Threat Mitigation In Cyberspace

Richard A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake provide a detailed rundown of the evolution and legislative history of cyberspace. The two leading cybersecurity experts encourage innovative cyber policy solutions to mitigate cyberwar, protect our critical infrastructure and help citizens to prevent cybercrime.

The Fifth Domain, commonly referred to as cyberspace, poses new challenges for governments, companies and citizens. Clarke and Knake discuss the historic milestones that led to modern cybersecurity and cyber policy. With detailed accounts of how governments implement security layers in cyberspace, gripping examples of breaches of cybersecurity and innovative solutions for policymakers, this book ended up rather dense in content – a positive signal for someone interested in cybersecurity, but fairly heavy for everybody else. Some of the content widely circulated the news media, other content is intriguing and through-provoking. While the policy solutions in this book aren’t ground-breaking, the authors provide fuel for policymakers and the public to take action on securing data, but, perhaps more importantly, to start developing transparent, effective cyber policies that account for the new, emerging technologies within machine learning and quantum computing. Personally, I found the hardcover edition too clunky and expensive. Six parts over 298 pages, however, made reading this book a breeze.

What Is Parler?

The capitol riots on January 6th, 2021 left four insurgents and one law enforcement officer dead. The alternative social media platform Parler immediately became the focus of the investigation of this violent attack against democratically elected leaders of the 117th United States Congress. Was a social media platform used to coordinate the insurgents? Did Parler facilitate online radicalization against democratic leaders by allowing extremist content? An independent data analyst used scraped geolocation data from Parler users to create an interactive map to identify insurgents, track their movements and establish links to content posted by Parler users as they attempt to disrupt the certification of the electoral college vote and beyond. Another group of researchers wrote a captivating research paper about Parler’s account and content mechanisms. The researchers drew upon a large set of data. Analyzing more than 120 million pieces of content from more than 2 million Parler users they demonstrate the inner workings of account level content and content level moderation. It is an invaluable read to better understand Parler’s operations and how the platform managed to grow throughout the second half of the Trump presidency culminating in the capitol riots. But, perhaps more importantly, their contribution offers insights into Parler’s role of creating a platform for extremist content, its detrimental influence on American politics and the preventable translation into real world harm. 

tl;dr

Parler is an alternative social network promoting itself as a service that allows its users to “Speak freely and express yourself openly, without fear of being deplatformed for your views.” Because of this promise, the platform become popular among users who were suspended on mainstream social networks for violating their terms of service, as well as those fearing censorship. In particular, the service was endorsed by several conservative public figures, encouraging people to migrate there from traditional social networks. After the events of January 6 2021, Parler has been progressively deplatformed, with its app being removed from popular mobile stores and the entire website being taken down by their hosting provider. In this paper, we provide the first data-driven characterization of Parler. We collected 120M posts from 2.1M users posted between 2018 and 2020 as well as metadata from 12M user profiles. We find that the platform has witnessed large influxes of new users after being endorsed by popular figures, as well as a reaction to the 2020 US Presidential Election. We also find that discussion on the platform is dominated by conservative topics, President Trump, as well as conspiracy theories like QAnon.

Make sure to read the full paper titled An Early Look at the Parler Online Social Network by Max Aliapoulios, Emmi Bevensee, Jeremy Blackburn, Emiliano De Cristofaro, Gianluca Stringhini, and Savvas Zannettou at https://arxiv.org/abs/2101.03820

Source: https://9to5mac.com/2021/01/11/parler-app-and-website-go-offline/

 

Watching Right-Wing Media Is Associated With Higher COVID-19 Infection Rates And Death

A recent study on compliance with health recommendations investigated the effects of exposure to partisan media on our attitudes and behaviors. Understanding the value-attitude relations towards public health information is important to structure an effective media narrative. This is to successfully minimize the harm of the coronavirus caused by non-compliance with health recommendations. Moreover it sheds a light on the importance of a healthy, bi-partisan media diet.

tl;dr

Exposure to right-wing media has been shown to relate to lower perceived threat from COVID- 19, lower compliance with prophylactic measures against it, and higher incidence of infection and death. What features of right-wing media messages account for these effects? In a preregistered cross-sectional study (N = 554) we test a model that differentiates perceived consequences of two CDC recommendations—washing hands and staying home—for basic human values. People who consumed more right-wing media perceived these behaviors as less beneficial for their personal security, for the well-being of close ones, and the well-being of society at large. Perceived consequences of following the CDC recommendations mediated the relationship between media consumption and compliance with recommendations. Implications for public health messaging are discussed.

