[by Cheryl Rofer]
I started reading Book II about the time this tweet appeared.
If Russia is in decline, why worry? Maybe, real worry is West's decline and that we manage things better? pic.twitter.com/WqG4uT5Pqt
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) October 22, 2016
Book II begins…
The war between the Athenians and Peloponnesians and the allies on either side now really begins. For now all intercourse except through the medium of heralds ceased, and hostilities were commenced and prosecuted without intermission.
War is often accompanied by a break in communications. In ancient Greece, that communication involved a human carrier. Communications now never really end.
The United States and Russia are not at war now, pace those who would have a new Cold War, but relations are tense. Some official channels of communication have been cut off, but others remain. Although each side claims at times that the channels of communication over Syria have been broken, the dialog starts up again.
The tweet above, however, is more like what Athenian and Spartan soldiers would have yelled at each other across the field. I won’t unpack all the insults contained in it, but I can see at least five.
This tweet is from the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom. That account has become famous for its insulting tweets. It tweets a lovely photo of somewhere in Russia most mornings, and retweets more or less standard news. Then BAM! One like the above.
The pattern is regular enough that it is probably strategic, part of Russia’s information warfare. Did the Athenians and Spartans have anything similar? When communications depend primarily on in-person interactions, it’s much more difficult. But rumor-spreading has always been an option, as has been misinformation about war plans and governmental actions. And those insults.
Communications to and from the battlefield have changed in similar ways. Even small insurgencies are now able to communicate rapidly.
The intensity and volume of the information war is new. Hacking and counter-hacking, although most of it is psychological, with the goal of destroying trust in institutions or people. Because I suspect you all share my fatigue with the information war of the US election, I’ll leave it to you to find the examples.
When the election is over, we will still be left with, most notably but not exclusively, the information war between the United States and Russia. Social media have become “the medium of heralds.” But the heralds have many masters, many goals.