This is an article I wrote for The Conversation. This is the draft submitted to the editor. It is placed here as originally written, and in advance of publication, exclusively for LP students.
My introduction to advanced communication technology (i.e. the Internet and WWW) came in 1999. Having grown up in the information imprisonment of a sixties/seventies two channel universe, I was agog at the power represented. The technology was nascent at that time, only a few web pages yet existed, but I could still see the potential, for good. Here was a technology that I felt could really save the world.
I am not ashamed to say, when I first saw the WWW, I was filled with schoolboy naïveté. I wanted to help, so I did. I created the first electronic sociology journal in Sociology, did a few more things after that, and with a massive anticipatory grin, watched and waited for utopia.
Unfortunately, utopia didn’t emerge. In fact, my naïve grin soon melted away.
The melting began when I learned that researchers at Cornell university, working without ethical oversite, and possibly in collusion with the CIA, where learning how to use Facebook, a technology we keep by our beds, to manipulate mass emotion.
The melting continued when I saw that fellow scientists had learned to use search engines to manipulate political preferences.
The smile turned to a frown when I read, in that same study, that Moderate Republicans, Moderate Libertarians, Male Republicans, and the “deplorable” poor, Trumps base, where the most susceptible to manipulation.
I became a little worried when the scholars who wrote the study suggested that Google, by manipulating its algorithms, might already have decide a foreign election, in favor of a right wing candidate.
Then there was the historic 2016 election of Trump. That’s when my smile turned to frown. In that election, the soon to be incumbent called out to Russia to hack the election, which they did. Spewing hundreds of thousands of dollars of fake ads into Facebook, Twitter, and probably Google, they attacked the U.S. full on. They didn’t do it with bullets and bombs; they did it with bits and with bytes, and with the help of American CEOs and American tech. It was certainly an attack, and there were definitely explosions, but they were in cyberspace. Desensitized by Hollywood bang bang, we are not paying attention to the attack on our minds.
You can argue about whether or not Russian attacks were effective, or puzzle if Trump and his family are traitors, but the fact remains, we are under attack, and if something isn’t done, it is going to get worse. You don’t have to be a prophet to see what’s coming. The battle plan is in plain site. Consider the Russian company Positive Technologies. This company holds a yearly event known as PHDays, or “Positive” Hack days. In this event, which started back in 2011, the world’s best and brightest hackers get together to train. This doesn’t sound too threatening until you learn about “[The Standoff](https://www.phdays.com/standoff/).” The Standoff is a military hacking competition with a blatant military goal, to take out a city’s telecom, heat, power, oil, and rail infrastructures. The city’s citizens are even offered up as a resource for the hackers. They are easy to exploit, [says the rule book](https://www.phdays.com/standoff/). They use “smart gadgets every day.” “They are vulnerable to social engineering.” They are “prepared to share [their] secrets.”
Sitting back in my chair with a thump, I see it clearly. There’s a global war going on, and a global arms race to go with it. The arms race is not a race for physical weapons, it is a race to develop cyber weapons of psychological, emotional, financial, and infrastructure attack. By now the arms race is so far advanced that it makes the leaflet campaigns of WWII, and the U.S. government’s Operation Cornflake, look like toddler play. Isis is using twitter to radicalise our youth, bringing the war to our streets. Russian cyber marines engage massive cyber attacks, going so far as to target our voting machines. Just recently, the sensitive financial data of almost half the U.S. population was stolen by state sponsored professionals. There is even, as is becoming increasingly clear as the Meuller investigation unfolds, an organised “highly coordinate disinformation campaign” a propaganda campaign, aimed at destabilising American society. If the horrific gun violence in Las Vegas, exploding racial tensions, and political polarisation of America is any indication, destabilization is proceeding apace.
So, what do we make of this?
Number one, realise, global war has been declared. It is a little hard to pin down who fired the first shot right now, but the aggressors are active and engaged.
Number two, understand, we are all under attack, even Republicans, perhaps especially Republicans, and the poor. There may be short term financial gain for those who benefit from the destabilization, but only a fool would think the enemy is our best friend.
Finally, if you are a private citizen, you need to start taking the cyber threat seriously. Combatants are trained to see you as easy to manipulate resources. You are being viciously manipulated through social media. Your financial data is stolen and could easily be used against you. Cyber-marines are training to take out the life giving infrastructure of your cities. Are government and corporate leaders blithely unaware, or engaged in traitorous collusion? Only time will time. Till then, gather your loved ones, lock down your social media, and batten the hatches–the war for your mind has begun.