Make sure to read the full paper titled Why is right-wing media consumption associated with lower compliance with COVID-19 measures? by Vladimir Ponizovskiy, Lusine Grigoryan and Wilhelm Hofmann at https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/5b3cn

Source: Sean Hannity, Media using coronavirus coverage as political weapon, Published on March 10, 2020 by Fox News on YouTube

Under the theory of planned behavior, a triad of beliefs (attitude towards the coronavirus, normative acceptance of coronavirus personal protective measures, and control of adherence to coronavirus health information) feeds into a consumer’s evaluation to form intent to behave in a certain way. A recent German study applied the theory of planned behavior to predict a consumer’s attitude towards health information recommending to frequently wash hands and to observe stay-at-home guidance to minimize the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. Specifically the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Research in health communications demonstrated that even when the health information is intentionally designed to evoke a behavioral change, relevant and non-redundant, the actual behavioral change in the consumer is negligible.

Now most beliefs do not necessarily result in behavioral change. It requires a certain type of belief: value-instantiating beliefs (VIB). These are personal beliefs derived from perceived consequences of objects, actions or events that are measured against personal values. For example, a value might be security of family and self. An action might be compliance with health information. Sentences such as “COVID-19 is dangerous”, “Social distancing restricts my freedom” or “Masks offer no protection” demonstrate the range of strength and impact on the value-attitude relations of a consumer. This study applied VIBs to differentiate consumer compliance with simple coronavirus protections based on their exposure to either right-wing or left-wing media. Right-wing media were represented by Fox News, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Breitbart. Left-wing media were represented by CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. Here the underlying hypothesis rests on the idea that right-wing media, in direct comparison to left-wing media, is less likely to present COVID-19 health information in the form of CDC recommendations as positive and is more prone towards downplaying the protective measures over individual liberty or personal self-determination. Therefore, the researchers focused on features of COVID-19 information that is likely to induce an assessment or a behavioral change, i.e. recommendations designed to stress the importance of hygiene and self-isolation within one’s personal bubble in the context of COVID-19. The goal was to map out relevant elements that influence attitudes towards COVID-19 protection measures and the behavioral compliance with them. 

They found that consumers of right-wing media register CDC recommendations as less meaningful to their security and in line with their values. This results in less positive attitude towards COVID-19 health information and lower compliance with simple coronavirus protections. In other words, the more Fox News a person consumed, the more indifferent was that person’s attitude towards the positive effects that washing the hands and staying at home has on their health. This led to higher infection rates and death. The researchers were limited by a number of factors, however, ranging from establishing causality between media consumption that translated into behavior and tracking these changes over a longer time period. They were nevertheless able to demonstrate that not just individual health but the health of the general public and its ability to combat the COVID-19 pandemic is influenced by the accuracy of the presentation of health information concerning COVID-19 and highlighted the associated risks of ignoring them. This research helps media professionals to reframe their presentation of health information and it offers valuable insights to develop countermeasures against political abuse of health information through partisan media.

COVID-19
Get the latest information from the CDC about COVID-19          

Wear a mask over your nose and mouth to protect yourself and others and stop the spread of COVID-19.
 
Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from others who don’t live with you.

Avoid crowds. The more people you are in contact with, the more likely you are to be exposed to COVID-19.  
Wash your hands often.

More information on how to protect yourself and others from contracting the coronavirus can be found here: 
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html

On Propaganda: Russia vs United States

The political and diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia have been in decline for the past decade. Geopolitical tensions between the two nations increased steadily leading to more and more political propaganda of their respective state media. This is also reflected in their government policy documents. These propaganda efforts resulted in a number of influence operations ranging from coordinated inauthentic behavior to create a false narrative to intentional spread of disinformation to undermine the political integrity of the other side. A recent article by researchers of the University of Sheffield and Bard College examined 135 journalistic pieces of American and Russian state media to better understand how their propaganda is portrayed in both countries. It’s an important contribution to better understand emerging public crisis, appropriate content policy response and future diplomacy.  

tl;dr

The period of growing tensions between the United States and Russia (2013–2019) saw mutual accusations of digital interference, disinformation, fake news, and propaganda, particularly following the Ukraine crisis and the 2016 US presidential election. This article asks how the United States and Russia represent each other’s and their own propaganda, its threat, and power over audiences. We examine these representations in US and Russian policy documents and online articles from public diplomacy media Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and RT. The way propaganda is framed, (de)legitimized, and securitized has important implications for public understanding of crises, policy responses, and future diplomacy. We demonstrate how propaganda threats have become a major part of the discourse about the US–Russia relationship in recent years, prioritizing state-centred responses and disempowering audiences.

