Defense against misinformation begins at the individual level

Defense against misinformation begins at the individual level
© Getty Images

With the foundations of global stability being challenged by disruptive powers such as Russia and China, and rogues like North Korea and Iran, there’s scarcely been a more dangerous time to loose faith in each other and our government system. Yet, from social issues to economy and politics to defense, the U.S. struggles to deflect deliberate efforts to speed the loss of our national identity and unity. Make no mistake, “we the people” are the target in this diabolical campaign. 

Consider an illustrative question/example. What’s more dangerous: an angry buffalo blocking a one-lane bridge, or a realistic hologram of an angry buffalo standing in the middle of a bridge?

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Although only one can actually cause physical harm, either could cause traffic accidents; thus both are potentially dangerous. However, false images offer advantages over reality if the goal is chaos and strife. While a live buffalo could achieve the intended purpose, it takes far more resources. Furthermore, if someone found a buffalo on a bridge, it could be viewed as a “one-off” or freak event. 

 

But what if someone wanted to do more than just stop traffic or cause accidents? What if chaos wasn’t the aim at all? What if one's intent was instead to wage a war against the owner of a local buffalo ranch? Rather than attacking the farm directly, the use of artificial impressions could offer flexible options at different times and places to create fear. In a word: effects. 

Over time, buffalo holograms could cause accidents and potentially even fatalities; and though a live buffalo never made it outside a ranch enclosure, it wouldn’t matter. In time, community attitudes, opinions, and disagreements as to who is to blame will divide people and cause strife. Meanwhile, the rancher will be embroiled in a firestorm caused by a campaign to undermine his business and the blending of fact and fiction takes on a life of its own. 

We are living in such a scenario that uses controversies and fake information designed to spark rage and generate strife across our nation. Both the U.S. Government and its people are targets because ours is a government by and for “the people.”

Dr. Linton Wells II, a fellow at the National Defense University, recently noted, “[Information] Campaigns today often seek to fragment citizen opinions and disrupt belief systems. The ultimate resilience of a nation or an alliance lies in the minds of its citizens who today are under persistent pressure.”

Like digging out soft soil under a castle wall, our adversaries know we are easy targets that, if moved, will lead to the collapse of the structure above. 

While natural shifts in democratic and republican systems happen, our enemies are all to keen to use our societal growing pains to upset the status quo. This asymmetric warfare, if effective, can help speed America’s entropy. 

The walls of our republic have stood since the Declaration of Independence, but the enemy is digging at the base — all of us. By getting us to fight with each other and fomenting distrust and contempt for our leaders and government, their goal is to get the wall to collapse without the logistics or visible effort of using “real buffaloes.”

While the Internet Age has ushered in great good, we must also be aware of the dangers. Cyberspace has given our enemies access to every one of us. The open and transparent society we’ve built is being used to wage an information war. While this is nothing new in warfare, the ease of which information operations and influence operations may be conducted is unprecedented.

When we embrace our nation and each other, we resist a patient and determined enemy.

As a veteran and strategist, I want America to succeed; for all of us to have a better life; and for the generations that follow us to value their freedom and liberty. Each generation has borne their burden of safeguarding the grand experiment that is the United States of America. Weathering this information assault is part of our generation’s great burden.

So the next time you feel anger welling up or hear about something that makes you want to set fire to your neighbors house or city hall, reserve your reactions and response until you learn as many verifiable facts possible. It’s your duty.

We are the targets in a scheme to manipulate public opinion. It’s up to us to inform ourselves and say, “I'm not going to be a pawn in a diabolical chess game.”

David Stuckenberg serves as the chairman of the American Leadership & Policy Foundation and is veteran combat pilot.