Netwar and battle of the story

Looking back at the events in Georgia, Libya, Syria and now Ukraine, you might have noticed that the conflicts there have a new component. They are characterized not only by traditional military warfare, but also by involvement of other different structures in conflict. These structures are decentralized and rely heavily on usage of modern information and communication technologies to reach their goals. The confrontation between these structures happens mostly in cyberspace and is more social by nature. In other words, it goes beyond cyberwar. Scholars call such conflicts netwars.

For instance, Arquilla and Ronfeldt define netwar as “an emerging mode of conflict at societal levels, in which the protagonists use network forms of organization and related doctrines, strategies and technologies attuned to the information age”. The netwar actors are very different, often stateless and geographically dispersed. They are organized in various structures, with little hierarchy, and there may be multiple leaders among them.

The emergence of netwars is a result of the digital information revolution and recent development of information and communication technologies in particular (mobile phones, emails, web sites, etc.). In order to operate efficiently, netwars’ actors need to be constantly connected to different data and communication networks, as well as have possibility to exchange the information quickly.

One of the most important aspects of netwars is a “battle of the story” – a confrontation in information space. Different versions of events are propagated in order to change public opinion and, as a result, make adjustments to government policy. Experts say that one of the greatest “battles of the story” took place during the Russia-Georgia war of 2008. All sides of the conflict manipulated the information, launched cyber attacks and blocked communication channels. This summer I created a prezi about this case:

Georgia-Russia war. An information control story. by Tanya Erofeeva on Prezi

Click the image to open Prezi

Aren’t you impressed by the magnitude of this netwar? For instance, I am. The other thing that I’ve learned is that we shouldn’t believe blindly anything we hear or see both in traditional communication channels and online. In order to understand real state of affairs in modern conflicts, we should get information from different sources first and then analyze it ourselves. Otherwise, we risk becoming pawns in political games and acting as transmitters of faulty and biased information. If you ask me, I do not want to become a netwar actor. What about you?

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Posted on March 9, 2014, in COMM506, MACT and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Great post Tanya. I 100% agree with your conclusion that individuals need to inform themselves from various sources – and question the sources, their motivations and potential biases while they are at it.

  2. Tanya – nice post. I too chose to focus on netwar in my most recent blog post. The use of netwar within the realm of conflict and military activities certainly poses challenges for average citizens in terms of trying to develop informed and thoughtful opinions on current events. I agree that netwar takes conflict into uncharted territory, not only for the nature of the conflict itself, but also in relation to the “battle of the story” that you mention. The one area where I think there’s tremendous potential for netwar to play a positive role is in the realm of group coordination / collective action in the type of activities that NGOs currently focus on (as Arquilla and Ronfeldt touch on as well). What I find really fascinating is that this new form of group collaboration doesn’t entirely depend on technology or social tools per se, which seems to set it apart from the type of group collaboration that Shirky and other thought leaders touch on. It’s almost as though a new form of conflict (not technology) has actually given rise to a new way of strengthening civil society, which is both paradoxical and intriguing.

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