Friday, Sep 21, 2018 | Last Update : 06:11 PM IST

Toxic information warfare on net defies solutions

THE ASIAN AGE. | SASHI KUMAR
Published : Jul 30, 2018, 2:04 am IST
Updated : Jul 30, 2018, 2:09 am IST

People with similar views come together and it becomes a vicious cycle of the same news circulating within the same group.

The Conversation article on information warfare being more dangerous than cyber warfare refers to the kind of danger that presents in terms of a takeover, a kind of invasion of the mind and the cognitive terrain.
 The Conversation article on information warfare being more dangerous than cyber warfare refers to the kind of danger that presents in terms of a takeover, a kind of invasion of the mind and the cognitive terrain.

Earlier, there were moral battles in mainstream media. There was a right-wrong
differentiation. All that has gone out of the window when you move into the realm of social media.

It is true that information warfare in cyberspace is more sinister and insidious than mere cyber attacks but this has to be seen against earlier versions of different kinds of war dynamics like psychological warfare and espionage.

It is true of the internet and cyber space and what we call filter bubbles (see box) and accumulation of people who frame opinions coming together; a kind of virtual magnet.

People with similar views come together and it becomes a vicious cycle of the same news circulating within the same group. They are reinforced in the particular ideology or stream.

It becomes a matter of faith or a kind of a propaganda war.

The Conversation article on information warfare being more dangerous than cyber warfare refers to the kind of danger that presents in terms of a takeover, a kind of invasion of the mind and the cognitive terrain. In principle, one can’t argue with that proposition. There is a big danger the way cyber space is playing out, particularly when one realises how algorithms favour this or that proposition. After all, algorithms are also made by human beings and they work to certain parameters. They work to a certain framework they are geared for.

One cannot quarrel with the proposition of Russians trying to influence elections in the USA but there is a real problem in that observation because all along during the cold war, the world has seen the Americans messing up elections in every part of the world.

This proposition smacks of the right’s intolerance towards the left, whether it is India, the US, Turkey or Saudi Arabia.

To revert to the main question, the problem of breaking news and post-truth has become so important because there is no balancing or getting the other side of the story. People are at a loss to understand, people are at a loss to know what is the truth.

Earlier, in the mainstream media, there were moral battles. There was a right-wrong differentiation; there was optimism. All that has gone out of the window when you move into the realm of social media. Social media has become active because of the variety of opinion, extreme opinions and negative and positive opinions.

People therefore believe in “my ideology or what my group is saying is right”. But they are not hypocrites. There are of course characters who try to create trouble by planting stories.

They create a propaganda mode but the majority of net users are not false people. They are all genuine people and they genuinely believe “what we believe is right”. But what they believe may not be right, that is why the idea of post-truth.

You think what you think is the truth but that is not the truth and therefore post-truth is not just a nonsensical post-modern term.

It is a genuine concern of cyberspace and the way social values are being evolved. So there is no agenda setting because it is not possible that one person sets his agenda, another person distributes his agenda and there are as many agendas as there are bubble filters.

French philosopher Michel Foucault spoke about capillary power. That is what is happening here. This does not come under the masthead of any particular international newspaper like the New York Times, New Yorker or Guardian. This is happening in social media; there is no masthead, no banner and no brand.

It is user-generated content, which reflects the mind of the user, who is the author of this content. Somebody is influencing the user.

This subliminal propaganda is referred to as psychological war or espionage. Naturally it is a world controlled by finance capitalism. Neo-liberalism is on the rise. Those forces have a bigger say and bigger space. Therefore, it is actually the left forces or the progressive forces that get marginalised,

In the Indian context the forces of right have taken over the internet and they have dominance here. Unless you counter them there at that stage you won’t be able to beat their ideology. So across the world liberal democratic values and liberal democracies are on the streets and rightist authoritarian forces are hegemonising, to use a Gramscian term. The hegemony is like these forces do not dictate one agenda but influence our ways of thought in each and every issue they engage with in social media.

Negative impact on freedom

Dr Roger Bradbury, Professor, National Security College, Australian National University, and four others worked on simulation models to delineate the impact of information warfare on freedom.  They wrote in The Conversation that the battlespace for this warfare is not the physical, but the cognitive environment — within our brains. Information warfare seeks to sow confusion and discord to reduce our abilities to think and reason rationally. They say this modern warfare has an exponential negative impact on freedom than cyber warfare. It works by creating filter bubbles.

Filter Bubble
Techopedia says a filter bubble is the intellectual isolation that can occur when websites make use of algorithms to selectively assume the information a user would want to see, and then give information to the user.  Persona-lised search results from Google and FB are 2 examples of this phenomenon.

Dissemination
This warfare seeks to sow confusion and discord, to reduce our abilities to think and reason rationally. Social media platforms are the perfect theatres in which to wage political warfare. Their vast reach, high tempo, anonymity, directness and cheap production costs mean that political messages can be distributed quickly, cheaply and anonymously. Individuals have a limited number of communication links they can manage at any time (also known as the Dunbar number), and they continue to find links until they satisfy this number.

(The author heads the Asian College of Journalism)

Tags: cyber attacks, michel foucault