Information Warfare: Catching Up With China


February 5, 2015: Wikipedia has become such a popular source of information that even many government and military personnel now use it a lot. This includes military planners and intelligence agency personnel. This despite, or because of the fact that Wikipedia entries can be edited by just about anyone. Wikipedia has an editorial system that seeks to keep the information as accurate as possible but a growing number of countries and organizations (government and otherwise) are finding that they can influence public opinion and perceptions by making subtle edits that are not noticed (and deleted) by Wikipedia editors. Wikipedia users will sometimes spot these changes and alert Wikipedia, which usually leads to removal of the change. Wikipedia can trace the location of those making edits and a lot of the politically suspect ones tend to come from government office buildings. China and Russia were pioneers in the area, which is not unusual because during the Cold War Russia was a major practitioner of international media manipulation. In China, the less regulated business world found that it was possible to get away with all sorts of media manipulation via the Internet as long as you stayed away from political subjects or criticizing the government. Many other countries have intel agencies and military staffs that are trying catch up to Chinese and Russian abilities to exploit the Internet for military and intelligence purposes.

Wikipedia and search engines in general have long been noted as useful to government agencies. For example in 2008 Google (the company) received a contract with the U.S. government to supply computer servers (hard drives) equipped with the software Google uses to run its popular Google search engine. The CIA, NSA and Department of Defense use these servers in closed (cut off from the Internet) systems that hold classified information, and allow espionage and intelligence personnel to more quickly find, and share, information. The data is generally displayed in Wikipedia type format, so that users can update it.

 The intelligence agencies have found that Google search and the Wikipedia format are popular with their staff and analysts. Thus using Google and wiki type software was the easiest way to build a more efficient data storage and retrieval system. The only downside is that the data is only available at buildings where the special servers are located, and hooked up to a cabled (not wireless) network.

All these search (Google) and information (Wikipedia) tools are not always used as intended by the government employees assigned to do the work. Audits, at least when the results go public, reveal a lot of misuse. Government employees often mix business and pleasure. Thus google capabilities are used for personal matters and Wikipedia edits are often applied to things like the reputation of a civil servants favorite movie star. Again, China has been found to be far ahead of the West in this area.



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