Here’s the argument: As machine guns took the carnage of war to new levels in WWI, so does social media take information warfare to a new, terrifying efficiency.
At the turn of the last century, warfare was considered orderly and honorable. The idea of hiding, or even not marching in formation, was cowardly. But by the time World War One began, the machine gun was forcing the entire method of combat to change. Camouflage, lying on the ground even digging trenches for cover, were all responses to the unprecedented danger of the machine gun.
That’s because machine guns saturated the battlefield with bullets, hitting anyone foolish enough to step foot from behind cover. It created what German officer Ernst Jűnger called the “Storm of Steel,” a no-man’s land of swirling, constant, and encircling death.
The drastically increased lethality required all sides to reevaluate their strategies and defenses. Today, we’re witnessing an identical change to a different battlefield. Rather than bullets and blood, it’s a change in media and minds.
Last Friday, the Department of Justice charged Russian operative Elena Khusyaynova with running a foreign operation to meddle in our upcoming election. It was an elaborate and expensive operation designed to spread disinformation, sow division, and even undermine the investigations into Putin’s information warfare.
Why, if we have indictments against the perpetrators and copies of their attacks, are we so hesitant to recognize the severity of this threat? I suspect there are three principal reasons. Initially, no one’s dying from information warfare. Secondly, people think Moscow’s attacks are nothing new. Finally, we don’t want to admit our own role in the attacks.
The first point is easy enough to dismiss. Disinformation doesn’t directly kill, at least. The attacks do, however, create animosity, even urging rival protests to “battle in the streets.” The possibility for violence is very real. But the greater risk of information warfare is the degradation of our national principles and identity. It is a direct assault on the integrity of our elections and our democratic ideals. The loss of faith in liberty and democracy is an existential threat to our nation.
How can Americans fight back against disinformation warfare? Learning how to identify fake news is a good place to start.