Everything is being weaponised in a ‘disinformation war’

Jul 3, 2022
Fumio Kishida at a press conference
Going back to the words of Japanese Prime Minister Kishida, it’s worth noting that he is keen to ally himself with the western powers, Image: Wikimedia Commons

Leaders of Japan and other nations are warning of a need to be aware of a hidden battlefield in the media and social media, The west has an unshakeable lead in hybrid warfare, leaving other regions struggling to be heard. Three new books point to a host of other areas that are being or could be weaponised, including the distribution of vaccines.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida joined the chorus of voices raising the alarm about the use of disinformation on Thursday. He said “cognitive warfare” must be considered in addition to cyberattacks, NHK reported.“I strongly feel that it is important to respond to information warfare, including cognitive areas, such as fake news and disinformation via social media. During discussions on formulating a national security strategy, this is an issue that must be thoroughly considered.”

No one plays it straight

The fighting in Eastern Europe has exposed the fact that no media channel actually delivers straight information. The western media quickly became a mirror image of Russia outlets such as TASS, with each side presenting “their” side as noble, and the other as inhuman. This is no surprise. The adage that truth is the first casualty of war is traced back to Hiram Johnson, a US senator, way back in 1917. But the scale of the information war today, and the perceived potential prize – leadership of the world – is huge.

In recent years, it has become obvious that war as a physical fight between two parties is dwarfed by bigger but more subtle types of attack that run almost continuously. These use a variety of tools, and in particular, mainstream and social media in “cognitive warfare” campaigns so that “our truth” over-rules “your truth”.

We are ‘lagging’ in the fight

On the same day that Japan’s Kishida made his statement about information wars, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko raised the same issue – and admitted that his country was badly losing that battle.
“In terms of information counteraction, we have been working on this front,” Lukashenko said. “I will not say that we have achieved great successes here, but we cannot do without information support of the work that we, the military, are doing in the country today. It’s not the future, it’s the present. And we are somewhat lagging behind,” he said in a speech which was reported by the BelTA news service.

Russia spokesman Sergei Lavrov said at a meeting on May 14: “The collective west has declared total hybrid war on us.” Many voices on social media have noted that western media and government have weaponised entertainment, putting the President of Ukraine on the Grammys, the Oscars, and other similar events, pulling in rock stars and actors into a clearly political push.

West is master of the game

There’s no doubt that the west is the global master of this game, with governments, intelligence agencies, military and media working together at enormous scales. And when a particular point needs to pushed, a network of professional public relations companies are employed behind the scenes to work on news events.

KARV Communications and Yorktown Solutions are US public relations firms representing Ukraine in Washington DC, with other firms working in London and European capitals. Much of the work of a so-called grassroots Hong Kong campaign called Stand With Hong Kong was traced to a public relations firm in London.

Eastern countries such as China, meanwhile, have virtually no voice in international media discourse. Even the relatively few Chinese journalists posted to the west are labelled “foreign agents” and are liable to have their licences removed and their channels cancelled. However, Russia is believed to have high level skills in cyber penetration, according to a cybersecurity document released in April by the “five eyes” countries, a grouping of wealthy English-speaking nations. This form of attack, if scaled up, could also be a tool of warfare, rather than just an opportunity for ransomware thievery.

Information wars being examined

A number of books have recently examined these new ways of warfare. The following three are worth noting:

The Weaponisation of Everything: A Field Guide to the New Way of War

The Age of Unpeace: How connectivity causes conflict

Power Atlas: Seven Battlegrounds of a networked world

All three books, with varying angles, deliver the same message. Wars do not start when the first shot is fired, nor do they take place on defined battlegrounds. The media is weaponised, as is social media, and intelligence agents work closely with activists to destabilise societies.

The world’s largest news sources – Reuters, AP, AFP, BBC, Fox, CNN, the NYT and so on – quickly step into service. All dominant global media sources are rooted in the west, and inevitably beatify pro-western activists and overtly or subtly cancel anyone who proffers an alternative view as “pro-Beijing” or “pro-Kremlin”.

There appears to be little hope of non-Western news media catching up. Even newspapers in Asia print the slanted-against-Asia reports of Reuters and AFP on their international news pages: there are no alternatives. Yet the sheer number of people in Asia and Africa, and the higher growth rates of their economies, suggests that the silenced majority should find a way to provide an alternative view one day.

Next comes economic and financial warfare. With the US breezily using its dominance of the international payments system to seize assets of its enemies, that particular avenue of power has come under scrutiny recently outside that country. Discussion of the end of dollar dominance has been rising.

Other ways to fight

Closely related to that is the use of trade as warfare. Social media firm Tiktok and communications company Huawei were heavily targeted by Western powers for being the best in their respect fields while being Chinese. The unfairness of this has been hidden by some, and admitted by others.

There are other new avenues of warfare likely to enter the fray. The ability to produce or acquire medical goods is one of them, says Anthony Dworkin. Imagine if only the west or only China had developed a Covid-19 vaccine. It would have given them a huge advantage. Other new avenues of warfare will appear at regular intervals.

Kishida’s neighbourhood

Going back to the words of Japanese Prime Minister Kishida, it’s worth noting that he is keen to ally himself with the western powers, which will go some way towards protecting him from attack by the international media. Yet his country is at a key location in East Asia: and his critics are pointing out that you cannot help the west goad your neighbours for ever without expecting to be alienated. The same is true for South Korea and Taiwan.

Meanwhile, groups which have no public relations skills, such as the Hong Kong government, simply have to acknowledge that whatever they do, good or bad, will be painted negatively. They just have to deal with it, while working to improve their skills in that area.

Other voices must rise

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko also pushed the point that new skills had to be learned to fight wars in which the weapons were the mainstream media, social media, and tariffs. “This is an economic war, an information war, and a hot war,” he said. “These are hybrid wars. Therefore, we need to step up work across all areas, no matter how difficult it may be.”

Since the new wars are fought primarily in terms of information, we are all involved. About 17 out of 20 of the world’s humans are not in “the west” and their voices need to be heard. Who you chose to read and what you decide to share with your friends on social media are bullets fired in the information wars. Roger Boyes, writing on this topic in the Times of London, said: “Civilians are part of modern conflict whether they like it or not.”

Republished with permission from Fridayeveryday in HK.

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