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Misinformation: a threat to Pakistan’s national security

"In this domain 'Misinformation or Disinformation' remains one of the most important propaganda tools as it serves to change the perception of the people and make them rise against their own government," writes author.

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For a few years, the enemy has imposed a hybrid war against Pakistan, as the new war strategy, during times when Pakistan is eradicating terrorism from its soil, and is also taking measures to be removed from the financial action task force (FATF). Many of us have heard about hybrid warfare, this article today aims to look at the tools and means used to wage such a war and the impacts it has on society.

After nuclearisation, increasing globalization, and growing economic interdependence affinity for an all-out war has reduced to a great extent. This is why despite intense competition we had not seen a direct war between USSR and the US during the cold war period. However, this era of political wars aimed at targeting people has returned. There is a growing affinity for using non-kinetic means among the states to pursue national interests and compete with other states.

Various social media platforms can be used to spread carefully crafted emotional contents to spread hatred against the government or among the people.

Hybrid war: Poison coated as sweet candy

Commonly known as Hybrid war, it is the utilization of all instruments of power including political, diplomatic, economic, intelligence, information, legal and military to either exploit the existing vulnerabilities of the enemy or create them. This is a war not against the military but against the people of the country and is aimed at destabilizing a society thus weakening the writ of the government and achieving implosion from inside. While there are multiple tools of Hybrid war spanning from kinetic to non-kinetic means, by far information warfare remains the most cost-effective and lethal tool as it affords plausible deniability thus providing an opportunity to carry out propaganda without being noticed. It is like poison coated in sweet candy.

In this domain, ‘Misinformation’ (or disinformation) remains one of the most important propaganda tools as it serves to change the perception of the people and make them rise against their own government resulting in revolution, civil unrest, or even civil war. The aim of such a campaign may vary from mere incorporation of instability to impede economic progress to a regime change or even implosion.

The very fact that it is very difficult for common people to identify the ulterior motives behind a certain narrative being build-up by the inimical forces, such narratives tend to gain greater acceptance among the common populace. The question remains that how can we effectively counter and protect our people from propaganda campaigns.

Read more: PM Tweets on false and subversive propaganda by India

Modern communication: a weapon of propaganda

During this digital age where modern means of communication have brought information to the doorstep of each and every person and has become important in the security matrix of a country. This transformation from print to visual and then to social media and from written communication to video conferencing is a big leap. While it has greater dividends, it also provides an effective propaganda tool for the inimical forces working towards destabilizing a country.

Orange revolution in Ukraine where a mass protest turned violent and eventually brought the government down or then annexation of Crimea is the apt example of a hybrid war where non-kinetic means were effectively utilized to bring about regime changes. Pakistan has long been a victim of a Hybrid war, whereby India along with other hostile intelligence agencies is trying to coerce Pakistan on the diplomatic, economic, and military fronts.

Apart from providing political, moral, and financial support to various terrorist groups to undertake terrorist operations inside the country, it is running an extensive information warfare campaign to sow seeds of discontent among the masses. Warry of Pakistan’s fragile yet improving economy India is trying to destabilize the country so that our economic progress is hampered. CPEC, Baluchistan, and tribal areas in KPK are the special focus as any progress in these areas would lead to economic progress and social well-being of the people, strengthening the social contract between the state and the people.

There is a growing affinity for using non-kinetic means among the states to pursue national interests and compete with other states.

Social media is what you make of it

While we understand the greater design of the enemy, the dilemma is that unlike conventional means of fighting, in information warfare, the enemy and his real intentions remain hidden from the eyes of the common people. Apparently, a benign post highlighting the plight of the people from a certain area may totally be a piece of fake news aimed at creating a wedge between the state and its people. A case in point is the picture of an injured child posted on Twitter terming that the Army injured the child in an operation, while in reality, it was an accident.

