British Military’s Troll Factory: ‘Good Guys’ To Tell You ‘Truth’

20 November 2018 — South Front

77th brigade

On November 14th, Wired published a story about the UK’s 77th Brigade, which deals with information warfare, written by Carl Miller.

According to him the people in the 77th brigade are soldiers, but they fight on the newest battleground – the cyber one. They edit videos, set up cameras, record sound, etc. They were drafted from all around the British military for their proficiency in graphic design, social media advertising, and data analytics.

Some have taken the army’s course in Defense Media Operations, and almost half were civilian reserves, with full time jobs in marketing or consumer research.

There were various offices with people busy with their respective tasks in each of them.

“One room was focused on understanding audiences: the makeup, demographics and habits of the people they wanted to reach. Another was more analytical, focusing on creating “attitude and sentiment awareness” from large sets of social media data. Another was full of officers producing video and audio content. Elsewhere, teams of intelligence specialists were closely analyzing how messages were being received and discussing how to make them more resonant.”

The soldier’s work in their own words focused on “key influencers”, “reach”, “traction”, similarly to digital marketing experts.

“If you track where UK manpower is deployed, you can take a good guess at where this kind of ‘influence’ activity happens,” an anonymous information warfare officer, not affiliated with the 77th said. “A document will come from the Ministry of Defense that will have broad guidance and themes to follow.” According to him each military campaign was also a marketing campaign too.

For example:

“Ever since NATO troops were deployed to the Baltics in 2017, Russian propaganda has been deployed too, alleging that NATO soldiers there are rapists, looters, little different from a hostile occupation.

“One of the goals of NATO information warfare was to counter this kind of threat: sharply rebutting damaging rumors and producing videos of NATO troops happily working with Baltic hosts.”

According to the anonymous source, information campaigns are called “white,” whereas “grey” and “black” are more covert. They deal with “counter-piracy, counter-insurgencies and counter-terrorism.” The messaging in them doesn’t and shouldn’t look like it came from the military and may frequently be a lie.

“I saw no evidence that the 77th do these kinds of operations themselves, but this more aggressive use of information is nothing new,” Miller wrote.

The Government Communications Headquarters also have a unit called the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG). It discredits companies, by passing “confidential information to the press through blogs etc.”, and by posting negative information on internet forums.

“JTRIG also boasted an arsenal of 200 info-weapons, ranging from in-development to fully operational.”

Operational targets are across the globe: Iran, Africa, North Korea, Russia and the UK. Sometimes the operations focused on specific individuals and groups, sometimes the wider regimes or even general populations.

The 77th brigade unit was formed in in 2015 from various older parts of the British Army – a Media Operations Group, a Military Stabilization Support Group, a Psychological Operations Group.

Miller wrote:

“In 2014, a year before the 77th was established, a memo entitled “Warfare in the Information Age” flashed across the British military. “We are now in the foothills of the Information Age” the memo announced. It argued that the British Army needed to fight a new kind of war, one that “will have information at its core”. The Army needed to be out on social media, on the internet, and in the press, engaged, as the memo put it, “in the reciprocal, real-time business of being first with the truth, countering the narratives of others, and if necessary manipulating the opinion of thousands concurrently in support of combat operations.””

Afterwards the “business of lulz” turned into geopolitics. Militaries from around the globe had come to exactly the same realisation as the British, and often more quickly.

“There is an increased reliance on, and desire for, information,” according to NATO’s Allied Joint Doctrine for Information Operations from 2009.

Carl Miller also looked into Russian information warfare:

“Moscow has built an apparatus that stretches from mainstream media to the backwaters of the blogosphere, from the President of the Russian Federation to the humble bot. Just like the early attention hackers, their techniques are a mixture of the very visible and very secret – but at a vastly greater scale.”

It somewhat repeats the mainstream media hysteria and the endless accusations of the US and the UK among others.

Miller also cited a Harvard paper, published in 2017 which claimed that China employs two million people to write 448 million social media posts a year. With their primary purpose being to keep online discussion away from sensitive political topics.

The story also mentioned something is becoming more apparent:

“In information warfare, offence beats defense almost by design. It’s far easier to put out lies than convince everyone that they’re lies. Disinformation is cheap; debunking it is expensive and difficult.”

And it supposedly benefits authoritarian states more than liberal democratic ones, which sounds rather absurd. “For states and militaries, manipulating the internet is trivially cheap and easy to do. The limiting factor isn’t technical, it’s legal.”

Miller claims that Western intelligences operate within legal frames and are hindered, and that their Chinese and Russian counterparts have no such hindrances.

Thus, the story is a long and thorough look into the mainstream narrative of praising any cyberwarfare efforts by the US and the UK, while condemning those of Russia and China. Because, “by design” any information warfare, be it offensive or defense carried out by Russia or China is “evil”, while efforts by the US and UK are “good,” regardless of the pursued aim and applied methods.

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