(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)
Recently a new form of warfare – LikeWar – has been identified by two American experts as the new form of warfare far more dangerous than any other forms in the Internet and Social Media Age – Face book, Twitter and so on.
Most apt, perhaps, the word “LieWar” may replace “LikeWar” to represent the reality of Indian politics today. Oft repeating lies to obfuscate truth is the option exercised by all political parties to confuse voter’s minds and hearts. Hardly, political discourse is based on comparative review of performance of political parties during their respective rule’s.
Awareness of social media and its fallout is least understood by majority. ”Social media remains difficult to understand even for many policymakers today” stated Face book CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s during congressional testimony. Face book and Twitter can make or break political parties and change the course of national and international politics by controlling their networks.
Stating the obvious, the rise of social media over the last decade, due to the Internet, has allowed everyone to become individual collectors and sharers of information. As a result, information has been weaponized in the battlefield of “Ballot Boxes” far more destructive and devastating than nuclear bombs. Those political leaders and parties will win an election, who can exploit information or disinformation usage to advantage – out think and outfox rivals.
All political leaders and parties without exception are playing dirty politics – some more naive; others more sophisticated. Although the truth is more widely available than ever before, it can be buried in a sea or litany of oft repeated lies.
In particular, Rahul Ghandy (RG) and his coterie has been replicating Donald Trump’s “Tweet offensive” on daily basis. Goebbels, Hitler’s master propagandist who excelled in stirring up hatred and repeating lies, pales into insignificance before RG and his coterie heading the Congress Party social media cell. And, they are ardent followers of the propaganda tool “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” And, RGs “campaign themes” are based on half-truth, fake and fraud news to defeat Modi.
None can blame RG and the Congress Party to indulge in Goebbelsian lies to reclaim power. Let me reiterate, that “Politics is power; power is politics. Let none suffer from illusions on such a count. It is a vicious game played by contestants in ruthless pursuit of power. No rules. No place for weak kneed. “Politics and ideals and morals do not go together. Lenin stated “There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience.” Indian politicians are wily practitioners of Lenin’s prescriptions.
Remarkable and explicit is American expert’s views on “LikeWar/LieWar”: “Propagandists can identify a few dozen sympathizers out of faraway population of millions and then groom them to attack their fellow citizens. Voices from around the globe can stir the pot of hatred and resentment between rival peoples, sparking a war or genocide. They can even divide and conquer a country’s politics from afar, realizing the political objective of a war without firing a shot. None of these scenarios is hypothetical. Each of them has already happened.”
Let me highlight key aspects of the nature of “LieWar”. The terrain of LieWar is societal environment. In particular, the target is “Voters Mind”. Voter’s attention is like a piece of contested territory. Due to the spread of internet and smart phones, everyone is part of the fighting. Everything “Voter” watches, like, or share makes a tiny ripple on the information battlefield, offering an infinitesimal advantage to one side or another. The system rewards clicks, interactions, engagement, and immersion times. Figure out how to make something go viral and you can overwhelm even the truth itself.
If cyber war is about hacking networks, LieWar is about hacking the people on the networks. It’s a place where military units, using the techniques of information warfare, change elections and where teenage digital marketers, wielding selfie-taking smart phones, change the course of military battles.
The main thrust of information warriors is to spin the message to go viral: narrative, emotion, authenticity, community, inundation and experimentation. They build and shape the story lines based on public expectations and aspirations thereby provoke the responses that impel to people to action, to connect with a plurality of followers at the most personal level, to build a sense of fellowship, and to do it all on societal scale, again and again, but using individual reaction to each attack as a moment for mass refinement.
Run-by profit-making making companies, the platforms are designed to reward not morality or veracity; but virality. They can ferment violence, stoke hate, spread lies, spark wars, and even erode democracy itself. Which side succeeds will depend above all on how much the rest of us learn to recognize this LieWar for what it is.
Today’s fighters have turned social media into a weapon. They are all trying to bend the local and national information environment to their will. In this way LieWar is just the latest iteration of centuries of warfare. But, in other ways, LieWar marks an abrupt and momentous development in war and international politics.
