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June 2, 2019

A weaponised space


June 2, 2019

Almost 4.5 billion are actively using the internet – growing at the rate of more than 10 users per second. Social media is shaping perceptions and influencing behaviour – at times extreme behaviour. Social media is about maximum impact in a short time at almost no cost-and there’s no ‘gate keeper’ here. State and non-state actors are manipulating “audiences by fabricating visual and textual content, spreading fake information and rumors…..”

Pakistan is at war. It is a ‘non-contact’, undeclared war. What matters the most in this war is ‘audience perception’ not the ‘actual facts on the ground’. The war is over ‘people’s perception and [their] behaviour’. The battle-space is undefined and the war is beyond rules. Both state and non-state actors have weaponised social media and are using it “in concert with physical activities on the ground”.

A weaponised social media is being used to “influence a target audience’s values, belief system, perceptions, emotions, motivation, reasoning, and behaviour. The use of social media in this case would seek to achieve certain military effects in the cognitive domain-shape, inform, influence, manipulate, expose, diminish, promote, deceive, coerce, deter, mobilize, convince.”

A weaponised social media is being used to undertake ‘social cyber-attacks’ which are “deliberate and organized actions to spread rumours, hoaxes, and manipulative messages in the virtual environment aimed at raising fear and panic.” Twitter-bombs are being thrown at us (the planting of thousands of similar messages at once using fake accounts or bots). Additionally, trending hashtags are hijacked to “increase the reach of a [fake] message or misdirect audiences.”

Pakistanis, like everywhere else, are turning to a whole host of social media networking sites-Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram for their news and information. We need to understand that our adversaries are busy ‘weaponising’ social media “to shape public opinion, mobilize supporters, coordinate military activities and collect information for targeting purposes.”

Coming up with an ‘innocent sounding narrative’ is the beginning. The hidden goal is to exploit existing fissures in the economic, political and societal spheres. A weaponised social media, in essence, is a non-military tool that targets an adversary in order to achieve military objectives.

There are no tanks, no artillery and no fighter aircraft. But, war is happening and every man, woman and child in this country is being affected. Almost everything is connected to the internet so the battle-space is everywhere and the target is the civilian population. If you are connected to the internet you are in the battlefield. Our adversary’s goal is to weaken our economy and our society. The goal is to exploit our minds and our values.

This is the deadly side of social media. This is ‘hacking people’ who are online. We are all players in this war but do not really understand the game. There are no secret enemy spies here; it’s all out in the open. The ultimate goal is to weaken Pakistan’s war-fighting capability.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @saleemfarrukh

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