hundreds of social media posts per day, with the goal of hijacking conversations and spreading lies, all to the benefit of the Russian government. For this work people are paid the equivalent of $1500 per month. (Those who worked on the “Facebook desk” targeting foreign audience received double the pay of those targeting domestic audiences).

The following is taken directly from the text:

“The hard work of a sockpuppet takes three forms, best illustrated by how they operated during the 2016 U.S. election. One is to pose as the organizer of a trusted group. @Ten_GOP called itself the “unofficial Twitter account of Tennessee Republicans” and was followed by over 136,000 people (ten times as many as the official Tennessee Republican Party Account). It’s 3,107 messages were retweeted 1,213,506 times. Each retweet then spread to millions more users especially when it was retweeted by prominent Trump campaign figures like Donald Trump Jr., Kellyanne Conway, and Michael Flynn. On Election Day 2016, it was the seventh most retweeted account across all of Twitter. Indeed, Flynn followed at least five such documented accounts, sharing Russian propaganda with his 1000,000 followers at least twenty-five times.

The second sockpuppet tactic is to pose as a trusted news source. With a cover photo image of the U.S. Constitution, @partynews presented itself as hub for conservative fans of the Tea Party to track the latest headlines. For months , the Russian front pushed out anti-immigrant and pro-Trump messages and was followed and echoed out by some 22,000 people, including Trump’s controversial advisor Sebastian Gorka.

Finally, sockpuppets pass as seemingly trustworthy individuals: a grandmother, a blue-collar worker from the midwest,a decorated veteran, providing their own heartfelt take on current events (and who to vote for). Another former employee of the Internet
Research Agency, Alan Baskayev, admitted that it could be exhausting to manage so many identities. “First you had to be a redneck from Kentucky, then you had to be some white guy from Minnesota who worked all his life, paid taxes and now lives in poverty; and in 15 minutes you have to write something in the slang of [African] Americans from New York.”

There have been many other posts about Russian interference in Trump’s election. Trump lost the popular vote, and it is clear that he would not have won the Electoral College had it not been for Russia. Clearly, Putin owns Trump.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Early Example of the Weaponization of the Internet

January 15, 2019

This is the third post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” In early 1994 a force of 4,000 disenfranchised workers and farmers rose up in Mexico’s poor southern state of Chiapas. They called themselves the Zapista National Liberation Army (EZLN). They occupied a few towns and vowed to march on Mexico City. This did not impress the government. Twelve thousand soldiers were deployed, backed by tanks and air strikes, in a swift and merciless offensive. The EZLN quickly retreated to the jungle. The rebellion teetered on the brink of destruction. But twelve days after it began the government declared a sudden halt to combat. This was a real head-scratcher, particularly for students of war.

But there was nothing conventional about this conflict. Members of the EZLN had been talking online. They spread their manifesto to like-minded leftists in other countries, declared solidarity with international labor movements protesting free trade (their revolution had begun the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, established contact with organizations like the Red Cross, and urged every journalist they could find to come and observe the cruelty of the Mexican military firsthand. They turned en masse to the new and largely untested power of the internet.

It worked. Their revolution was joined in solidarity by tens of thousands of liberal activists in more than 130 countries, organizing in 15 different languages. Global pressure to end the small war in Chiapas built quickly on the Mexican government. And it seemed to come from every direction, all at once. Mexico relented.

But this new offensive did not stop after the shooting had ceased. The war became a bloodless political struggle, sustained by the support of a global network of enthusiasts and admirers, most of whom had never heard of Chiapas before the call to action went out. In the years that followed, this network would push and cajole the Mexican government into reforms the local fighters had been unable to obtain on their own. The Mexican foreign minister, Jose Angel Gurria lamented in 1995, “The shots lasted ten days, but ever since the war has been a war of ink, of written word, a war on the internet.”

There were signs everywhere that the internet’s relentless pace of innovation was changing the social and political fabric of the real world. The webcam was invented and the launch of eBay and Amazon; the birth of online dating; even the first internet-abetted scandals and crimes, one of which resulted in a presidential impeachment, stemming from a rumor first reported online. In 1996, Manual Castells, one of the world’s foremost sociologists, made a bold prediction: “The internet’s integration of print, radio, and audiovisual modalities into a single system promise an impact on society comparable to that of the alphabet.”

The authors note that most forward-thinking of these internet visionaries was not an academic. In 1999, musician David Bowie sat for an interview with the BBC. Instead of promoting his albums, he waxed philosophical about technology’s future. He explained that the internet would not just bring people together; it would also tear them apart. When asked by the interviewer about his surety about the internet’s powers, Bowie said that he didn’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. “I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we’re actually on the cusp of something, exhilarating and terrifying…It’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.”