Our perspectives, to some extent, are being skewed on purpose.
Our era is sometimes, perhaps without reason, called the Information Age. It might someday be known as the misinformation age, the disinformation age, the malinformation age, The Century of Spin, the golden age of the troll.
Under an invisible scourge of information warfare we toil at present, mostly unknowing, because of course we are.
Mankind has only been engaged in a relentless arms race since the Agricultural Revolution; from the hand axe to the nuclear bomb, and probably beyond. The modern shooting weapons of war are almost too hideous to contemplate, and we said the same after WWII. And WWI.
New weapons of information warfare exist, too: The content farm, the troll factory, the media manipulation and saturation campaign, censorship via organized social pressure campaigns and popularity contests; election interference, infrastructure sabotage, propaganda, hacking, malware, ransomware, leaks, fake whistleblowers, plants.
If you don’t believe information warfare is a powerful force at work in the world, you must believe global superpowers invented biological weapons, chemical weapons, energy weapons, and weapons of mass destruction then drew the line at mucking about on social media to undermine an adversary.
Perhaps you believe information warfare probably does exist, but doubt any foreign nation’s ability to wield such a weapon against our unwary populace. If so, you forget 10,000 years of human history whereupon we’ve brought every inch of our collective brainpower, ingenuity and inventiveness to bear on conquest, war, and domination.
Information warfare combines two of humanity’s biggest weaknesses, our ultimate vulnerabilities, into one long nightmare during which any disaster or monster might appear.
Information Warfare = The Arms Race + Advertising.
How do we know it’s working?
Oh, it’s working.
From every corner of the U.S. media landscape today, everyone from CNN to FOX News is touting a recent poll showing American trust in U.S. institutions at an all time low.
Confidence in U.S. Institutions Down; Average at New Low
Story Highlights Significant declines in confidence for 11 of 16 institutions tested Average confidence across all…
While plenty of media pundits are bemoaning this sorry state of affairs, both conservative and progressive media outlets are simultaneously refuting the findings and declaring it all the other side’s fault.
There will be no PSA on the following: “America’s enemies and geopolitical opponents may be using information warfare against us, so take every inflammatory thing you read with at least a grain of salt.”
The Chinese Communist Party, for example, is known to be using a military information warfare strategy called the “Three Warfares” against its adversaries and competitor nations. One of the expressly stated goals of the Three Warfares is, “to undermine faith in institutions, government, and political parties.”
In the U.S., most people accept as true the fact that Russia interfered with the 2016 election, but that’s only the most publicized example. Foreign adversaries, and even friendly countries, try to meddle in U.S. elections every single election cycle. In 2020, we know Iran attempted to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.
Election interference is a virulent form of information warfare. It attempts, with varying degrees of success, to weaken or manipulate an adversary without weapons, without using force- without even leaving your capital city or military base.
It’s difficult to determine how much success countries like Russia are having with their election manipulation tactics, which is just one of many information warfare strategies known to be at work in the world today.
For instance, one of the ways we know Russia interfered with the 2016 U.S. Presidential election was as follows: First, Russian military personnel, intelligence agents, or others working on their behalf, would create a protest event on a hot-button culture war issue on a certain day in a certain U.S. city and drum up outrage using content farms, legitimate media outlets, real social media accounts, fake social media accounts, online ads and probably anything else they could get their cursors on.
Next, they would set up a second, counter-protest event; same time, same place, same promotion.
Afterward, we presume, they sit back and watch the fireworks from 15,000 miles away. How much direct impact these manipulations actually had on the election is almost impossible to determine, which is one of the reasons information warfare is so effective.
Perspectives can be all but turned upside down by information warfare. A concerted, carefully orchestrated and furious behind-the-scenes effort to alter a narrative can be remarkably effective.
Look what happened with the Lab-Leak Theory. For over a year after COVID19 came to our shores, speculation the virus may have leaked from a Wuhan virology institute located at the epicenter of the outbreak was verboten.
Only later was it revealed that a handful of people manipulated the global media, social media companies, and world governments to suppress the theory. How did we learn this? What blew the lid off and allowed a glimpse into the dark underbelly of information warfare?
For all we know, that leak was another carefully orchestrated piece of information warfare. The leak was true, totally true, of course: But released strategically for the sole purpose of further undermining trust in U.S. institutions, including the media.
CNN and FOX News are both right: Trust in U.S. institutions has plummeted over the past few years in particular.
We have all the same old issues we’ve always had as a nation: Same disagreements, same tug-of-war between the eternally warring forces of conservatism and progressiveness, same political parties which pretty much stand for the same things.
Something’s different, we can all feel it.
Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Some of the most powerful forces in the universe are invisible to the human eye.
We can know they are there by studying the world around them. Like a massive, undiscovered planet headed directly for our orbit, information warfare is having an effect on everything around it, like a gravitational force of impending doom.
Information warfare doesn’t need a centrifuge; it doesn’t show up on a military satellite photograph; it is invisible to radar.
There is no question that information warfare exists. The only question, the one nobody is asking, is how much damage is it doing to our nation?
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)