The Cyber Bear 7 may be able to seek the easier objective of fomenting chaos because chaos is a means to an end, and that end is a less ambitious one than some of the Kremlin’s earlier inhabitants had entertained. The evident lowering of Russia’s sights means that its information oper- ators no longer have to promote what Naval War College professor Tom Nichols terms “a Russian line. Rather, Putin’s goal and the Russian goal is not to convince Western societies of something—it is to convince them of nothing.” The result would be a sort of postmodern paralysis in which objective facts are not only immaterial but also seemingly impossible.23 DISINFORMATION AND THE DIGITAL WORLD As implied earlier, the rapid increase in online connectivity brings increased reach to digital forms of disinformation. The “fragmented and diverse nature of internet discourse,” particularly through platforms such as Twitter, offers particular opportunities for disinformation operations. That is because such environments maximize reach by trading away the depth of discourse for increased volume of shorter statements.24 Increas- ing volume of shallower kinds of contact can help catalyze “an erosion of trust in public or reputable private media companies,”25 accelerating already existing trends of diminishing faith in the objectivity of institu- tions, as is discussed later in this book. Limited content moderation, dis- placed by instances of selective moderation, does little to meaningfully reverse this effect. The inherent price of participation in launching disinformation opera- tions is so low as to invite activity. One scholar noted at a Canadian confer- ence in 2019, “For less than the price of a single T-14 Armada tank, Vladimir Putin has managed to tear the fabric of US democracy and society and is doing the same to societies throughout the Western world.” In addition to the paltry monetary cost, campaigns do rely on a degree of time and patience in order for a persistent effort to gain potential traction.26 Thus, as with many other instruments of hostility in the cyber realm, disinforma- tion is not an “instantaneous” weapon. An important element of digital realm disinformation is that “its reach is manufactured.” Artificial extension of the reach of disinformation is enabled by several factors that produce an echoing effect. This process requires several sometimes overlapping steps, and the maturation of these steps explains why disinformation (even an example that goes viral) rarely does so immediately and without preparation. The process starts with an assertion or an account of an incident dealing with a controver- sial topic. Connection to seemingly relevant issues and a minimum degree of apparent validity is useful in allowing this initial element to be seen online. It can gain amplification if one or more comparatively mainstream
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