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Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3... - 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.


When it comes to research in the digital threat space, it's often the reports focusing on Western targets that are afforded the limelight (we are a Western country after all): Russian influence in the US 2016 election, Chinese bot farms fanning the political flames of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, Iran's 'PressTV' operation in the UK... The list goes on. But while we shine the public spotlight on those, Western nations are missing a trick to fully understand non-Western digital political discourse dynamics more than we currently do. This is not just about the inherent value of embracing diversity in global narratives, but also due to an equally significant reason: the critical status many of these regions play as a playground for global digital threat actors.

The digital realm has emerged as a powerful platform for shaping political narratives, influencing opinions, and even destabilising governments. As the world's technological landscape advances, the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) employed by such political interferers have evolved in parallel. These actors, ranging from state-owned groups to independent “ideology” based protagonists, are utilising already-unstable, non-Western regions for the type of exploratory digital political manipulation tactics that they know will fall below global media radars. For example, Russian-backed groups and ‘independent’ PMCs such as Wagner have been using the conflict in Niger to test their own digital influence arsenals, closely observing the effectiveness of each tactic and fine-tuning their strategies in real-time. This not only achieves the type of regional influence (in this case, Moscow) seeks but sustains and advances the refinement of core adversary capabilities that transcend regional idiosyncrasies.

So understanding the intricacies of digital political manipulation in non-Western countries is not merely an exercise in global awareness, it's an investment in safeguarding national interests; both the interest of our regional allies and our own understanding of adversarial approaches. By constantly and consistently observing the activities of adversarial threat actors in non-Western digital ecosystems, we gain invaluable insights into their evolving strategies and tactics. This foresight can empower us to anticipate their future moves when it comes to influence operations targeting Western politics or other parts of the same region. While, of course, TTPs don’t ‘cookie cutter’ perfectly from region to region, powerful influence operation methodologies do not just pop up out of nowhere - there's always a breadcrumb trail, there's always a trial-and-error arena, and there's always a clue hiding in the dark as to what the next innovation is going to be.

To slow down the speed of influence operation innovation, we need to invest in a more collaborative and forward-thinking approach to this type pf digital resiliency on a global level. After all, some of the digital tactics used to influence Niger’s coup might be used (albeit on a less extreme level) to influence political opinions during the US and UK’s 2024 elections. Furthermore, this approach requires everyone, from governments to private companies, to share expertise and resources to bolster the digital resilience of nations and populations that are more vulnerable to cyber manipulation and influence operations. Of course, in tandem, we need to continue to push for digital literacy at all levels in all nations, ensuring that groups vulnerable to influence are empowered with the correct knowledge to challenge things like disinformation, conspiracy theories, and understand the basics of keeping themselves and their democracies safe online.

But, for now, when you're scrolling your feeds and catching up on all the news after the bank holiday, keep an eye out for those updates that you might be inclined to shrug off because they "don't affect me". Understanding and discussing digital manipulation within non-Western politics and world events extends far beyond promoting cultural diversity. By understanding what's happening elsewhere and committing to help non-Western regions secure their digital integrity, we give ourselves the best possible chance of protecting our own democratic infrastructure back home.

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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