Based on the knowledge of the thread initiated by Fidato (tequieremos), we are presenting the subject matter in its more expansive format. Enjoy reading.
Events of recent years depict how the principles of information, communication, and computation have weaponized data and content. Human civilization has already passed the ‘a bomb’ moment of the internet. Prevalent circumstances in the cyber age are indicative of the fact how this new information environment has transformed warfare rules. Now human aspects, such as cognition, emotive features, and moral faculties have become a prime target. In the west, the purpose is to monetise the data collected through social media platforms. However, in the east, it has become about the weaponization of data. This provides insights into the relationship between the cyber world and information warfare. Hence this is the reason that makes us in general and our behaviours, approaches, and mindset in particular, vulnerable to manipulation.
Information – Center of Gravity in the 21st Century
This can be considered in terms of one of the foundational military concepts. Clausewitz’s concept, ‘centre of gravity’, its relevance is still rooted in 19th-century problem-solving.
Clausewitz considers mobilization of large formations in an area to deliver a debilitating misfortune to the core of the adversarial land force significant to annihilate the enemy. Currently, in the 21st century, transformation in warfare tactics has made information and information processing a ‘centre of gravity.’ This is because states employ reconnaissance missions in the cyber realm to probe to detect the weak spots in both the digital networks and the digital environment. Such weaknesses of potential rivals are then exploited.
Clausewitz’s On War in the Information Age
Prussian General Carl Von Clausewitz (1780–1831) wrote ‘On War’, after the Napoleonic Wars in the Industrial Age. Therefore, during that time, the use of force has been considered to be channelled physically. However, introducing the information age with the transformation of warfare, the physical force has now employed software and data informatics. Considering this, all three elements of Clausewitzian trinity can be influenced by ‘code and content’ rapidly and concurrently.
This is in line with P. W. Singer and E. T Brookings. Authors in LikeWar: Weaponization of Social Media, feature the mid-2010’s global military campaign against ISIS. They also discuss the operationalization of Twitter on the battlefield of the Middle East. Moreover, they provide a comprehensive account related to thematic hitches generated through social media during that period. They are of the view that by exploiting Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter specifically, disinformation and propaganda campaigns have floated into cyberspace to influence perception management. Hence, by citing the primary sources and anecdotes, both Singer and Emerson put forward the notion that social media can affect the Clausewitzian trinity of force, chance, and will.
Cyberspace – The Fifth Domain of Warfare
Social media constructs narratives by making stories out of myths. Besides, user profiling, echo chambers, despicable videos, and cognitive management through algorithm manipulation are some ways to shape the discourse in a social construct. Therefore, considering this progression, it is possible to establish that cyberspace is legitimately the fifth domain of warfare.
A Twitter user Fidato (@tequieremos) in a Twitter thread presents the cyber advancement around the world. Fidato also highlights the problem Pakistan faces in this regard to deal with the distortion of facts and figures.
The thread states that during the Tehreek-e-labbaik (TLP) protests in Pakistan, Indian propaganda was rampant. 380 WhatsApp groups were spreading disinformation along with 400K tweets from more than 70% fake accounts. The theme was ‘Civil war in Pak’.
Cyber-space – The Primary Battlefield
Cyberspace is the primary battlefield in today’s world. Back in 1995, US Air Force established the world’s first declared military cyber unit. Colonel Walter “Dusty” Rhoads was the founding commander of ‘The 609th Information Warfare Squadron’ located at Shaw AFB, South Carolina. Its motto is “Anticipate or Perish”.
Cyber-warfare, The Global Powers and The Present World
In 2021, there are 41 states with cyber warfare doctrines; 17 reportedly have offensive capabilities. US cyber spending is $26 billion– $30 billion which is about the entire defence budget of Germany. Estonia’s Cyber Defense League outnumbers its full-time military. The largest unit of Isreal Defence Forces (IDF), dedicated to cyber ops, is Isreal’s Unit 8200. It carried out a STUXNET cyber-attack on Iran which destroyed 1000 centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment plant in 2010. The cyber-attack was compared to a Tomahawk cruise missile in terms of accuracy and precision.
China has deployed more men in manning the ‘Great Fire Wall of China’ than its overall military which is the largest force on earth. Similarly, the Australian Army used a program called ‘Accelerated Warfare’. It focuses on cyberspace and narrative building on social media.
During Barack Obama’s presidency, Robert Gates created a Cyber Command solely dedicated to Cyber Warfare. The ranks of its cyber-attack teams swelled from 900 personnel to 4,000, with 14,000 foreseen by the end of the decade. The cyber field swelled worldwide. Unfortunately, disinformation and propaganda have inundated Pakistan’s cyberspace. From outright lie to half-truths to the truth out of context. Those in the realm of affairs must evaluate the nature of this threat. A dedicated cyber command might be the solution.
In the end, Fidato quotes Ibn Khaldun’s words from his famous book, The Muqaddimah, “Throughout history, many nations have suffered a physical defeat, but that has never marked the end of a nation. But when a nation has become the victim of a psychological defeat, then that marks the end of a nation”.
So the question remains, hence cyber has become a primary battlefield of the 21st century, so is social media in cyberspace becoming a weapon of mass disruption?