ACI Books & Book Chapters
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Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)
Army Cyber Institute
In September 2020, General Paul Nakasone, NSA Director and Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, called foreign influence operations “the next great disruptor.” Nearly every intelligence agency in the United States government has been sounding the alarm over targeted influence operations enabled by social media companies since at least 2016, even though some of these operations started earlier. What often goes unstated and even less understood is the digital surveillance economy underlying these platforms and how this economic structure of trading free access for data collection about individuals’ lives poses a national security threat. Harvard sociologist Shoshana Zuboff calls this phenomenon “surveillance capitalism [which] unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data.” This behavioral data is transformed into increasingly accurate microtargeted advertising. The new surveillance capitalism has enabled massive information warfare campaigns that can be aimed directly at target populations. The predictive power of surveillance capitalism is not only being leveraged for advertising success but increasingly harnessed for mass population control enabled by massive amounts of individually identifiable, commercially available data with virtually no oversight or regulation.
This graphic novel is meant to illustrate the risks from microtargeting and the small, almost imperceptible actions that can shift the outcome of major events. Particularly in competition, the risks from commercial data collection and the weaponization of it towards adversary ends can shift momentum over a series of small movements. Supply chain disruptions can appear to be an accident, almost normal friction. Family members can be targeted to influence a key decision-maker. A long-term employee leaving for a better-paying job doesn’t render any alarms. A frustrated idealist can trigger a national security event because of what they’re consuming online – all individually targeted through algorithms enabled by commercial data collection. The threat from microtargeting isn’t a massive open wound. Instead, it’s death by a thousand cuts from an unseen knife.
insider threat, social psychology, influence operations, microtargeting, surveillance capitalism, surveillance
Dawson, Jessica, "Hidden Stratagem - Microtargeting: The Future of Conflict" (2023). ACI Books & Book Chapters. 40.
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