Bri Manning

From 2014, Ukraine and the Ill-Uses of Government Technology

March 24, 2017

I found this draft of an old post from January 22, 2014.

There have been reports of a chilling text message a large number of Ukranians received recently.

I’ve been thinking a lot about governments abusing technology. With things like  Snowden and Prism, we see the dark side of what a government can do with technology, and we haven’t even approached where Ukraine is. To contrast, we have the way Twitter and Facebook was used during the Arab Spring and how Reddit was used to battle SOPA and PIPA.

It’s likely I meant to extrapolate from there, never got around to it, and the draft just hibernated.

What’s interesting is how not much has changed. What has changed is the methods used. Russia adapted their tactics using social media misinformation. That was from 2015.

Fast forward, and we don’t have a clear picture of what governments are doing. That’s what’s clever. If you make your efforts so unclear and so unfocused, then it’s hard to pinpoint.

When people were focusing on privacy and surveillance, then you had something to fight against. Once the government uses the strengths of new platforms and technologies to achieve their goals instead of fighting against those strengths, then it’s a new battle. A battle that’s harder to fight.

Now to 2016.

Did Russia do something to influence the 2016 election? And what did they do? Sure, you can point to whether or not WikiLeaks was given information from Russian agents. Or whether Trump campaign officials had contact with Russians. Then there’s the kids writing fake news for advertising profit.

What I think is missing in all of this is that this is all decentralized activity from a variety of sources. That’s it’s strength. There’s no one source of any of it. There aren’t just a couple influential fake Twitter and Facebook users. There aren’t just a couple random websites that know how to go viral. There aren’t just a couple hacking attempts. Instead it’s a flood of all of it.

In addition, there isn’t some overarching control.

That’s really the key to make any of it hard to track down. If there was someone giving the orders, then I think we’d be in a different scenario. Instead there’s a large amount of smoke due to an array of small fires, not just one bonfire.

Governments have learned in the last few years that you shouldn’t send one Orwellian text message from a centralized point. And we generally lost on the surveillance front. Instead, they use the decentralized nature of Facebook and Twitter and spread out their efforts. An individual act is worth less, but the whole effort is worth more. It’s also harder to fight against and impossible to find the source of.