Information Social War is the Continuation of Politics by Other “Memes”

Whenever we talk about memes we are talking about social media. It is vice-versa also, since, the social networking sites (SNSs) have been weaponised. If not fully weaponised, they are at least being debated toward the pursuit. Creating a context around it, the picture became vivid, when Russia was purposefully forging cracks in the political and social system of the United States. The 2016 US Presidential election was somewhat a similar episode to the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote. It was social media that helped Russia exploit such vulnerabilities of the United States. The former is the proponent and active user of Information Warfare (IW).

Russians are not new to this game of IW, since, the current President Putin himself has been a State Security Committee (KGB) operative and the Federal Security Service (FSB) Director. They initiated programmes such as ‘Active Measures.’ The other name given to the same concept was ‘Operation INFEKTION.’ Active Measures is the use of politics rather than the use of force against the West. While Operation INFEKTION is actually a subset of an Active Measures Operation conducted in the 1980s. It targeted the US Government by spreading disinformation regarding the creation of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

Russians view information as a weapon under the Gerasimov Doctrine. The aim is the same, divide and rule, by confusing the adversary and render their governments almost inefficient. This will create a sustainable chaos within the boundaries of the adversary where direct attacks or invasions are usually not required. The prime contours of liberal democracies of the West revolves around transparency and freedom of speech. Such concepts have found to be at a disadvantage against the internet.

It is an open secret now, since 2016, that Russia has been meddling in US Elections via social media disinformation campaigns. The information warfare doctrine which was adopted by the Russians was intended to distort the facts and keeping the active subjects of the state away from the core issues. The latest book on social media, ‘LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media,’ adds that Russia also wants to divide the American people which will have far reaching consequences on the geopolitical landscape of the US and the society at large.

It is true to an extent that these technological advancements have filled the gap for those states which were facing asymmetry in terms of resources in comparison to their adversaries.

The statistics show that the Russian sock puppets (fake identities used for the purpose of deception) utilised social media. Their duty was to publish news articles, an estimate is around 50 per day. They had to “maintain six Facebook accounts publishing at least three posts a day and discussing the news in groups at least twice a day. On Twitter, they might be expected to manage ten accounts with up to 2,000 followers and tweet 50 times a day.”

NATO, on the other hand, is also talking about embracing the new form of information and propaganda warfare known as memetic warfare. It has come into use in the policy circles as well as foreign policy thinkers in the last five years. NATO is also focusing on countering the propaganda of Daesh by the use of memes which is social media equivalent of guerrilla warfare. The application of memetic warfare can be utilised at grand national level or in special cases for creating information campaigns against adversary. The hybrid and cyber element can aid in its execution.

The concepts to counter such threats are novel in nature and also require novel strategies for their implementation. This needs new brains who were brought up in the era of Web 2.0 rather than those who reside by the traditional notions of war and peace, from the perspective of Cold War. The US government and military leadership is debating and developing effective response options to this “grey-zone” of “hybrid warfare,” to effectively deter the threats. Sean McFate, in his book, ‘The New Rules of War: Victory in the Age of Durable Disorder,’ argues that notions of nation-state and traditional warfare concepts are no longer applicable and adequate enough for the adversaries.

The old brains might not comprehend the nitty gritty of the said issues which are related to conflict.

Social media platforms are to be regulated by the US government and the content which is continuously being generated. However, the question again comes down to who will decide which content is legitimate to go online and which is not. It also usually goes against the proponents of freedom of speech and rights activists in America which are considered as the core pillars of American value system and beliefs. The US disallows the foreign governments to buy ads in their mainstream media. Same policy should be implemented on social media as well.

It is true to an extent that these technological advancements have filled the gap for those states which were facing asymmetry in terms of resources in comparison to their adversaries. Yet it is completely another thing to fully comprehend new war fighting concepts as they entail the generation that was born in the late 20th century and the early 21st century. This generation is due to position itself in the power corridors within or after a decade.

The old brains might not comprehend the nitty gritty of the said issues which are related to conflict. These are the concepts which are being employed on the global level by the developed countries. South Asian context is that we are far behind a quality research in the said fields. However, the same aspects of war are being used against the state of Pakistan. The Revolution in Military Affairs would be requiring a revolution in strategic thought, in order to integrate those who are in power with those who reside on the helm of technological affairs. The concept is already in place in the academic literature. It is called as Interdisciplinary Research and its genesis started in the 1960s.

Syed Ali Hadi

Syed Ali Hadi

Syed Ali Hadi is currently pursuing his MPhil in Strategic Studies from National Defence University, Islamabad. He is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.

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