osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,
osewalrus
osewalrus

Info War v. The Swarm

We're having some tech problems at Wetmachine so I'm posting a teaser here).

As the fight about Network Neutrality heats up, the telcos and cablecos respond with "info war" tactics. Most recently, it appears that a number of folks are being paid to post anti-NN comments on blogs (in support of bloggers on the anti-NN side as well as arguing with pro-NN blogs). You can read a good story about it here: http://www.ipdemocracy.com/archives/2006/05/31/index.php#001614

Mind you, this does not make everyone posting comments against network neutrality a paid shill or dupe. But when the same group of commenters suddenly appears and starts filing fairly consistent comments in a large number of places, only about NN, and on blogs that don't usually attract comments, it should raise some eyebrows.

It also undersocres a distinction I draw between information war and swarm. Both phenomena are increasingly common as the internet enables people to engage with each other and seek information on important social and political issues.

"Information War" occurs as a product of planned campaigns. We can see expressions of it in significant issues such as the Israel/PA conflict and in a number of corporate campaigns. A small group of motivated entities undertakes a deliberate strategy to push its own message and sabotage the ability of the opposite side to get out its message. This includes targeting opponents websites for denial of service/defacing attacks, attempts to manipulate search engine results, use of multiple websites to increase the appearance of consensus around a particular point of view, paying opinion leaders to put forth favorable opinions or discredit opponents, etc.

A "swarm" is a more organic phenomena. It arises when a group of diverse interests recognize that a particular issue impacts them and that mutual coordination will work to mutual advanatge. The critical difference between "swarm" and "information war" is (a) eschewing certain tactics, such as hack attacks, and (b) it is marked by loose coordination rather than central planning. As a result, messages to communities are often more diverse (and therefore, IMO, more effective) rather than following a predetermined set of message points. A swarm is also more likely to produce genuinely diverse coalitions, becaus the range of organizations interested in the issue is defined by self-identified organizations reaching through their social networks rather than working from a strategically developed list and known partners.

Hopefully, I will have a chance to develop this theme a bit more once we have resolved our tech problems at Wetmachine.
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