The Policy Insights Forum (PIF) was pleased to welcome Michael Berk, defence and security expert, on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. The event was hosted and moderated by Dr. J. Paul de B. Taillon, Vice-Chair of the PIF and Senior Academic Advisor at Samuel Associates. The topic of this event was "Building National Resilience against Influence Attacks."
Michael Berk is an acknowledged expert on the information environment and has conducted analyses on various connections and relations between actors, behaviours and, when possible, and their effects. What stood out from his presentation was the complexity of the topic. Indeed, the information environment is both complex and adaptive. Due to its complexity, the information environment represents a challenge for nation-states and can pose specific problems on the road to developing a more comprehensive appreciation of the information environment and possible solutions. What is more challenging is the exponentially increasing speed at which information is circulating and inherent volume. This is due to the significant and continuous improvements in computational power. Moreover, Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) create a rapidly changing operating environment for the governments, militaries, activists, and could impact societal factors. As Mr. Berk proffered, "the essence of the information environment comes not from its technological, biological, cognitive elements, but from the interactions between them." Due to the extreme complexity and interwoven dynamics in this environment, there is a lack of knowledge on how this environment operates and how the information flows. There is also an information struggle that includes a wide range of actors that apply a broad range of strategies and tactics available to them that is often inexpensive and easily accessible. With the deployment of the internet to every nation, the traditional borders and regions of the world are blurred today more than ever. With this comes another set of problems, especially for liberal democracies. He argued that "countries in which political elites in societies cannot agree in a common direction, which also supposes a degree of shared value, will not be able to effectively mobilize, organize and channel resources at their disposal toward the common good; however it is defined in each society." So much information is thrown at people by states, social media, etc. Knowing how to make sense of this mass of information provided by media et al poses a serious intellectual challenge.
Today, many actors understand the influence of information and recognize it as one of the battlefields. Countermeasures need to be developed in order to avoid misinformation or disinformation from malicious entities to understand how the information environment works as a system. The biggest issue Western democracies face is that the internal unity and cohesion of societies is tenuous. In light of this, the West must become strategic and find a way to address the information or influence attacks by understanding the conditions, relations, and dependencies in the information environment. The introduction of data sharing requirements on social media companies would encourage collaboration between researchers, governments, and platforms and would be a good start. Additionally, investing in creating national and international infrastructure and collaborative efforts to facilitate policy‐oriented research would also aid resolving this issue. Therefore, developing a coherent concept for "national information management" would greatly facilitate the development and implementation of legitimate rules of engagement for the information environment.