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Digital armies - Digital Threat Digest

PGI’s Digital Investigations Team brings you the Digital Threat Digest, SOCMINT and OSINT insights into disinformation, influence operations, and online harms.

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With wars no longer just fought on the ground but online, traditional peacemaking and mediation tactics have had to shift. Today, threat actors seek to influence public opinion and hinder peacemaking efforts via influence operations, hate speech and disinformation campaigns which can impact real-world events, including elections, peace negotiations, and the trajectory of armed conflicts.

The UN recently published an article, ‘Building a digital army: UN peacekeepers fight deadly disinformation’, which details how UN peacekeepers are tackling the threat of mis/ disinformation and hate speech following the launch of the UN’s policy brief on information integrity on digital platforms. In the DRC for example, the mission has set up a workshop to ‘train a digital army capable of detecting false information by producing content with the help of a smartphone and editing software and simultaneously spreading objective, credible information through “relay clubs” that disseminate these messages through their networks.’ Missions in CAR, Mali and South Sudan have also taken similar steps to combat online threats. Other UN initiatives include the UN Verified Initiative that launched a free online course on how to stary safe from false information circulating on social media.

However, while these are great first steps that show there is growing awareness around digital threats, these initiatives focus on factchecking and debunking rather than solutions that provide a comprehensive understanding of a particular online information environment and the threat actors involved that are likely to attempt to deter peacemaking efforts.

Rather than reacting to disinformation, peacemakers and mediators need to be pre-emptive by monitoring threat actors and their behaviours in order to identify signals that could form part of campaigns to influence negotiations and elections, as well as understand how people are discussing a conflict or peace process and potentially seeding polarising narratives which seek to disrupt peace talks.

Without this, threat actors will continue to exploit the fragility of conflict states and simply move on to other forms of disinformation and hate speech – long after their previous attempts have been fact checked and debunked. More is needed to disrupt these networks and dismantle the online infrastructure of threat actors to stop them from churning out harmful information.

Digital investigators are a form of a digital army where we monitor the narratives promoted in an information environment, how entities and threat actors promote these narratives and map out links between threat actor infrastructure to ultimately counter digital threats. Mediators and peacekeepers need to develop their digital armies to incorporate such skills in order to be ahead of the growing threat of digital conflict.

More about Protection Group International's Digital Investigations

Our Digital Investigations Analysts combine modern exploitative technology with deep human analytical expertise that covers the social media platforms themselves and the behaviours and the intents of those who use them. Our experienced analyst team have a deep understanding of how various threat groups use social media and follow a three-pronged approach focused on content, behaviour and infrastructure to assess and substantiate threat landscapes.

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