What Is Peace in a World of Information Warfare?

What happens when information is weaponized via the Internet?

Posted Oct 16, 2018

Is the concept of warfare an inevitable consequence of the assumptions on which our society operates? How do we want to interact with each other? How do we interact with each other? What constitutes effective social behavior? How do we expect others to behave toward us?

The “Golden Rule” can be written to reflect either a positive or a negative mindset about humanity:

  1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  2. Don’t do to others what you would not like others to do to you.

This assumes that each of us is free to choose how we act and that our actions result from individual cognitive processing. What inputs are we welcoming into our brains? What assumptions are we making about these inputs?

Who are the “citizens” of the digital world, enabled by Internet protocols, if not information, bits of data? We, the humans in the physical world, don’t really exist in the digital world. Apart from being the physical means of maintaining power to the Internet, we are also the monitors and consumers of the digital flows. What do we believe about what are we consuming? What do we know?

The current Internet has been designed so that anyone and everyone has access; so, in this sense, information is “free." In fact, once released to the “wild” digital world, information can and does spread uncontrollably. This is quite amazing: We have never invented anything quite like this. The closest real-world analog is a biological virus. Viruses replicate by infecting hosts. Each host organism, like a node in the Internet, can spawn millions of newly replicated viruses, ready to infect other hosts and replicate further. We copied Mother Nature very cleverly to invent digital viruses that can are far more vicious when weaponized. Today, they are the bane of our existence.

When did we understand that information could be weaponized? As soon as language was invented, person-to-person communication was enabled. Did all the information in the first conversations contain only truthful information? Maybe. What happened after several conversations, and arguments, i.e., disagreements? Were all arguments resolved by brute force? What happened when one of the protagonists was significantly weaker than the other? How could the weaker one prevail? Maybe that happened only rarely, but surely it did occur. What was the power in the first lie? What was the first con?

In the pre-digital world, the power of words increased exponentially with every new technology, from writing to printing, to radio/TV broadcasting. Then came the digital form (computerized text and images). For the most part, we knew the sources of the information. Some anonymity was possible, but the technology was basically traceable because of physical sources.

Hold on—before we go further, can’t words be used for good, to inspire hope, to comfort people? In that context, are words (information) also weapons? Obviously, weapons, like all tools, can be used for good as well as bad. What’s the difference?

What is the power of truth and the power of lies? Are we looking at a war between the digital armies of truth and those of lies? Which side is winning? We want truth to win, to give us hope. Hope is an emotion based on a story.

What does peace mean? If the power of these armies is roughly equal, would that be enough? Perhaps we’d feel more comfortable if the power of truth could be greater than the power of lies.  How is the power expressed and measured? How do people respond to truth and to lies?

Ah, here’s the rub: Lies can be most effective to incite fear when they are bold, even outrageous, because they must appeal to emotions. At the same time, lies, when revealed, will destroy hope.

As a tool, truth can also have a powerful effect on both fear and hope. When perceived by a rational mind, the truth can mitigate fear, but it can also be used to promote fear. On the other hand, truth doesn’t help hope, unless it is perceived from a spiritual perspective, a deeper kind of truth that speaks to the spirit. Truthful facts can often be very depressing. So, is the effect of lies on humans greater than that of truth?

What about digital truths and digital lies, once released into the ether (Internet)? How can we tell which are which? Both will propagate in random as well as in strategically designed ways. Well-intentioned but ignorant humans are increasingly and unwittingly co-opted to be agents in a conspiracy to destroy our sense of security and our freedom. Is this a new kind of war? Are we dealing with uncontrolled and uncontrollable weapons of mass destruction? How do we understand this kind of warfare? What kind of peace might be possible?

What can be done to promote truth and reduce the power of lies?