Information war


Sam Harris’s podcast with Renee Diresta titled Information War should be required listening for anyone who uses the internet in 2019. It’s written in the context of Russian meme propagation in the United States, but could easily apply to anywhere.

On calling it information war:

Renee: Our adversary sees it as information warfare. We’re not doing ourselves any favours pretending this is some peace-time governance problem where social media could moderate a little better.

On using memes to infiltrate groups and spread thought:

Renee: They were going after people, and manipulating people … what do you do when you realise infiltrating activist communities is the whole goal [with these memes]? It’s been a goal of Russia since the Cold War, this is not a new tactic. It’s just now they can do it even more remotely. You don’t even need to send a spy and do it in person, you communicate over Facebook DMs.

On what a different threat it poses:

Renee: We thought cyber war was going to be attacks on infrastructure. There’s a sense of the rules of engagement that this won’t be tolerated. So the shift has been to these adversaries who recognise that we have a democratic society with freedom of expression. They can put stuff up on social media, and we’re so loathe to take any of it down without being 1000% sure it’s inauthentic and manipulative, particularly as they launder and amplify exisiting polarised American thought.

And on their effectiveness:

Sam: When you step away from how toxic all this is, it’s really not hard to empathise with these people and understand how much fun they were having doing this. They’re creating fairly clever, divisive, funny memes that are gaining traction and having their intended effect. Jesus wearing a Make America Great Again hat … the fact we can be so successfully gamed by this as a society is really troubling.

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