Stranger than Fiction

BY GABRIELA DEL POZO, THE SUNDAY TIMES (opinion)

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The world is realizing, too late, that information can be shaped into dangerous figures. In an article published in 1993 called “Cyberwar is coming!”, the authors made a prediction that would have made the oracle of Delphi proud. They named it Netwars and it seems like this phenomenon is here to stay. Netwars means trying to disrupt, damage, or modify what a target population knows or thinks it knows. This sounds like a disturbingly accurate description of the present.

Currently, this is an everyday occurrence. According to the academics who coined the term Netwars, Russia’s military planning has gone through a rejuvenation process thanks to internet technology. Through the Russian Federal Security Service, Russia has managed to exploit the power of the internet to its own benefit, scheming the internet from the comfort of its home and using it to split enemies far away. It makes sense that this sort of tactics would flourish in these times, where a selfie is a statement to the world and a tweet has the same weight to real life actions. Personality and a sense of self are closely linked to a person’s activity and interactions on the web.

For the regular Joe, this means talking to whoever is willing to listen. For governments, this is an opportunity of making sure their own distortion of facts are out there. Since the appeal of the internet and social media relies on their diversity, you can find anything on the internet. Governments like Russia’s have created “troll factories” where journalists or writers create several fake accounts and have the sole purpose of finding those who complain about their government. While it is not their job to convince you of their own flavour of the truth, it is their job to make the regular Joe doubt everything he thinks he knows. In the end, what this creates is several people incapable of making up their mind, afraid of setting their mind to something. Consequently, governments can do as they please without questioning.

Per a survey conducted by Zogby project, 37% of the population believes the internet is more trustworthy than any other source. Television is the second most reliable source for the population with a 17%. It is no surprise that governments have started figuring out how to use this in their advantage. The problem is: in a place where opinion matters the most, and popularity is everything, where do facts fit?

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