Various social media platforms can be used to spread carefully crafted emotional contents to spread hatred against the government or among the people. The very fact that social media users in their earnest desire to gain more followers makes such posts viral within no time without even thinking about the varsity of the post. They create various fake accounts of celebrities/politicians/bureaucrats to spread the misinformation.

You never know the account’s authenticity unless it’s being blue tick verified, or you know the individual personally who is running the account. We have seen accounts in name of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, which were proven to be run by individuals who were looking to gain followers, and later when they crossed a good number of followers they renamed it. The enemy of Pakistan has also been using Facebook for the same purpose.

Read more: Resurrected NGOs’, a dead Chairman, fake EU parliamentary statements: 15 year saga of Indian misinformation operations

Indian Chronicles

There are certain cells being operated from abroad which are making anti-Pakistan themed videos and then they float them on Facebook and some of us share them, even with the intention of making others aware of that specific content but still, that video gets more views like this which spreads more negativity. Last year, the Brussels-based EU DisinfoLab uncovered a vast network of dubious think tanks, NGOs, and around 265 coordinated fake local media outlets in 65 countries serving Indian interests. This whole network was found active in Brussels and Geneva and was responsible for producing various contents designed to primarily undermine Pakistan.

In a new investigation, titled Indian Chronicles, the group has exposed another Indian network that aims to reinforce pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan (and anti-Chinese) feelings in India and other countries. Moreover, the network is also working to consolidate the power and improve the image of India and damage the reputation of rival countries so that ultimately India may benefit from more support from international institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations.

To do so, the network used fake personas of a dead human rights activist and journalists, and also tried to impersonate regular media and press agencies such as the EU Observer, the Economist, and Voice of America.

While we understand the greater design of the enemy, the dilemma is that unlike conventional means of fighting, in information warfare, the enemy and his real intentions remain hidden from the eyes of the common people.

Fakes news busters

Keeping in view the information warfare being waged against Pakistan, our electronic and print media needs to act responsibly by verifying the news first instead of directly giving breaking news just for the sake of the ratings. The misinformation spread by the electronic and print media can not only spread chaos in the country but can also disturb the law and order situation within the country and it can be used as an effective tool by the enemies to damage the internal and external security of the state.

The government of Pakistan needs to deploy fake news busters as other countries have. France recently made an agreement with social media giants to take off any hate or terrorist content posted on the internet within one hour. Fake news busters will help us to identify between the real and the fake news and this will be a major step to avoid misinformation. Ministry of information and broadcasting can play a vital role in the development of fake news busters and I would suggest that a department should be created which 24/7 would stay alert busting the fake news and the posts containing misinformation.

Most of the news reporters either from print or electronic media are not aware of the usage of social media. There should be special programs, seminars, and short courses on a national level as well as the departmental level to engage them in the learning of how to use social media. This activity will minimize the factor of misinformation at the country level and citizens will get the right information at the right time.

Read more: New Cyber Laws aimed at protecting country from hybrid warfare

Authentication mechanisms:

We must follow the three simple steps to verify the news which are as following:

1- Analyse

2- Verify

3- Disseminate

There are various ways about how to verify the information from an authentic source. First of all, you need to check whether the information is coming from the right official and the right account. For example, any official information shared about Islamabad can be verified by the blue tick account of the Deputy Commissioner Islamabad.

Read more: Pakistan’s envoy: India to use UNSC membership to obfuscate terrorism

During the recent times of the COVID-19 pandemic misinformation about the COVID cases, sealing of several institutions and restaurants, circulated on Twitter. It got handled in Islamabad more easily than in any other city because of the verified Twitter handle of the Deputy Commissioner Islamabad and the official account of the district health officer. Whereas, in other cities accounts of these officers remained inactive, which gave way to the spread of misinformation.

The author has a Masters in Digital Transformation from Bucks New University (UK). Presently working as the Spokesperson for the office of the Deputy Commissioner Islamabad. He has been writing articles/columns for different national & international newspapers. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

 

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