LieWar has transformed how fast information spreads, how far it travels, and how easy it is to access it. In the space of a decade, social media has turned almost everyone into a collector and distributor of information. Attacking as adversary’s COG – the minds and spirits of its people – no longer requires massive bombing runs or reams of ineffective propaganda. All it takes is a smart phone and a few idle seconds. Anyone can do it.
Today, it is possible to communicate directly with someone you are ostensibly at war with – to send them “friend” requests, debate them or silently stalk their digital lives. Opposing soldiers on a battlefield might find and then troll each other online. Social networks also create new ways to reach out and attack, even thousands of miles away.
To grab attention and remain in limelight in people’s eyes, minds and hearts, control the flow of ideas and influence, attract, build, consolidate and advance followership, RG, the dynast, and his coterie are employing social media as a weapon alongside numerous partisan media outlets to win the forthcoming “Battles of Ballot Boxes.
Perhaps, the Congress Party led by RG and his coterie have a legacy inherited from the past: the concept of disinformation – Gharibi Hatao the worst fraud. Today, RG is playing the game of “Soft Hindutva” using its online strength to substitute for declining or reclaiming vote banks.
Quite appropriately, the two American experts have extrapolated the “LikeWar” developments to Clausewitz, Prussian emeritus on Military Affairs, who viewed “War as continuation of political intercourse with the addition of other means. War and politics are intertwined. War in itself does not suspend political intercourse or change it into something entirely different. In essentials that intercourse continues, irrespective of the means it employs.”
In today’s political arena, the three Clausewitz’s concepts – “Center of Gravity (CoG)”, “Fog of war” and “Friction” – are absolutely apt. Ipso facto, “Voters Minds” constitutes the CoG in the battles of the “Ballot Box”. Figure out how to shape or shatter your rival’s spirit, and you might win the war while avoiding the enemy army entirely.
Finding and neutralizing an adversary’s “CoG” is, therefore, most critical. This often means defeating a rival’s army. But, that is not always the most effective path. “The moral elements are among the most important in war.”
How people’s minds and hearts will sway and rally around, like shifting sand in a desert storm, is not easy based on past experiences – fog of war. A “Wave” can humble the most dominant party. And, the factors of caste, communal, class, money and muscle power inevitably produce “friction”.
Most important, the new tools of communication – the first long-distance telegraph wires, radio and then television – have been used also in the past to wage information wars alongside the physical fighting. Yet propaganda was almost universally ineffective. Hitler’s Nazis failed because the British loved to laugh at it. In the 1960s and 1970s, alongside 6.5 millions of tons of bombs US forces dropped on North Vietnamese, there were tens of millions of leaflets, which the North Vietnamese promptly used as toilet paper. On the other hand, the Vietnam War, popularly known as “TV” war, was decided in the drawing rooms of USA.
But, Clausewitz theory on War – CoG – needs to be viewed in its enlarged perspective: “The moral elements are among the most important in war. They constitute the spirit that permeates war as a whole……They establish a close affinity with the will that moves and leads the whole mass of force.”
In retrospect, RGs central focus on “Rafale Scam” bigger than “Bofors Scam”, HAL and his sudden “Temple Yatra’s sporting Tilak’s on his forehead” – Soft Hindutva credentials – reshape the core Hindutva spirit or have a backlash on his credentials as worthy dynast leader to steer the course of the nation is at stake.
If his rivals, Modi and the BJP, launch a counter social media war making “transparent” the processes of the “Rafale Scam”, HAL and go on an all out offensive exposing his “Soft Hindutva” credentials, how will it play out in influencing and shaping voter’s mind is anyone’s guess.
In sum, “LieWar” too has its limits in India’s domestic politics. As one experienced political leader stated that the electoral outcomes are determined by a number of other factors, particularly money and muscle power in the last 48 hours before the polling day.
So, none can predict with certainty political outcomes sitting AC rooms in Delhi and other State Capitals. Unfortunately, let me reiterate that the “LieWar” is bound to ferment violence, stoke hate, spread lies, spark wars, and even erode democracy itself in the ultimate.