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    Social Media Influencers and Cyber Warfare

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    Influencers
    (Cyber operations specialists of the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade. Image retrieved via Fort George Meade Flickr)

    Summary:

    As the number of influencers grow on social media and the internet, countries are recruiting them for a new dimension of cyber warfare. Governments are utilising new forms of psychological operations and censorship of dissidence via social media, by recruiting influencers or flooding pages with post. (Source)

    Key Judgement 1:

    It is highly likely that nations are utilizing social media influencers to crush dissent and spread state-approved views and messages.

    • Modern intelligence continues to grow into the digital world, and nations see that social media is increasingly important. As most political dissidence occurs online, nations are rushing to control their own populations through any means. 

    • Social media manipulation is observable in countries across the world. Vietnam had a psychological warfare unit known as “Force 47”, who pose as pro-government pages and profiles while leading civilians to report antigovernmental posts. Furthermore, Kenya was also found to have paid social media influencers to use hashtags that promote government policies. (Source)

    • In the coming future, it is likely that more countries will recruit military units or civilians to communicate government-approved messages and narratives. This power will be used to thwart dissidence online.

    Key Judgement 2:

    It is highly likely that nations will use social media influencers in other nations abroad to stir dissent or curry favor to one side before or during a hybridized conflict. 

    • Warfare has now evolved to the fifth generation of itself. Hybridized warfare is used in power projection and psychological operations. Social media influencers are another tool used in this new capacity of warfare. 

    • Russia has been found doing so in Ukraine, where media-groups that are controlled by Russian entities favor Russian separatists. Also, Russia leaked a phone call between Putin and Petro Poroshenko to propagate the idea that Ukraine’s leader was not in favor of their own sovereignty. (Source)

    • The United States also has measures deployed in Latvia called “techcamp” – a combination of government and civilian assets to empower Russian-speaking Latvian social media influencers to speak out against Russian measures in the region. (Source)

    • There is a high incentive for countries to use hybridized techniques and modern psychological tactics. This is to either diminish sovereign authority in rival nations, or to strengthen another country’s authority against another. Regardless, countries will continue this soft cyberwar to win hearts and minds and to curry opinions in other societies and nations. (Source)

    Influencers
    (Headquarters of the Internet Research Agency, a Russian online social media influence operation. Image retrieved via Politico)

    Key Judgement 3:

    It is likely that many nation’s population will be a “collateral damage” in terms of these types of operations. 

    • Recent flare-ups in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have garnered celebrity support for both populations, however most of these influencers and celebrities are not from either country. Many celebrities in the United States and United Kingdom took stances against either side on social media. (Source

    • While this does not seem deliberate from the Israeli government, in the future other governments may use this ability to garner support for a cause in another nation and possibly lead to division and instability within other nations, or to garner a response from a more powerful nation to intervene on their side. This conflict in particular has caused violence indirectly in other parts of the world already. (Source)  

    • With social media and its algorithmic design becoming increasingly prevalent, countries are bound to illicit debate and favor their side in third-party nations. This favouritism is done to broaden their cause, or force an intervention by another country.

    Wes Martin
    Wes Martinhttp://wesleyjmartin.com
    Wesley is an alumni of The Fund for American Studies and Ronald Reagan Institute in Washington, DC. He is currently in his senior year of his undergraduate degree at Southern New Hampshire University studying Law & Politics.

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