Before any shots are fired in a major conflict, a war of words and ideas is already underway.

The modern era’s unprecedented level of interconnectivity and the proliferation of communication methods, such as social media, has made that information battle fiercer than ever, and it will be crucial for the U.S. as it competes with near-peer rivals China and Russia.

However, the U.S. military has fallen behind in the information realm.

At a recent congressional hearing, Pentagon and Intelligence Community officials said the U.S. has let its Information Operations (IO) atrophy compared to those of its competitors. Russia now poses the more serious IO threat, but China follows close behind.

Information Operations

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Amy Klobuchar displays an inaccurate Tweet about voting by text message during a hearing on Capitol Hill, October 31, 2017. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Disinformation, misinformation, and psychological operations are the main features of the propaganda and information realm.

Disinformation is the deliberate distribution of false information, such as social-media posts, to deceive the target audience.

During the 2016 presidential election, Russia’s Internet Research Agency, which works very closely with the Russian intelligence services, disseminated thousands of pieces of fake information aimed at American voters.

Misinformation is the unintentional distribution of false information — for example, ordinary Americans spreading conspiracy theories on social media, believing them to be true.