The discovery and taming of fire changed the way humans lived. Its broad range of uses came with both benefits and hazards. It could enable life in harsh environments, but it could also serve as an instrument of destruction. The same dichotomy holds true with social media today, but its ill effects cannot be easily extinguished.
Russia may have popularized the manipulation of social media to further its own agenda, but it was not the first country to do so, nor will it be the last. A number of other countries are engaging in similar tactics, but so far have flown largely under the radar. The Oxford Internet Institute found that at least 28 countries worldwide are exploiting social media to influence the public opinion of their own or foreign populations.
Many people have written marketing off as frivolous, but it is a field of constant data-driven experimentation, and in the past decade social media sites such as Facebook have become state-of-the-art laboratories for honing influence messaging. In the information revolution marketplace, the organization with the most data and the ability to utilize it wins.
Up until the digital age, wars involved a limited number of combatants with clear identities battling within distinct boundaries visible on a map. These conflicts ended either with a victor or as a stalemate. But today’s information warfare does not fit this traditional model. Instead, it comprises an unlimited number of potential combatants, many with hidden identities and agendas.
Cyberspace is a theater of operations that is nowhere and everywhere. Within this domain, information warfare will not and in fact cannot come to any conclusion. This conflict closely resembles an incurable disease that can be managed so the patient can lead a productive life but is never completely cured.
Russia’s ability to evolve its use of information operations to leverage social media and the cyber domain continues to shock and challenge the world community. The country’s actions, especially during the 2016 U.S. elections, have brought cyber information operations out of the shadows and into the limelight. Now, state and nonstate actors are frequently using similar techniques to influence the public and achieve political goals once only attainable through armed conflict.
While many government organizations are seeking to expand their social media influence, one social media group is expanding its influence within government.
The Social Media Working Group for Emergency Services and Disaster Management operates as a subcommittee under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’) Science and Technology Advisory Committee, but it is on its way to becoming a full-fledged federal advisory committee.
When stranded flood victims could not get through to 911 during Hurricane Harvey, they posted on social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter to reach out for help. Hashtags such as #SOSHouston and #SOSHarvey were used to flag citizen rescuers.
In a first, the U.S. Coast Guard’s social media team saw trapped survivors turn to social media during the coastal Texas storm. As the number of posts spiked, the Coast Guard National Command Center (NCC) began to receive calls from concerned citizens who also noticed the pleas for help on these platforms.
On the eve of last year’s U.S. presidential election, two computational social scientists from the University of Southern California published an alarming study that went largely unnoticed in the flood of election news. It found that for a month leading up to the November vote, a large portion of users on the social media platform Twitter might not have been human.
The users were social bots, or computer algorithms built to automatically produce content and interact with people on social media, emulating them and trying to alter their behavior. Bots are used to manipulate opinions and advance agendas—all part of the increasing weaponization of social media.
Cosmo: There's a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it's not about who's got the most bullets. It's about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think ... it's all about the information!
The European Union faces the same formidable increase in cyber attacks perpetrated by adversaries with improved scope and sophistication as the United States—but comes up against issues compounded by disparate national laws and cybersecurity expertise, experts say.
Government may have been in the slow lane to accept social media as a viable conduit for sharing information, but agencies are now coordinating their efforts to ensure messages going out to the public can be trusted. Members of a panel discussing its uses at the AFCEA International Homeland Security Conference said the technologies that facilitate ubiquitous communications among the public are merely another change in generations of changes. The key is that the same principles that govern reliable news reports and privacy and civil liberties protections apply whether the public is depending on newspapers, broadcast, Facebook, Skype or Twitter, they agreed.
Channel surfing gets social. The free Peel app for iOS and Android makes personalized recommendations for TV shows based on your viewing history and what your friends are watching. The program, developed by Peel Technologies Incorporated, lets you sign in, find and follow your friends, and see their favorite shows. You can share what you're watching, give program recommendations, add comments to the discussion boards and see what others are viewing in real time. Like Pandora or Netflix, the app provides better suggestions for new shows as it learns more about your tastes and preferences. It also features a list of what shows are trending in the app.
Given some of the most shocking emergency events of the past decade, whether on school campuses, severe weather conditions, or the overall climate of hyper-awareness in the United States following 9/11, the ability to provide real-time public warnings has become a huge priority. The current Emergency Alert System (EAS), and its predecessor, the Emergency Broadcast System, or EBS, date back to 1951. But present-day capabilities, brought about by advanced satellite and other systems technologies-including the Internet and social media tools-provide the very capabilities necessary to deliver an alert with time enough to spare to enable proactive measures.
As social media permeates deeper into military organizations, leaders are confronting a host of challenges. However, those challenges largely are new incarnations of longstanding problems that have faced military communicators for generations. A panel of experts at TechNet Asia-Pacific 2011 focused on how information sharing can exist within an information security environment. Many of their concerns proved to be more user-oriented than technology-based. Addressing those concerns, Master Sgt. Andrew Baker, USA, 516th Signal Brigade, said that forces need to be more operations-security (OPSEC) oriented with new media.
The possibility of classified or sensitive information being leaked to social media websites is an increasing concern for government and military officials, but two products-Vantage and Unified Security Gateway (USG)-may help plug the leaks. Vantage supports a variety of platforms, including Microsoft Lync Server, Office Communications Server, IBM Sametime, Cisco Unified Presence, Jabber, and public instant messaging platforms, including Skype and Web conferencing tools. Vantage ensures a scalable, secure, managed solution is available for any of the leading platforms, according to officials at Actiance Incorporated, Belmont, California, the maker of both products.
As the U.S. Coast Guard examines new ways to consolidate its logistics systems into a single business model, it is using social media platforms to open a dialogue with government and industry. In the process, the guard is learning how the acquisition community responds to unfamiliar tools in their familiar environment.
In this month's issue of SIGNAL Magazine, Editor in Chief Robert K. Ackerman describes how these social platforms are helping to solve age-old problems in his article, "Coast Guard Logistics Learns Social Media."
The U.S. Army's updated Social Media Handbook is now available on the iPhone. The Army's Online and Social Media Division teamed up with the Sustainment Center of Excellence Mobile Team of the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia, to build and test and app in early February. Users can use the app to search for information related to social media best practices, branding, case studies, frequently asked questions and policies. The program includes Defense Department guidance about the responsible and effective use of Internet capabilities.
A changing of the guard is underway in the federal information technology (IT) arena, with Net Generation newbies beginning to fill the void left by retiring Baby Boomers. Seasoned employees hold expertise and institutional knowledge, while young talent brings with it technical savvy in the world of Web 2.0. In her article "Government Prepares for Work Force Changes" in this month's issue of SIGNAL Magazine, News Editor Rita Boland explores the changes taking place in the makeup of the IT workplace, and how organizations can prepare for a smooth adjustment.
Social media use by federal employees and contractors increased dramatically in the last year, but many people still wonder if it is safe and business savvy to jump in to online networking, according to a recent survey.