A market failure in the marketplace of ideas. A changing narrative of casus belli and war aims. Media organizations targeted by state actors.

At a glance.

  • A market failure in the marketplace of ideas.
  • A changing narrative of case belli and war aims.
  • Media organizations targeted by state actors.

A market failure in the marketplace of ideas.

Crowdsourcing, such as that used by wikis and seen particularly on the largest wiki of them all, Wikipedia, is now viewed as the online version of the marketplace of ideas that classical liberals saw as the best way to reach a consensus of approximate objective truth. Wikipedia, in particular, has gained a solid reputation and is generally considered by fact-checkers to be somewhat more accurate than traditional refereed reference works.

But this marketplace may have its own market failure. Vice has a report of one such outage. It’s an outlier, but it’s an interesting cautionary tale that points to some of the limitations of crowdsourcing. “A Chinese woman spent years writing alternate accounts of medieval Russian history on the Chinese Wikipedia, conjuring up imaginary states, battles and aristocrats in one of the biggest hoaxes on the open-source platform.” As of 2019, author Zhemao had published more than two hundred articles, which was a lavishly cross-referenced and interlocking lengthy work of historical fiction, authoritative and sober in tone, and carefully documented. The documentation was mostly fake, but this went unnoticed until a novelist, Yifan, who had stumbled upon one of her stories and found it interesting and compelling source material for a novel work, tried to track down some of the references. They did not pursue, and others drawn to the Scriptures soon uncovered an elaborate deception.

“When reviewing new content, we only check if it’s obvious plagiarism and if it’s from the right sources,” Yeh Youchia, a volunteer editor who “patrols” entries, told Vice, adding, “You [Zhemao] understood the format of Wikipedia very well and provided sources that were very difficult to verify.” Editors usually assume good faith on the part of the authors. In this case, that assumption was misplaced. Not only did Zhemao create a world, but at least four contributors also created sock puppets with whom she interacted, sometimes argumentatively, to add veracity to her efforts.

Her motivation was interesting. She didn’t do it for profit, or for political reasons, or at the behest of any government or organization. She did it because she was bored. Her husband traveled a lot and she had plenty of time. She has released an apology letter, describing herself as a high school graduate with no working knowledge of Russian or English. “The swindle started with a harmless intention. Unable to understand scholarly articles in their original language, she stitched sentences together with a translation tool and filled in the blanks with her own imagination.”

We don’t see any good alternatives to the marketplace of ideas as far as public discourse is concerned, but markets sometimes fail. Zhemao says she has made up her mind to learn a trade and stop dealing with counterfeiting. We hope someone can hire her as a writer.

A changing narrative of casus belli and war aims.

Or, as Moscow prefers to say, not a war, but a “military special operation.”

In an interview with RIA Novosti, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said that NATO’s supply of artillery to Ukraine’s armed forces has prompted Russia to expand its territorial goals beyond the Donbas and into the southern regions along the Black Sea. Russia cannot tolerate long-range weapons in the hands of the Ukrainian government as they threaten Russian territory. (The AP provides a summary of the missile and cannon systems that NATO members have supplied to Ukraine and the effect these systems are having on the battlefield. The missile launchers were HIMARS and MLRS; the cannons were a variety of 155-mm -Guns- While the guns come from different countries – the US, France and Germany – they all fire standard NATO ammunition.) So the escalation of the war is again NATO’s fault. The New York Times has a useful, brief account of Moscow’s changing justifications for its war, and how those justifications have been adapted to the realities of the battlefield:

“Russian officials have given differing — sometimes conflicting — accounts of their war aims. But Western officials have always scoffed at Moscow’s claims that its invasion was anything but an act of expansion — an attempt to reclaim territory lost with the fall of the Soviet Union — and on Wednesday, as Europe brought a heatwave to the record books, they made it clear that a winter of war was approaching, warned of energy shortages and urged solidarity… In a speech declaring the start of a full-scale invasion on February 24, Mr Putin claimed Russia had no intention of occupying the country or to force anything on anyone. Moscow simply wants to ‘demilitarize’ a neighbor it sees as a threat, he said. He pointed to the danger of NATO missiles stationed in Ukraine and aimed at Russia – even though Ukraine is not a NATO member and no such missiles are on its soil.”

Russia notes that persuasion is inherently harder to achieve than confusion: getting an audience to believe a particular story is harder than just obscuring advice. Russian operators excelled at the latter, but missed their weaknesses at the former. Inconsistency doesn’t matter much when you’re targeting disruption, but it makes constructing a positive narrative that much shakier.

Contradictions aside, an essay in the Wilson Quarterly argues that Russia has another problem: the Ukrainian “counter-narrative.” It is partly a matter of Ukraine’s content (and the general fidelity of that content to facts is a major asset), its politics (tolerance and even encouragement of “citizen journalism” and willingness to relinquish the tight and sweeping control over news flow that Moscow aspires to ) and his style. President Zelensky’s fluency as an orator, the informal style he and the members of his government adopt, and the regularity and ease with which they communicate have made a significant contribution to the international success of Kyiv’s embassies. Casual trousers and a T-shirt make a better impression in war than an expensive suit surrounded by an elaborately banded Ruritan guard.

Media organizations targeted by state actors.

Late last Thursday, Proofpoint released a study on recent activities by state actors targeting media organizations. The researchers note that China, North Korea, Turkey and Iran were particularly active in finding media organizations. “Since early 2021, Proofpoint researchers have observed that APT actors regularly target and impersonate journalists and media organizations to further their state-aligned collection requests and initiatives.” Journalists’ social media accounts have been of particular concern to the threat groups Interest. Proofpoint suggested that all organizations, not just the media, should seek to provide clarity on which of their employees are most likely to receive this type of attention, and adjust their training and other protective measures accordingly.

BleepingComputer describes the trials as a preparatory activity intended to serve broader espionage campaigns: “The adversaries either disguise themselves or attack these targets because they have unique access to non-public information that could help expand a cyberespionage operation.” Their efforts include both spoofing and credit harvesting.

Forbes asked Proofpoint for advice for media and working journalists. “‘There are a number of ways journalists can protect themselves from APT attacks,’ Sherrod DeGrippo, vice president of threat research and detection at Proofpoint, told me. “One is for journalists and their affiliated media to understand their overall level of risk. For example, we have seen targeted attacks on academics and foreign policy experts, particularly those involved in Middle East foreign policy, so individuals in this area should be particularly cautious. Another is when journalists use email addresses outside of their corporate domain, such as B. Gmail or ProtonMail, they should list them publicly on their website so that public sources can verify whether the email is legitimate or not. Conversely, experts approached by journalists should check the journalist’s website to determine if the email address belongs to the journalist.’”

The motivation for such operations varies. Espionage is an obvious target. But also influence, the ability to plant and amplify stories. Proofpoint concludes, “Targeting journalists and media organizations is nothing new. APT actors have, and likely will always have, a mandate to target journalists and media organizations, regardless of state affiliation, and will use associated personas to advance their goals and collection priorities, from intentions to gather sensitive information to attempts to alter public perception to manipulate represent the knowledge and access that a journalist or news outlet can provide uniquely in the public space. The media sector’s focus also reduces the risk of failure or discovery for one APT actor than pursuing others , harder targets of interest, such as B. Government agencies.”

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