I’m chronically behind in my media consumption: podcasts and magazines, especially, pile up until I finally get to them long after they’re new anymore. This makes it interesting sometimes, when I listen to a soccer podcast, say, the week after the game the hosts are predicting has already been played.
And it’s been especially interesting to read some of the coverage from before election day. An amazing example, which is suddenly all the more relevant since the CIA’s public assessment of interference, is this Atlantic article: How Twitter is Changing Modern Warfare. There’s a lot in there; it’s fascinating and worth reading the whole thing. But, some excerpts that struck me as especially notable:
After lingering in the shadows of Russian military planning for decades, Soviet-style “information warfare” entered a period of renaissance in the past decade. Russian officials felt increasing pressure from the forces of Western liberalization and internet technology as they watched “color revolutions” engulf many nations of the former Soviet bloc. So they set out to harness the power of the internet to their own ends, controlling it at home and using it to divide foes abroad. An association of nearly 75 education and research institutions was devoted to studying the finer details of how the internet works, coordinated by the Russian Federal Security Service—the successor to the KGB.
…Beneath the surface, Russia maintains a vast digital network of bloggers and paid social-media commenters, many of whom do not advertise themselves as Russians at all.
…Many of the real people behind these fake accounts are young and chic—aspiring writers who show up each day to work in “troll factories,” darkened office buildings nestled in the suburbs of Moscow and St. Petersburg. They manufacture dozens of online personae, working 12-hour shifts. From cramped cubicles, they vent fog into discussions about geopolitics, NATO, Ukraine, American elections, and everything in between. As a European Union official who studies Russia’s propaganda put it, “The aim is not to make you love Putin. The aim is to make you disbelieve anything. A disbelieving, fragile, unconscious audience is much easier to manipulate.”
Remember, this article was published in early October.
All of these efforts share the same two broad objectives. The first is to overwhelm the state’s adversaries, be they foreign or domestic, with misinformation: to challenge the very basis of their reality. But the second is just as important: to mobilize their own citizens and supporters and bind them to the state. The power of social media is used to intensify nationalism and demonize the enemy. In this strategy, homophily is not something to be feared or avoided. It is the goal.
The article ends with the author wondering what might happen with social media in the event of a full, large-scale conflict. (Really, read it all.) It’s a chilling thought, not least because that kind of situation is now easier to imagine than ever.