As tensions between global powers once again come to the forefront of the national security discussion, the United States finds itself facing not only traditional threats, but entirely new kinds of warfare borne out of rapidly advancing social technologies. Perception management, manipulation and propaganda have always played a vital role in warfare, but the advent of popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as concerted digital campaigns mounted by foreign governments, have expanded the role of information warfare in the 21st century — and the United States Special Operations Command, normally thought of as a kinetic force, rather than a digital one, wants to ensure America doesn’t fall behind in this new theater.
“Russian troll farms through Facebook and Twitter tried to divide America and inject fake news into our public life.” SOCOM said in a statement. “Communications technologies by themselves are neutral, yet it is bad actors who can hide in plain sight and leverage attacks using fake accounts making the threat very real. In this way, information can become weaponized and threaten a nation’s sovereignty.”
With this concern in mind, SOCOM hosted the Sovereign Challenge Conference in New York City last month. The conference’s theme was a simple question: “is truth a commodity?”
The conference included more than 100 participants from 43 different nations, and featured key note speakers like Dr. Richard Haass, president, Council on Foreign Relations, Steve Clayton who is billed as Microsoft’s “chief story teller,” and Dr. Ajit Maan, president of Narrative Strategies, a think tank that specializes in “non-kinetic aspects of counter-terrorism.”