Hostile Social Manipulation by Russia and China a Growing but Poorly Understood Threat
Sep 4, 2019
The practitioners of hostile social manipulation employ social media, sophisticated forgeries, cyberbullying and harassment, distribution of rumors and conspiracy theories, and other tools to cause damage to their target state. This report represents an effort to better define and understand the challenge by focusing on the activities of the two leading authors of such techniques — Russia and China.
Present Realities and Emerging Trends
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The role of information warfare in global strategic competition has become much more apparent in recent years. Today's practitioners of what this report's authors term hostile social manipulation employ targeted social media campaigns, sophisticated forgeries, cyberbullying and harassment of individuals, distribution of rumors and conspiracy theories, and other tools and approaches to cause damage to the target state. These emerging tools and techniques represent a potentially significant threat to U.S. and allied national interests. This report represents an effort to better define and understand the challenge by focusing on the activities of the two leading authors of such techniques — Russia and China. The authors conduct a detailed assessment of available evidence of Russian and Chinese social manipulation efforts, the doctrines and strategies behind such efforts, and evidence of their potential effectiveness. RAND analysts reviewed English-, Russian-, and Chinese-language sources; examined national security strategies and policies and military doctrines; surveyed existing public-source evidence of Russian and Chinese activities; and assessed multiple categories of evidence of effectiveness of Russian activities in Europe, including public opinion data, evidence on the trends in support of political parties and movements sympathetic to Russia, and data from national defense policies. The authors find a growing commitment to tools of social manipulation by leading U.S. competitors. The findings in this report are sufficient to suggest that the U.S. government should take several immediate steps, including developing a more formal and concrete framework for understanding the issue and funding additional research to understand the scope of the challenge.
Introduction: Information and Democracy — A Perilous Relationship
Understanding Social Manipulation: Definitions and Typologies
Hostile Social Manipulation: Russian Activities
Hostile Social Manipulation: Chinese Activities
Does Hostile Social Manipulation Work? Measures of Success in Russian Activities in Europe and the United States
Hostile Social Manipulation: The Experience to Date — Conclusions and Implications
This research was sponsored by the Office of Net Assessment, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.
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