Outsourcing disinformation and its impact on future conflict and that “firehose”
Manufacturing is far from the only thing that can be outsourced or offshored. Who hasn’t wondered if that call center or help line person to whom we’re talking is located more than 6 time zones away? It’s likely been going on for some time and it’s problematic for current and future military operations.
We’ve talked about this before and it shouldn’t be news to anyone that’s been involved in monitoring Russian targeted information efforts that they (and others now and in the future) have found very willing accomplices outside their borders. Roll Call had an interesting piece recently https://www.rollcall.com/2021/03/23/russia-outsources-disinformation-efforts-to-foreign-troll-farms/on Russian troll farms located far from Russia:
The role of a troll farm in Accra, Ghana, that was found to be targeting American voters was first reported by CNN in March 2020. The same day, Facebook and Twitter said they had taken down dozens of accounts linked to a nongovernmental organization in Ghana that appeared to have ties with Kremlin-backed individuals at Lakhta (Lakhta Internet Research is a Kremlin-backed in country organization).
This is certainly just a very small tip-of-the-iceberg. The Roll Call article adroitly points out it’s not just those we consider ‘potential adversaries’ that outsource their information efforts to make attribution difficult or at least not obvious:
Although U.S. officials and researchers focus attention on Russia, China and Iran, which target American audiences, “if you look beyond them, you’ll see Saudi Arabia and the UAE that seem to have been very aggressively using these tactics for some time,” said Emerson Brooking, a resident fellow at the Digital Forensic Lab of the Atlantic Council.
In Israel, former spies operate for-profit “persona management consultancies,” sometimes called reputation management companies, including one called Archimedes Group, whose role was highlighted in an Atlantic Council report in 2019.
So why is this important in the context of military operations? Well, let’s say, for example, that the US military is employed to support a NATO ally being threatened by a geographically-adjoining power AND that same ally is under attack in cyberspace and in the cognitive dimension with enormous amounts of disinformation which is attributable to actors located in a third country on another continent? The country to which the information dissemination is traced denies all involvement so what status does those that are perpetrating the information attacks have in the Laws of Armed Conflict? How do we gain support for attacking those responsible when the country in which they are located denies being involved and does not wish to be drawn into the conflict? In this recent incident, Facebook and Twitter took down social media efforts in this instance but is that all we can hope for in the future – a voluntary corporate effort?
Outsourcing information efforts poses very real threats and will be problematic for future joint force and allied commanders. We should be practicing for this eventuality and determining policy in conjunction with allies now.
On a completely separate note, I came across this brief (16 min) chat with our favorite researcher on all things IO/IW (and IPA member) Dr. Christopher Paul on Propwatch.org – https://www.propwatch.org/article.php?id=280# As always, Dr. Paul is succinct and clear about the effects of the “Firehose of Falsehood” and he combines his description with my second favorite topic of cognitive heuristics.
If you’ve not read Dr. Paul’s The Russian “Firehose of Falsehood” Propaganda Model you can find that here https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE198.html and while you’re on the Rand website go ahead and look at his many other publications on IO/IW.
If you’re at all interested in Information in Warfare (using whatever descriptor du jour you care to use) and you have not read Daniel Kahnemann’s seminal work on cognitive biases and heuristics Thinking Fast and Slow then you should. Immediately. Then you can make your boss feel badly for not having read it!