At a glance.
- Taking another shot at automating content moderation.
- Fear of bearing bad news.
- Google announces new support for Ukraine.
- Microsoft warns of disinformation in Russia's war.
- Cyber operations against national morale.
Automating content moderation.
Exposure of coordinated inauthenticity has had a better record of success than has direct content moderation, which is difficult to distinguish from censorship, even when that distinction isn't one without a difference. Twitter's recent and lively acquisition by Mr. Elon Musk has been accompanied by layoffs, resignations, and a lot of messaging. It's also, critics, say, been accompanied by an increase in content that shouldn't be out there, and by various undesirables and no-goodniks returning to the platform they'd formerly been kicked off. Reuters reports that Twitter says it's turning to automation to better police hate speech, and the success or failure of the attempt will be worth watching.
"You can't tell the boss that."
There are signs that Russian decision-making in its present war may be undergoing some degradation from reluctance to share divergent points of view on operational matters, or to communicate unwelcome intelligence, or indeed to bring bad news of any kind.
"Russia has recently started extending defensive positions along its international border with Ukraine, and deep inside its Belgorod region. On 6 December 2022, the governor of Belgorod announced he was establishing local ‘self-defence units’," the UK's Ministry of Defence wrote in this Wednesday's morning situation report. "Trench digging has been reported in Belgorod since at least April 2022, but the new constructions are probably more elaborate systems, designed to rebuff mechanised assault." The reasons for the preparations are probably complex, ranging from the theatrical to the ill-informed. "There is a realistic possibility that the Russian authorities are promoting defensive preparations within internationally recognised Russian territory to burnish patriotic feeling. However, it probably illustrates some Russia decision-makers’ genuine (but false) belief that there is a credible threat of invasion by Ukrainian forces." This sort of misjudgment, the MoD thinks, has been a characteristic feature of Russian official thinking since before its invasion of Ukraine. "Paucity in strategic assessment is one of the critical weaknesses in the central Russian government architecture: as highlighted by Russia’s original decision to invade Ukraine. Impartial official analysis is almost certainly frequently undermined by a tendency toward group-think and politically expedient conclusions."
That is, in the Kremlin, you probably tell the boss what the boss wants to hear. It's a problem that frequently impedes sound decision-making in authoritarian governments (and authoritarian organizations of all kinds).
Google announces new support for Ukraine.
There's been much discussion of assistance Western governments have rendered Ukraine in cyberspace, including hunt-forward operations by US Cyber Command. Kyiv also continues to receive support from the private sector. Google last week announced further measures it was taking to support Ukraine during the Russian invasion. Some of that assistance includes help with influence operations under wartime conditions: the aid includes both action against Russian disinformation and measures taken to surface accurate information about the war.
Microsoft warns of disinformation in Russia's war.
Microsoft published an appreciation of Russian cyber operations on Saturday, and it specifically warned against influence operations. "Cyber-enabled influence operations" Microsoft defines as "targeted, online information campaigns designed to shift public opinion through manipulative or subversive means." The company warns that these will involve the familiar troll-farming and attempts to amplify the Kremlin's talking points. In this case, however, the Russian goals have necessarily moved from confusion (as was seen in the 2016 efforts against the US elections) to persuasion, an inherently more difficult challenge. The big picture Moscow seeks to paint is that Ukrainian obduracy, enabled by the US and the UK, is the source of expected European misery during a winter in which Europe is likely to be short of energy. Messaging is expected to focus particularly on German public opinion, reckoned a softer target for historical reasons (including the presence of a large and presumably ambivalent Russian diaspora population) and because of Germany's greater dependence on Russian energy than are most other Western European countries.
Cyber operations against national morale.
There's propaganda of the deed in cyberspace as well as kinetic space. Oleksandr Potii, deputy chairman of Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine, characterized Russian hybrid operations, and their cyber components especially, as representing an assault on Ukrainian morale. Politico quotes him as saying, “Classic cyberattacks, phishing, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) threats, ransomware on critical infrastructure, these cyberattacks continue, but we have a new method of cyberattack: to influence political processes, social processes, civil society and political society. To destabilize the social-political situation in different countries, cities, and regions.”