The flurry of hacking, paranoia and fake news which preceded the biggest upset in recent US political history has led to talk of a new “information war” with Russia. But even as they debate the possibility of a Russian role in President-Elect Donald Trump’s unexpected victory at the polls, analysts and media alike need to understand the nature of Russian information warfare—and how the response can be just as damaging as the tactic itself.
The use of (dis)information to undermine the enemy is as old as the Trojan Horse. Back in the 6th Century B.C., the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu was already advising that the ideal form of attack would see you defeat an enemy purely psychologically, without landing a physical blow. Today, the information revolution allows for an unprecedented number of ways to influence and subvert other countries.
But while theorists and practitioners across the world are experimenting in ways to weaponize information, for some, the term “information war” has gone beyond psyops (psychological operations) to become a grand myth which explains away the world. Indeed, one of the most damaging ideas an information war can plant in the mind of the enemy is the idea of an information war itself.