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Getting the Basics of Information Warfare

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Nowadays, we are often surrounded by fake news. Although this may seem like an epidemic issue of our times, it has been existent for quite a while. In 1997, Wilson, who came up with the term tactical media asserted that in contrast to strategic media, tactical media involves both reason and unreason and hence entails a messy organic process which is though not aimless and undirected.

Tactical media has also been used strategically during political or military conflicts in the form of the warfare of the so-called ‘digital memes’. Memes refer to a set of content and/or images that are created by remixing or re-purposing well-known popular images in order to deliver novel messages regardless of their veracity. Such information operations work well for carrying targeted content which is culturally relevant for digital natives across the social media. To give a specific example, during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict such digital memes were deployed by the Israeli Defense Force as part of their tactical acts.

In order to understand the essence of such a digital propaganda, a basic understanding of digital communication network configurations and their different topological affordances are considered necessary. In practice, most communications networks are a combination of the following types of networks:

  • centralized, where all nodes are linked to a central point;
  • decentralized, where a series of centralized networks are linked;
  • and distributed, where all the nodes are linked without having any central point

 Centralized networks

Centralized networks function efficiently as the data package is sent directly from the initiating to the central node and then swiftly delivered to the intended recipient. In contrast to them, distributed networks function much less efficiently as the data package would simply bounce its way throughout the network until it reaches the intended recipient, potentially making many unnecessary moves. One of the main disadvantages of centralized networks is that they are more fragile as the removal of a central node easily breaks the whole network. On the other hand, distributed communications networks are highly resilient, as they continue to function despite the removal of a node from the network.

One of the well-known scholars who study these information flows and their impact on the organizations was Mintzberg who in his seminal work regarding the structure of organizations identifies the following organization types concerning the flow of information within the system:

  • Simple structures akin to a centralized network, in which all decision-making process occurs among a relatively small amount of individuals. 
  • Divisionalized structures akin to a decentralized network, which consists of smaller centralized networks. 
  • Adhocracy structures akin to a distributed network, in which individuals work without any obvious hierarchy.

In addition to these structures, another structure also emerged given the proliferation of open source into our digital lives. The famous metaphor of the cathedral and the bazaar by Raymond describe this topography type in detail. According to Raymond, the development of proprietary software can be likened to the building of a cathedral which is “carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation, with no beta to be released before its time”. In contrast, the more messy and chaotic style of operation of open source projects where methods and ideas held in common are easily copied and shared, giving the state of things the appearance of a state of constant flux.

Regarding such an open source structure, the concept of swarming should also be taken into account as the swarm enables any direction to be taken without causing any significant costs to re-structure the related topology. At the heart of swarming lie various small dispersed data packages which through a centralized strategy can be mixed and matched on the Internet in order to establish integrated surveillance capacities involving both stand-off and close-in capabilities. Swarming usually entails a feedback loop of decision-making that can be considered as a cycle of observing, orienting, deciding and acting (OODA). Referring to the definition given by Travis Wal and Teodor Mitew found here, In network terms, an open source insurgency is a distributed network of nodes engaged in their own autonomous OODA loops as they tinker with the campaign. This can happen at multiple levels, from longer-term narrative arcs to rapid response to events.

Given the fact that today’s wars are fought within the infosphere, understanding the different flows of information plays a crucial role. In order to cope with today’s fake news, these basics should be taken into account as part of basic digital literacy skills.

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Ayse Kok
Ayse completed her masters and doctorate degrees at both University of Oxford (UK) and University of Cambridge (UK). She participated in various projects in partnership with international organizations such as UN, NATO, and the EU. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at Bogazici University in her home town Turkey. Furthermore, she is the editor of several international journals, including IEEE Internet of Things Journal, Journal of Network & Computer Applications (Elsevier), Journal of Information Hiding and Multimedia Signal Processing...etc. She has also played the role of the guest editor of several international journals of IEEE, Springer, Wiley and Elsevier Science. She attended various international conferences as a speaker and published over 100 articles in both peer-reviewed journals and academic books. Moreover, she is one of the organizing chairs of several international conferences and member of technical committees of several international conferences. In addition, she is an active reviewer of many international journals as well as research foundations of Switzerland, USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom. Having published 3 books in the field of technology & policy, Ayse is a member of the IEEE Communications Society, member of the IEEE Technical Committee on Security & Privacy, member of the IEEE IoT Community and member of the IEEE Cybersecurity Community. She also acts as a policy analyst for Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research. Currently, she lives with her family in Silicon Valley and works for Google in Mountain View.

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