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New French Information Doctrine Militarizes Social Media

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New French Information Doctrine Militarizes Social Media

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.


More and more, the virtual world becomes a real battleground, where rival world powers face each other and seek to secure their interests. Like land, sea, air and outer space, the cybernetic field is a new type of territory where military occupation is essential for the national defense of each state. However, some world powers, mainly Western ones, have used this reality to invest in cyber attacks instead of simply increasing their defense capacity. This is precisely the case in France, which is announcing “cyber security” measures whose aim seems to be only attacking freedom of information in the name of the narrative of fighting “fake news”.

Recently, French Defense Minister Florence Parly announced during a conference in Paris that cyberspace and the information zone have become a field of strategic rivalry. According to Parly, “military operations are no longer conducted in isolation from social networks since what is going on there actually impacts these operations.” Taking these factors into account, the minister promised that the French armed forces will start monitoring the digital space from now on, applying measures to ensure compliance with French laws, values, ​​and national interests in the virtual world.

In fact, military operations in virtual space are nothing new. All major military powers maintain large departments – public or secret – focused on cyberspace control where digital warfare technologies are tested and measures implemented in order to prevent foreign virtual attacks. France, in the same sense, maintains such departments and sees them as a matter of national priority, which is one of the main flags of Parly.

In 2019, the minister began a process to expand the French “cyber troop”, creating a recruitment program that already includes thousands of new programmers and developers working in the facilities of the French armed forces. What is being announced from now on, however, is an even larger development of that policy, with Paris creating virtually an entire military command aimed at controlling the virtual space.

In another summit, also focused on cyber security, in September, Parly stated: “Given the proliferation and severity of cyber attacks, I have decided to step up recruitment during the period 2019-2025. The update of the strategic review has confirmed the need to strengthen our cyber defense: I am therefore announcing that the Ministry of the Armed Forces will recruit 770 cyber-combatants in addition to the 1,100 initially planned. These positions will reinforce the armed forces which are at the heart of cyber operations, but also the DGA, which is working on the development of new equipment, as well as the DGSE. We therefore aim to recruit nearly 1,900 cyber fighters by 2025, which will bring their number to around 5,000″.

In every speech by Parly and other Western defense officials the idea of ​​”combating cyber attacks” goes far beyond creating anti-hacker or anti-espionage systems. One of the main current focuses is the fight against fake news, which are commonly understood as intelligence operations carried out by enemy countries with the objective of confusing the population and the security departments. In Paris, Parly stated that the virtual operations of the French armed forces will have as main objective to control the activities that try to “confuse the adversary”. The main problem with this type of discourse, however, is that there is no “neutral” information or absolute truth about the reported facts by media.

In practice, what the French government wants is not only to ban the release of unofficial information that could harm its interests, but also to act in the mass dissemination of information that helps Paris’ interests. It is a matter of conflicts of interest where the hegemonic media acts together with the government and its military apparatus – there is no such thing as a war between “truth” and fake news.

In recent years, any non-hegemonic discourse has been classified as “fake news” or “conspiracy theory” in the West. Alternative and independent media have been boycotted by governments that see in hegemonic media agencies efficient means of ensuring full control of information. Indirectly, social networks’ platforms have been an important instrument for independent media and that is precisely why Paris wants to militarize the social networks.

Added to this, there is the constant accusation of Russian involvement in cyber-operations against the West. The Russian government is considered the biggest enemy of Western cybersecurity, accumulating several accusations of hacker attacks, and spreading of fake news. Interestingly, nothing has ever been proven in this regard, so the “Russian cyber threat” can ironically be considered something like “fake news” or “conspiracy theory.” This discourse only exists in order to justify the tightening of control of the internet by Western governments, which want to find ways to bring together the militarization and hyper-control of the virtual world with their public speeches in defense of freedom of opinion and press.

Given these constant accusations, the Russian government sees Paris’ militarization of the internet as a threat and possible source of attacks against Moscow. In a social media publication, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated: “The French military without any hint of camouflage has presented a new doctrine to society – an information war for influence. (…) It seems that nobody has dared yet to declare their intentions to turn the information space into a field of combat so openly. France has officially adopted a course on the militarization of social networks, on the transformation of the auxiliary tools of ‘classic’ military propaganda into an independent type of weapon. Considering the fact that some experts already think that the information and propaganda methods worldwide are comparable with weapons of mass destruction, if not by deadly force, then at least by the scope, Paris’ statements can only instill nothing more than serious concern”.

In fact, the French measure does not seem to have any other objective than to take another step in the direction of a trend that has been consolidating in the West: the complete militarization of the cyber world. It is possible that in a few years real “cyber forces” will start to emerge, as new branches of the armed forces of the states, focused only on virtual actions – in the same way that the creation of “space forces” is a current trend. It remains to be seen whether Paris will actually use this militarization for the purpose of protecting its security, or whether it will make it a justification for unnecessary attacks against its geopolitical rivals.

Source: InfoBrics



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