December 5, 2022

Media and Information Warfare

Source: Wikipedia

Who is in-charge of information warfare in India – is it the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Ministry of Defence (MoD), Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), or is it left exclusively to the Army or the Military? This has been the question by many on social media – both civilians and veterans

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

The purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk and his big decisions related to changes in the platform are the talk of the town. Twitter engineers have been reportedly asked to work 12 hours a day and seven days a week; employees have been instructed to work extra hours to meet Elon Musk’s tight deadline for changes that are to be put in place in early November this year.

Other than issues like increasing the price of the Twitter Blue subscription and revising the verification process for Blue tick also, the big news is employees being fired. While Musk indicated that 50 per cent of employees would be laid off, 85 per cent of Twitter employees in India and 90 per cent of Twitter employees in Asia have been given the marching orders. Musk is justifying the layoffs by citing that Twitter was losing US$400 million on a daily basis. This raises the question: how was the platform continuing to function in the first place with such big losses? Was the Twitter management making money underhand?

The above changes apparently have upset many political parties around the world that were using this platform for political propaganda and perception building. Interestingly, the POTUS Joe Biden is pretty upset. He has slammed Elon Musk for acquiring Twitter and saying he “goes out and buys an outfit that spews lie across the world”. But then it is the Biden Administration that is spreading the maximum lies including about the Ukraine conflict. Biden’s remarks perhaps are a ruse considering that Musk will unlikely go against the interests of the US administration. After all, his timing of providing exclusive Starlink satellite cover pan-Iran is synchronised with the regime change in that country being attempted by the US.

The importance of social media in information warfare needs no elaboration. Social media platforms have been effectively used by forces inimical to India. And, this will continue no matter how much Musk wants to clean up the fake accounts and bots. India has been saying that social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook must abide by Indian Laws, But, how much we can enforce this through arbitration is questionable? Would we ban these platforms at all even though Koo as an alternative to Twitter has been evolved? The answer is no. Political parties of India including the ruling party are using Twitter for perception building. Tik Tok was banned with big fanfare but today every third post on WhatsApp is Tik Tok. 42-yer old Sonali Phogat, BJP leader and Tik Tok star allegedly murdered in Goa has reportedly left behind a fortune of Rs 110 crore.  

The importance of social media in information warfare needs no elaboration. Social media platforms have been effectively used by forces inimical to India. And, this will continue no matter how much Musk wants to clean up the fake accounts and bots. India has been saying that social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook must abide by Indian Laws, But, how much we can enforce this through arbitration is questionable?

Musk wants Twitter employees to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week to meet certain aims by November. But the IT Cells of political parties of India are used to working 24×7 continuously because a series of elections keep coming up periodically. The irony in India is that the primary focus of information warfare is on increasing the vote bank and winning elections. It is not just state or national-level general elections but also others like municipal elections where enormous amounts of money can be made. So much is the interest that the Union Home Minister goes camping in some states where elections for municipal corporations are to be held. Then there are Bypolls and Panchayat elections. Freebies are galore – legalised included. Purchasing votes and lawmakers is roaring business. To influence voters, even a convicted mass murderer-cum-rapist is released on bail.     

The information war between Indian political parties is intense with no holds barred although corruption is all pervasive while ethics and morality remain absent. So, all types of allegations and accusations are hurled against the opponents. The norm of repeating lies to convert these into make believe truth is applied. Overloading different types of inputs to hide their own faults and confuse the recipients from deciphering the right from the wrong is also a preferred mode.

In our immediate neighbourhood, China is the master of information warfare, using every component of information warfare including cyber warfare, electronic warfare, psychological operations, military deception, operational security and the like. The state-sponsored Chinese media and the handles on social media are executing information warfare on a continuous basis. Most significant is its use at the highest level.

At the recently concluded 20th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), presided over by President Xi Jinping, a clip of the Galwan Clash was screened. Qi Fabao, a regiment commander who was injured in the Galwan Clash was one of the 304 delegates from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) chosen to attend the all-important meeting of the party.

The irony in India is that the primary focus of information warfare is on increasing the vote bank and winning elections. It is not just state or national-level general elections but also others like municipal elections where enormous amounts of money can be made

China has now named 11 bridges on the Tibet-Xinjiang highway after Chinese soldiers who died in the June 2020 Galwan Clash. China had earlier indicated they had lost just four soldiers in the Galwan Clash but the PLA’s actual number of soldiers killed in the clash was estimated from 42 to as high as 110 by various sources. The Australian newspaper ‘The Klaxon’ had said PLA lost 42 soldiers in this clash based on the report by a group of social media researchers. China probably attributed the rest of the PLA soldiers killed in the clash to Covid and told their next of kin the bodies had to be disposed off in situ.

Chinese media has been showing clips of the Galwan Clash since 2020’ suitably doctored to showcase the PLA gallantry and purported supremacy, as also Indian soldiers taken prisoner. India has never hidden the number of casualties suffered in operations, which in the case of the Galwan Clash was 20. The Indian Army also took prisoners of the PLA at Galwan which included a PLA Colonel. Yet, India has never showcased these video clips. The manner in which we secured the Kailash Range and beat the PLA from occupying these heights were not shown either, as also the PLA approaching next day and stopped from advancing closer.

The only media coverage by India was the disengagement along the North Bank of Pangong Tso although we are now left with a 10-km buffer zone in our own territory along that bank. To top this, we later vacated the Kailash Range under Chinese pressure conveyed through political-diplomatic channels. Why are we so damn scared of China and what about using information warfare against China who shamelessly continues to blame India as the aggressor? The government is mum on the issue.

Has Wang Yi, China’s Foreign minister, called the ‘Silver Fox’ overawed our politico-diplomatic dispensation so much? Despite losing control of a huge chunk of territory including grazing areas in Eastern Ladakh during 2020, the External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar conveyed peace and tranquility to the outgoing Chinese ambassador Sun Weidong; abject surrender to Chinese intrusions in Ladakh instead of giving him a curt message – on instructions of prime minister?

Jaishankar has earned laurels for being blunt to the West – some are even calling him “prime minister material”. But because of the pusillanimous manner of confronting China, some on social media are referring to him as the “Silver Weasel”, This could be because of his silver hair but then compare this title with that of Wang Yi – the Silver Fox.

In our immediate neighbourhood, China is the master of information warfare, using every component of information warfare including cyber warfare, electronic warfare, psychological operations, military deception, operational security and the like. The state-sponsored Chinese media and the handles on social media are executing information warfare on a continuous basis. Most significant is its use at the highest level

Who is in-charge of information warfare in India – is it the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Ministry of Defence (MoD), Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), or is it left exclusively to the Army or the Military? This has been the question by many on social media – both civilians and veterans. A two-star veteran points out that during the Kargil War a serving army Colonel gave daily video briefings and periodic statements were issued by the Army Headquarters, but nothing of this sort with respect to China’s 2020 invasion. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held an eight-hour meeting at his residence the day after the Galwan Clash before going to meet the Prime Minister – unsure of what stance should be taken?  Subsequently, a blue-eyed journalist was flown to the forward area who later said that the Galwan Valley is so narrow that no PLA invasion is possible through it. Is this because the government prefers to bury its head in the sand like the ostrich?

The author is veteran of the Indian Army. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow us on Social Media