Make sure to read the full article titled Competing propagandas: How the United States and Russia represent mutual propaganda activities by Dmitry Chernobrov and Emma L. Briant at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0263395720966171

Credit: https://econ.st/39hEh05 & https://bit.ly/2XuWm5i

How does the United States influence its own citizens by the ways in which it represents the propaganda efforts of Russia at home? How is American propaganda portrayed in Russia? Contrary to popular belief the United States is actively conducting influence operations to disseminate propaganda in foreign countries and at home. Under the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, known as Smith-Mundt Act and it’s 2012 modernization amendments, the U.S. government is free to extend propaganda efforts to public broadcasters and radio stations foreign and domestic. In Russia, the situation is quite different: state-owned media, strategic use of broadcasting and information technologies are a central feature of the current government. Recent legislation aimed to pressure opposition and restrict freedom of speech and assembly are only surface examples of Russia’s soft power approach in foreign and domestic policy. President Putin defined soft power as “promoting one’s interests and policies through persuasion”, which has translated into Russian public diplomacy initiatives that use a combination of international broadcasting and web-based social networks to engage foreign publics.

Russia’s constitution declares Russia to be a democratic state with a republican form of government and state power divided between the legislative, executive and judicial branches. However, the policy changes introduced by Vladimir Putin have effectively turned Russia’s political system into a particular type of post-totalitarian authoritarianism. Similarly, the United States political system is a federal constitutional republic of checks and balances between the executive, the legislative and the judicial branch. While the United States and Russia differ greatly with regard to their political systems, their respective mechanisms, construction and response to propaganda afford valuable insights for communication researchers. 

To start, it is important to understand propaganda and its variation in public diplomacy. The researchers elaborate on the intricacies of finding the appropriate terminology but suggest propaganda to be 

“a process by which an idea or an opinion is communicated to someone else for a specific persuasive purpose”

Public diplomacy reaches a step further by extending a state’s policy objective to an international audience through intercultural exchanges, advocacy and international broadcasting. The researchers examined 90 articles by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and 45 articles by Russia Today through a critical discourse analysis in an effort to compare and differentiate between moral representation, reporting on government actions, actors and victims. They then parsed it with threats to national security and national identity. They found that both the United States and Russia view and portray propaganda as an external threat orchestrated by a foreign actor using conflict-related, binary language with no room for compromise. Both countries’ propaganda language widely used scientific and technology metaphors to create an impression of sophistication beyond the comprehension of average Joe. Mere exposure to this type of propaganda is assumed to be enough to rally citizens; actual persuasion was not apparently an objective for either U.S. or Russian state media.

While the United States understands propaganda as a foreign threat against the national security of the West, Russian documents use foreign to clarify the externality of influenced communications or misinformation without specific location labelling in the context of propaganda. The United States often portrays itself as ‘leader of the free world’ with the oldest free democracy whereas Russia is depicted as a morally isolated, neo-soviet autocracy. Russia often diametrically portrays the United States by its flawed political system redirecting the Russian audience to the shortcomings of American democracy and conflicting political leaders. Both the United States and Russia construct propaganda in similar ways using similar elements: (1) they present a national security threat to the state and its international reputation while (2) they reframe domestic political problems as foreign-induced, which then justifies a strong, determined state response. This fear-driven approach to portray propaganda as something that can only be mitigated by a strong government response tends to disenfranchise citizens, induces chilling effects that lead to censorship and undermine civic engagement.

As both the United States and Russia will likely continue to lace state media with its propaganda citizens can learn to be vigilant when interacting with content online, in particular if the overall messaging of the content presents itself in a binary fashion. To counter disinformation, policymakers must better communicate policy solutions and focus on media literacy and education. Lastly, government officials can contribute to decrease propaganda and polarization by reframing their political narrative through an infinite mindset with choices and compassion.