Where Is the Fight?
Conventional war is easy to imagine. Tanks battle, artillery aims and fires on fixed locations, planes bomb targets, and masses of soldiers clash in a defined warzone.
In reality, warfare happens on a spectrum ranging from nuanced engagements on social media to physical combat. Modern conflicts are fought in an information environment as much as in a physical space.
Ideas are weapons. Their reach is global and people are drafted into the war of information disorder. Adversaries and bad actors use non-military means like social media to spread propaganda and sow division. These actions meet strategic objectives without overt aggression. These adversaries are operating within the grey zone of conflict.
Adversaries and bad actors use non-military means like social media to spread propaganda and sow division.
Operating Within the Grey Zone
Grey zone conflicts happen over time and challenge the concept that war and peace are two distinct conditions. You may feel as if the news cycle has gone from quiet to catastrophe in just a few hours, but in reality, the campaign has been raging for months.
The social media battlefield is constantly evolving. Algorithms are reshaping the terrain every time you visit. Social media soldiers deploy bombs with an unlimited range; explosions are imprecise and create long-lasting damage. On social media, tactical impacts are not limited by troop strength. A social media account with a strong organic reach and only ten thousand followers can do as much damage as an account with one million followers.
Immediacy usually drives interaction, but a sensitive issue can "go nuclear" and impact a larger sphere of influence. Lies spread six to nine times faster than the truth, giving bad actors an advantage and incentive.
Protect Your Stakeholders
Your best plan of attack against information disorder is to arm your stakeholders with the truth.
Let's say you're a world leader who goes online to defend your country from a bully. This defensive tactic serves as an offensive hit against the disinformation campaign. The narrative is defended and the ground is simultaneously stolen from the adversary.
Prepare for Battle
It may take years to build the organizational structures and establish narrative advocates who will fight for you and for themselves. Prepare for battle in the grey zone just as you would for any other conflict.
Know your adversaries' arsenal, build your offense and fortify your defenses. Understanding the many forms warfare can take within the digital environment is a positive step towards victory.
Hoffman, F. ( 2015, October 5 ). The contemporary spectrum of conflict: protracted, gray zone, ambiguous, and hybrid modes of war. Heritage.org.