In a renewed era of Great Power competition, the United States is faced with adversaries engaging across multiple domains without the traditional distinctions of war and peace. America’s competitors are regularly operating below the threshold that would warrant a military response, including on the information battlefield. The blurred red lines that result from covert information operations waged by foreign actors on the Internet will force a change in how the United States operates and how its society consumes information. Russia used tactics of influence and coercion long before social media allowed for nearly ubiquitous access to its targets and a prolific capability for controlling a narrative and manipulating the hearts and minds of a population on a range of sensitive societal issues, including public health.
Russia has a long history of seeking to project power and influence while playing with a technological and geopolitical handicap. Given its history and a geographic location with many bordering nations, it sees itself as constantly besieged from all sides, but particularly by the West. Since the nadir of Soviet dissolution, Russia has fought to rebalance power and contemporaneously reduce American influence. But without equivalent conventional military might, Russia has turned to other asymmetric advantages to compensate in its competition with the United States. Social media has provided a unique tool kit to manipulate narratives and amplify societal divisions in an effort to weaken the United States in ways previously unimaginable. While Russian weaponization of information is not new the intersection of Russian disinformation, public health crises, and vulnerability to bioevents presents new and troubling homeland and national security threats for the United States.
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