Can social networks change a war?

The Cornell-Harvard hockey game is legendary. Harvard fans used to play square dance music and throw hay on the ice, making fun of the bo...


The Cornell-Harvard hockey game is legendary. Harvard fans used to play square dance music and throw hay on the ice, making fun of the boors of upstate New York. In retaliation, Cornell fans at Lynah Rink in Ithaca were throwing fish on the ice (they still do despite the search at the entrance), and for many years, they even tied a live chicken to the Harvard goal. I spoke with a recent graduate who spoke about how students modernized taunting. By using fake social media accounts with photos of attractive college girls, the rowdy ones would inevitably become “friends” with the Harvard goaltender and learn details about his personal life. During the game, the crowd taunted him about his Aunt Millie, his dog Muffin or his recent breakup. Finally, the goalkeeper turned and looked at the crowd in confusion. Successful psy-ops!

The same tactics permeate the planning of war. Psychological operations are nothing new: we have had Tokyo Rose, brochures dropped from planes and the lies of Iraqi Information Minister Baghdad Bob on CNN. Now Instagram? In February 2012, I wrote a column titled “When Will Social Media Elect a President?” Most readers never said. Now, this ship has sailed. It’s time to ask: when will social media change wars?

In 2019, during a military exercise, the Center of Excellence in Strategic Communication of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization deployed a “red team” to see if it could disrupt 150 soldiers. By spending just $ 60 on Russian robots and using only open source data, the researchers were able to find out the usernames, phone numbers, emails and identities of the soldiers. They also engaged with them on

Facebook

and Instagram, mapped their relationships with other members of the armed forces, determined their location within a mile and even asked soldiers to send selfies with their gear. Apparently even the soldiers think if it wasn’t on Instagram it didn’t happen.

According to the report on the exercise, they could “locate the exact locations of several battalions” and track the movements of the troops. Here’s the scariest part: “The level of personal information we found was very detailed and allowed us to instill [sic] unwanted behavior during exercise. Janis Sarts, Director of NATO StratCom, told me: “Whenever we have tried to manipulate behavior, we have succeeded.

Facebook has closed some of the researchers’ fake accounts due to suspicious activity. But many groups and fake profiles have not been suspended. This begs the question: is Facebook ready or even willing to help during a hot war?

Let’s say, hypothetically, that Russia invades Ukraine and the United States sends troops. Should the United States shut down social media in the geographic area of ​​the battlefield? Prohibit soldiers from having smartphones? Cut the power to mobile telephony towers? At the Tapa military base, near the Estonian border with Russia, soldiers remove SIM cards from their phones and only use the internet in secure hot spots. During operations, soldiers are forced to jump into a lake to deactivate the phones. There is no easy solution, because a smartphone can be a valuable tool in a soldier’s arsenal.

The Russians have had social media issues as well. In 2014, after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, Dutch investigators were able to identify the BUK missile and use public information released by Russian soldiers and civilians to identify the unit that moved the missile launcher and where it crossed the Ukrainian border. .

What to do? In 2010, with little fanfare, the US Cyber ​​Command was formed. In 2018, General Paul M. Nakasone took control. In 2019 I wrote a column suggesting that Cyber ​​Command take an offensive approach. John Woo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told me, “Offensive cyber weapons are cheap. They are expensive defensive cybersecurity tools. I suggested that after a cyberattack we should flash all the lights in Moscow to show that we can. A former Muscovite noted that the city’s electricity is cut so often that residents would not even notice.

Remember the cyberattack and the shutdown of the 5,500-mile colonial pipeline from Houston to Linden, New Jersey in May 2021 that caused gas shortages and panic buying? Colonial paid a ransom in cryptocurrency for a decryption tool to unlock hacked systems, although some of the ransom was later recovered. What if a similar attack happened again this winter during the hypothetical war?

Last month, General Nakasone said Cyber ​​Command was active against ransomware groups. “With a number of elements of our government, we have taken action and we have imposed costs,” he said. “This is an important element that we must always pay attention to. ” Good!

The “imposed costs” probably mean that the United States is now going on the offensive and making it more difficult for attackers to operate. Will this also extend to the battlefield? Are the US armed forces and especially social media companies ready for cyberattacks on soldiers and on the verge of war? I hope. War is not a blink of an eye or hockey.

Write to kessler@wsj.com.

China’s hypersonic missile test shows that the next major war will use cyber attacks and unmanned vehicles striking from a distance. So far, the Biden administration is ignoring the warning signs. Images: EPA / Shutterstock / Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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Newsrust - US Top News: Can social networks change a war?
Can social networks change a war?
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