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“Information Warfare” Perspective on Egypt and Tunisia: Disappointing

October 8, 2011

Information warfare.

That’s how the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Brett van Niekerk, Kiru Pillay, and Manoj Maharaj characterize  the Egyptian uprisings. Or, to quote them directly, “the uprisings were a form of social information warfare.”

In “Analyzing the Role of ICTs in the Tunisian and Egyptian Unrest from an Information Warfare Perspective” these South African scholars basically analyze the role of ICTs in the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings from an Information Warfare Perspective.

I had great expectations that this approach would open up some new ways of thinking about the uprisings, but I was ultimately disappointed.

For those unfamiliar with the IW perspective (like me),

information warfare is a concept whereby information and its supporting systems have value and therefore can be considered as an asset to be attacked or defended; in fact, the information and information systems themselves may also be used to conduct the attack.

Fortunately, the authors are easily able to analyze this using the “Information Warfare Lifecycle Model,”

a dual-layered process describing the high-level and more in-depth technical details of an event such as the tools employed to conduct the offensive and the defensive actions employed by the target. An IW incident evolves from some context whereby an aggressor attacks a target, employing certain tactics and tools to meet its objectives. This will have an impact on society as a whole, which, in turn, affects the individual. The target reacts to the attack to recover from it and to protect itself against the aggressors, as well as to possibly retaliate. The incident alters the original context, and the reaction results in the aggressor re-evaluating the original IW operation.

That certainly clears things up.

Seriously, though, this paper was disappointing. Given the extremely elaborate cybernetic model of “information warfare” the authors put forward, whose 2-dimensional diagram I have replicated above, I hoped that some new insight or observation would emerge.

I’m not a great believes in 2-D models with lots of boxes and arrows, but they have their place. Yet surely the value of such a model like this should be that in re-arranging the data along the contours it presupposes, we gain new insights. But there are few to be garnered here.

Even the conclusion,

The role of ICTs in the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings was primarily that of a transmission medium through which to spread anti-government perception and provide some organization and cohesion to the protests. Social media, in particular, facilitated communications and provided a degree of command and control for the protestors, therefore forming the basis for network-centric warfare. This technology, and the devices that support it, namely mobile phones, became the initial target of the government response as it attempted to restrict the spread of antigovernment perceptions. The mass media provided a platform for the protestors to present their message to the global community, again in an attempt to promulgate antigovernment perceptions and to apply further pressure on the respective government leaders to step down. In both cases, the objectives were met. While the use of ICTs alone did not achieve these successes, they certainly made a strong contribution.

offers nothing that has not already said in clearer ways and, in fact, is a reduction of many more complex accounts of the multilayered use of social media by various stakeholders in these uprisings. There are long articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal that offer more insight and analysis.

These three authors are among more than 30 communications scholars have contributed papers to a special issue of the International Journal of Communication focused on the role of information and communication technologies in the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings.

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