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Social Media as a Tool of Hybrid Warfare; The Case of Syria
This article appeared as a guest article on the Saker Blog and is reproduced here to help draw attention to this issue.
August has been a month for exposing how the “Empire” works at the social media level, inside the activist communities and, in this case, through the social media movements aimed at defending Syria. Western governments have outlaid millions for this purpose and countless allied agencies are involved across various languages and media, from actual military personnel managing multiple fake characters , to other programs targeting online socio-political activism, even to the extent of online publications being created and “discovered” that appear as belonging to ISIS .
From mid-2013 it became obvious that the Syrian driven social media movement for the defence of their country was losing control to strange characters who had no links to Syria. A Lebanese-Syrian analyst, a guest on this blog , flagged this issue during that year. Opportunists and operatives poured in, forming strange, contradictory alliances and “attack packs”, succeeding in driving away much of the original Syrian activists who had volunteered, at great personal risk, to engage with the English speaking world in explaining the truth about Syria. Most of these retreated to Arabic language pages and were never seen again. Many of the high quality supporters from the West and elsewhere also were pushed out or silenced and replaced by a cabal who bludgeoned non-compliant Syrian activists and supporters, brought in the absolute taboo “values” of sectarianism, as well as political, religious and other agenda that didn’t belong in the movement or in Syria. A few of the original Syrians remained on but, alarmingly, two in particular, seemed determined to assist the process of surrendering the movement to these nefarious characters.
NATO, it is suspected, places “experts” in various fields of interest amongst the movement of “Empire” resisters as Trojan Horses, implants, ready to explode like cluster bombs, releasing their smaller submunitions in their midst when required. As a matter of fact, it would be rather naïve to expect the contrary. Standing in the way of this pernicious strategy were a few indigenous activists and leaders, primarily operating on social media and blogs in those earlier years of the war. Some chose to use pseudonyms for reasons of security and greater freedom of expression. In any resistance movement, all patriots and solidarists have the duty to protect the identity and safety of their colleagues and this betrayal of basic resistance protocol was used repeatedly when any of these activists refused to come under these forces’ control or clear the way for their total domination of the movement. Those activists who did not yield, were subjected to systematic vilification, disinformation campaigns and acts designed to cause harm or even worse, death. A concerted campaign ensued where those activists’ friends were given an ultimatum to disassociate with them or face excommunication from the activist community, to the point of even personal threats being made against some family members.
What happened to this budding indigenous social media movement makes sense when studying a NATO document and some of its references which discusses the importance of using social media in their suite of war strategies known as “Hybrid Warfare”. It is titled, “Social Media as a Tool of Hybrid Warfare”. It focuses largely on tactics attributed to Russia, but reveals NATO’s own anxieties of such strategies commonly known as their own, ricocheting back to them. The third chapter, from page 18 onwards, becomes interesting as descriptions therein mirror identically, to the finest detail, similar observations of nefarious interlocutors in the Syrian social media defence movement. Here are some of the descriptions in that chapter; “minimize alternative voices.”; ” [s]aturating the information environment—the coordinated use of blogs, posts, articles etc. that are posted and reposted by opinion leaders, activists and fake personas.”; “[t]argeting and distracting the opponent: – Distribution of misinformation and rumours—to publicise an opponent’s alleged wrongdoing.”, and; “[t]argeting an opponent also involves any sort of personal attack, and can go so far as to acquire personal information and use it to defame, ridicule, threaten etc.”
These strategies have been used by purported colleagues and solidarists in the Syria online defence movement to saturate and dilute indigenous voices with their own and to attack individuals, in some cases parties, entire nations and alliances. The NATO document discusses social engineering for military purposes such as espionage and information gathering and also that of “[d]eception—creating ‘noise’ or ‘informational fog’ around a topic in order to distract attention from more strategically important events.”  Discussed is the phenomenon of “trolling” and distinguishing the more common form from another type that NATO StratCom COE describes as “…the ‘hybrid troll’, who engages in the same patterns of behaviour as the traditional troll, but operates in the context of a particular political or military agenda.” 
Had there not been instances of alert and experienced individuals from the region, recognizing warning signs of infiltration of subversive elements into their movement and even into Syria itself, these concerted, seemingly co-ordinated responses that come straight out of the publications of NATO and the likes of Nissen from the Danish Military  would never have happened, nor would the realisation that, like any movement defending a cause under attack by “the Empire”, every aspect of resistance is infiltrated and in this day and age the information platform is of extreme importance.
From infiltrators who had fake threats published in purported ISIS magazines to lend them and their agents credibility in the Syria movement in order to hide their sectarian, Christian Zionist agenda,  to those who drown the native voices out with repetitive, scratched recordings of subjects of their own and attack with unusual viciousness any Syrian who merely questions them or wishes to remain independent and on the scene of defending their own country, the end result has been an almost total decimation of the English language social media defence of Syria movement.
Nevertheless, this nefarious strategy that always targets “enemies” of the West, has not really succeeded in damaging Syria. The first few years of the online movement for the defence of Syria were the most crucial years where many journalists, political and academic figures and the like approached the movement for information and insights as the whole story was so new and hard to fathom as the media and information war on Syria had reached levels unprecedented. Syrians and their great friends worked feverishly and in a state of urgency, in unison, collaboration, with great professionalism and skill to provide the “outside” world with the real story about the War on Syria. This was the ground work and the essential work has been laid out already and these activists stand proud.
 The Clarion Project and the ISIS Dabiq Trail
Ibid; p 19
Ibid; p 20
 Ibid; p20
 Ibid; p 27
  Nissen T.E, The Weaponization of Social Media, Royal Danish Defence College,2015
 The Clarion Project and the ISIS Dabiq Trail