At a glance.
- Taliban influence operations.
- Cuba tightens online censorship.
- South Korea considers legislation designed to curb fake news.
- Bamboozling the algorithm.
Early signs of the direction Taliban influence operations are likely to take.
The Taliban, now firmly in the saddle as the only thing that resembles governmental authority in Afghanistan, have shown some signs of how their influence operations are likely to shape up. Some of it is readily foreseeable, if surprisingly well executed, like a mocking image of troops looking like US Marines hoisting a Taliban flag in nicely done mockery of the iconic flag raising on Iwo Jima. The Marines haven't commented, the Military Times observes. The Taliban fighters (said to belong to the Taliban's Badri 313 battalion) holding the staff are also well-turned out in obviously stolen military tactical kit, which itself makes a point. Military Times sees the image as emblematic of the design savvy of Taliban propaganda.
Another foreseeable line of influence concerns Afghanistan's possible future as a haven for terrorist organizations, a revenant al Qaeda among them. According to the Washington Post, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in the course of enunciating a policy of not allowing Afghan territory to be used as a staging area for terrorist attacks, commented, “When Osama bin Laden became an issue for the Americans, he was in Afghanistan. Although there was no proof he was involved [in the 9/11 terror attacks]. Now, we have given promises that Afghan soil won’t be used against anyone.” The same could have been said, and to a great extent was said, by the one-eyed Mullah Mohammed Omar in late 2001.
Early signs point to continued reliance on social media as a conduit for influence and domestic control. As a New York Times op-ed headline puts it, "The Taliban Want You to Keep Your Phone On."
The style of Taliban influence operations seems likely to be informed by patience, confidence in ultimate success, a concentration on the big picture, and, above all, a will to inspire. An essay in Defense One by a US intelligence veteran, a linguist who specialized in Dari and Pashto, describes what it was like listening to Taliban traffic. It was enthusiastic, confident, and clear, with a devotion to motivation, morale, and the art of the pep talk that could only make the Americans (culturally committed as they are to those very same styles) shake their heads in grudging, sad, appreciation.
The UN-sponsored group Tech Against Terrorism has added the Taliban to the list of terrorist groups, Protocol reports, and will be adding the group's content to the database it uses to warn platforms and outlets that they've been fed terrorist material.
Cuba will take action against fake news.
The Record reports that Cuba's government, evidently spooked and inspired to urgency by recent protests, has enacted a law that will be used against the distribution of news the regime in Havana deems false. Since there is no neutral epistemological engine to distinguish truth from lies in a moral sense, the Party will draw the distinction in an extramoral sense. What will matter are the effects, not the truth value of the propositions being expressed. Criticism of the regime is "cyberterrrorism," and the measure appears to be a step toward a national firewall.
So will South Korea.
The Republic of Korea, unlike Cuba a functioning democracy with a robust civil society, is also moving toward passage of a law designed to impose punitive damages, Reuters reports, on those who spread falsehoods that cause demonstrable harm to people. Seoul seems to have cast the issue along the lines of curbing slander as opposed to imposing a more general censorship.
Circumventing algorithms that screen for specific content.
Online fora that have long provided a place where the criminal-to-criminal market can conduct business have begun trying to exclude ransomware operators in particular from doing business within their virtual precincts. But their attempts to do so have thus far met with indifferent success, the Daily Beast reports, as the C2C market evades systems that search for particular words as a means of flagging criminal content. Thus they may not solicit help with ransomware, but perhaps offer to "buy accesses" to companies with "specific revenues." The approach is similar to one adopted by, the Beast observes, vaccine skeptics who euphemize their purpose by calling their groups "dance parties" and the like, the better to stay below the censors' radar. (NBC News has an account of this approach.)
None of this is likely to work for long, no more than did the Cold War sergeant's firm belief in homebrew code: like the confidence displayed in World War II movies that a GI could always recognize an SS impostor because the SS man wouldn't know that "Olive Oyl" was the name of Popeye's girlfriend, our circa 1980 sergeant was often convinced that if he said "klicks" on the radio in the clear no enemy would know he meant "kilometers." But then it doesn't have to. Slang, innuendo, leetspeak itself are as much intensional quicksilver as any natural language.