The New York Times has a report today that is a comprehensive look at Russian disinformation campaigns. It begins:
With a vigorous national debate underway on whether Sweden should enter a military partnership with NATO, officials in Stockholm suddenly encountered an unsettling problem: a flood of distorted and outright false information on social media, confusing public perceptions of the issue. The claims were alarming: If Sweden, a non-NATO member, signed the deal, the alliance would stockpile secret nuclear weapons on Swedish soil; NATO could attack Russia from Sweden without government approval; NATO soldiers, immune from prosecution, could rape Swedish women without fear of criminal charges. They were all false, but the disinformation had begun spilling into the traditional news media, and as the defense minister, Peter Hultqvist, traveled the country to promote the pact in speeches and town hall meetings, he was repeatedly grilled about the bogus stories.
While we continue to wait for the first true destructive cyber war, we should contemplate how cyber connectivity has allowed disinformation campaigns to operate on steroids. The megaphone of social media, the seeming credibility of internet sourcing, and the difficulty of proving falsity all combine to make this sort of operation the norm of the future.