Cyber warfare: Weaponization of social media | By Raiba Riaz Mughal


Cyber warfare: Weaponization of social media

IT’S said that the first and primary victim of battle, is truth. Methodically analyzing how both state and non-state actors utilize social media to distort the truth, with significant political repercussions both at national and transnational levels.

The struggle for “likes” on social media and the parallels between the political effects of social media and military battles has created a race and ultimately have made the social media a weapon to prevail toxic narratives.

The political efforts made by authoritarian governments to censor political messaging on social media, notably those of China, Russia and Syria are a clear example of social media weaponization.

These concepts will be familiar to anyone who has participated in a political debate on social media, demonstrating the success of these initiatives in influencing American political discourse.

Brexit and Trump Administration are clear examples and provide evidence of how people are being manipulated and security forces are utilizing social media in their operations, fostering their desired molded society.

The war of likes, the popularity of certain narrative, and the extent of disinformation to gain the upper notch by manipulation and algorithmic strategies is a common knowledge.

Modern politics is prone to be using such tactics and bias public opinion even when the public is unaware of their gradual narrative reshaping.

This way the social media has become weaponized with the war of likes, tolls and followers.

The internet more specifically social media has preferably erased the difference between a journalist, and a common social media user, as they both can use the platform and spread their perspective regardless of its factual basis and that has become a serious hazard to the liberal democracy and that to truth.

Before we all benefit from the whirlwind, the digital corporations that created these platforms and made money from them must wrestle with the politics of their tools.

With the billions of people connected by computer networks and smartphones, ideas can spread more quickly than ever before in history.

Although there are many negative aspects, the outcomes can occasionally be amazing.

Anger is the emotion that spreads the fastest when people interact.

And most of the time the things we believe in are not really worth believing and probably are results of manipulating campaign to build certain narrative amongst masses. Five times as quickly as the truth, lies spread.

ISIS has used social media to reach out and brainwash innocent Muslim youths in the name of Jehad throughout the world, much as musicians may use it to communicate directly with their fans.

Social networks group like-minded individuals into filter bubbles made up of varied inhabitants.

Then there is the issue of information warfare which liberal democracies still don’t fully comprehend even today, despite years of offensive cyber operations.

Major platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are riddled with bots, and hostile propaganda finds its way into Western news networks. People exist in their little information silos.

Social media has become a vector to spread its propaganda and directly or indirectly undermines the truth.

Social media has essentially become a battleground for weaponized disinformation for the purpose of dismantling the reality throughout the world.

Also, social media is not the place where you get the truth, it’s the place that specifically takes information and algorithmically tailors it to conform to your cognitive biases so the user stays in his little isolated reality bubble and unaware of the reality bubble of the person sitting next.

Also, the information at social media is not information anymore it has become more emotionally sticky that it pulls our emotional heartstrings and controls the narrative and the consumer just disseminates this huge viral misinformation bomb that affects people’s beliefs and opinions which can affect elections, policies, fashion, and so on.

Social media is like the toothpaste came out of tube or a Gennie out of its bottle that does not go back to original and no one is safe from the consequences.

It’s a place of deception, it’s like the hall of mirrors and this whole misinformation is purposely designed to erode ideas and thoughts.

The prospects of future appear to be getting bleak with every new social media invention, because when something is free the product is you.

The development of machine learning and AI has made it possible to create ever more convincing bots, create Deep Fakes where a political leader and their campaigns can be designed to say anything, and target respective audience with propaganda that they are most likely to believe in.

We only have a couple years before a digital blitzkrieg would be upon us. Also, for the matter-of-fact people are so very much indulged in social media entertainment and weaponized biases by political parties that in near future it will only prevail.

However, the development in this area cannot be denied yet these networks hold so very much information about everyone that it is almost impossible for a person to believe in the ideas as his/her own.

It will take long for people to understand that their ideas are the products of some big tech companies but even if they know it the narratives would always be prone to the sources that are controlled and managed after learning deep about human behaviours.

More powerful tools might come up yet with the capability to draw biases and reshape public opinions as per their convenience.

—The writer is MPhil scholar at NUST.


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