Υπάρχουν δύο αντικρουόμενες θεωρίες όσον αφορά τον ανταγωνισμό ανάμεσα στις πλατφόρμες σόσιαλ μίντια. Η πρώτη, λέει ότι τα κοινωνικά δίκτυα είναι πιστοί ακόλουθοι της μόδας – και των καπρίτσιων της: τα παιδιά δεν θέλουν να βρίσκονται στις ίδιες πλατφόρμες με τους γονείς τους, είναι λοιπόν αναπόφευκτο να εμφανιστούν νεότερες, πιο «κουλ» εναλλακτικές επιλογές, που θα παραγκωνίσουν κάποια στιγμή τους προκατόχους τους. Η δεύτερη, λέει πως τα σόσιαλ μίντια είναι εγγενώς κολλητικά: όλοι θέλουν να βρίσκονται όπου είναι ήδη οι φίλοι και οι αγαπημένοι influencer τους, που σημαίνει ότι τα μεγάλα, κατεστημένα δίκτυα με τους περισσότερους χρήστες θα έχουν πάντα ένα αβαντάζ έναντι των αναφυόμενων αντιπάλων τους.
The manipulation of entire societies or individual stakeholders is a central strategy in social media warfare. For example, the opinion, values, emotions and thinking of a specific target group are to be influenced in such a way that consequential effects are created that damage the actual target of the attack. For instance, the use of digital propaganda is supposed to influence election results or induce customers to stop buying from a certain company. To achieve this goal, attackers can pursue different approaches:Deception: By spreading false information or rumours, attackers try to deceive their target group in a systematic way. It is also common to produce artificial attention for one topic in order to divert attention away from another.Confusion: By providing contradictory information, attackers try to create confusion and a feeling of insecurity in the target group. This makes the target group more prone to simplifying representations and propaganda designed to harm the target.Division: The attackers try to divide societies or groups by spreading extreme opinions as well as hatred and agitation on the Internet. The public conflict, in turn, is supposed to lead to strong negative feelings and a higher susceptibility to certain narratives.Exposure: The attackers publish (false) confidential information or data in order to publicly expose the target of the attack.Discrediting and defamation: The aggressors attack the reputation of the target and spread reputation-damaging and defamatory content in the social media.
Regardless of the target and the approach the attackers pursue, the possibilities of using information as a weapon in social media warfare are vast: So-called open methods are, for example, the distribution of rumors, false or confidential information and other content via official social media accounts of influencers and opinion leaders such as politicians, celebrities or employees of a company. By this kind of distribution of polarizing content, disinformation or accusations, the attackers can quickly reach a wide audience, trigger a flame war and even draw attention to traditional media. In addition, ‘real’ influencers usually have a great influence on the opinion of a target group because they enjoy a high degree of credibility.
If the attackers proceed covertly, they usually create fake identities in social media – so-called sock puppet accounts – or hire Internet trolls to distribute polarizing content. This content ranges from individual negative comments and ratings to large-scale digital character assassination campaigns and the targeted addressing of individual users via paid posts and advertisements in order to influence their opinions in one direction or another. So-called social bots and bot networks are also a popular means of influencing opinion. They can achieve an enormous reach for content within a very short time, because bots post, link, comment or share automatically and every second, thus artificially amplifying the reach of the content. Bots can also be used for the purpose of classic spamming to create a kind of “information overload” for a specific target group on the Social Web. The result: the target group is confronted so often and regularly with a narrative, a rumor or certain information that a habituation and memory effect sets in and the target group begins to believe the content (the so-called mere-exposure effect).
In order to continue to distribute one’s own content and messages with the greatest possible reach, the so-called hashtag hijacking is still used. Here, the attackers “hijack” already existing and above all very well-known, trending hashtags and post their own content among them with enormous firepower and frequency. The result: the actual content of the hashtag is suppressed and users searching for the hashtags are mostly confronted with the manipulating content of the attackers.Mobilization and commitment
In addition to influencing perception, thinking and emotions, social media warfare is also about the manipulation of behavior – even outside the social web. It not only tries to influence what people like, share or comment on, but also how they behave far away from the digital world. The digital attackers, for example, try to persuade a particular target group to get involved in a campaign against the actual target and, for example, to call for protest against political plans or boycott companies or products. To do this, the adversaries resort to a kind of swarming tactic: with the help of unfair means such as bots, they give the appearance of an angry digital mass and try to infect real users with their anger and indignation. The result: real users become part of the online mob and in turn mobilize more and more other (real) users. The result can be a (fake) protest or a (fake) boycott, which would never have happened without the intervention of the attackers. At this point the attackers also make use of so-called astroturfing. Astroturfing uses communicative measures to fake already existing protest or “grassroots movements” – always with the aim that real people can join this fake movement and thus enforce a certain agenda.
Another means of manipulating behavior is so-called social engineering. This is an attempt to use psychological manipulation to persuade the targets to take certain actions, such as the disclosure of confidential information and data. Social Engineering became known in 2010 by IT expert Thomas Ryan, among others. Ryan had created the virtual art figure Robin Sage, created a profile for her in social networks and used it to contact politicians and company bosses in order to extract confidential information from them – and with great success. This process, in which (fake) people feign a relationship with an attack target in order to get information, data or even pictures of the person that are not completely G-rated, is also known as honey trapping.Social Cyber Attacks
A special category of social media warfare is the combination of classic cyber-attacks and manipulation methods in the social web, the so-called Social Cyber Attacks. Classic cyber criminals are also making an increasing use of social media and are trying to send malware and malicious software via public posts of fake accounts or direct messages in the messenger applications of the networks or to gain access to important data with the help of social engineering. In addition, social media accounts are increasingly becoming a target for hackers to access information (e.g. from private conversations) via the profiles or to share content via the hacked profiles. On the other hand, the warriors in social media warfare are also resorting to classic cyberwar methods such as hacking, for example, to gain access to data and information that is then to be distributed via social media with a wide reach. There are signs of an increase in such hybrid attacks, for which companies in particular should be prepared. Finally, one thing needs to be made clear: The methods listed here are only examples, because in social media warfare there is an unlimited selection of strategies and means, the number and sophistication of which is constantly increasing with the ongoing technological development. Only those who are familiar with the existing methods of attack and always keep up to date with the latest technology can protect themselves from becoming part of social media warfare and know what to do in case of an emergency.How to manage the danger of social media warfare?
The protection against and defense of attacks in or through the social web is becoming more and more complicated. Meanwhile, there are no longer just a handful of social networks, but a multitude of social networks where attacks can be carried out. Added to this is the problem of so-called dark social applications – apps whose traffic cannot be tracked (these include messengers such as WhatApp or Telegram). These too are increasingly becoming the playing field in social media warfare. The consequence: effective monitoring is hardly possible without comprehensive expertise and knowledge of these problems, which enormously reduces the ability of institutions, companies or individuals to act in the event of an attack. Anyone who becomes the victim of an attack then quickly falls into a passive reaction mode, which is characterized by the fact that it is necessary to gain an overview of the platforms, strategies and tactics of the attackers and possible countermeasures – and these can change again and again in a very short time. In order to best prevent such an inability to act in an emergency, it is essential to raise awareness of the topic, to incorporate the danger of “social media warfare” into one’s own risk management and to prepare defensive counter-strategies for the emergency. We would be pleased to help you with these measures.
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