Home » Information, Misinformation, and Mind-Game: The Use of Social Media as a Tool of War by Kuki-Zo Militants

Information, Misinformation, and Mind-Game: The Use of Social Media as a Tool of War by Kuki-Zo Militants

by Rinku Khumukcham
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Information, Misinformation, and Mind-Game: The Use of Social Media as a Tool of War by Kuki-Zo Militants

Media has become a powerful tool in modern warfare, playing a crucial role in shaping perceptions, influencing public opinion, and even affecting the course of conflicts. Various forms of media, particularly social media, are now leveraged by both state and non-state actors in the conduct of warfare. State and non-state actors use platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. With these uses, social media has become a key component of psychological operations, aiming to influence the thoughts, emotions, and behaviours of target audiences. This involves conveying messages that manipulate perceptions, induce fear, or discourage enemy forces. Simply put, social media can become a tool for collecting information and waging psychological operations by disseminating strategic information and spreading misinformation.
All these sophistications can be seen in the Kuki-Zo’s digital warfare against the Meitei population. During the early days of the conflict, a Meitei faculty member of a renowned university raised a crucial question in the national media, highlighting a stark contrast in the emotional displays between the Meitei and Kuki-Zo communities. While the Meitei side shared numerous videos featuring emotionally traumatized survivors, there seemed to be a more restrained emotional response from the Kuki-Zo community, prompting genuine concern from the professor. One plausible interpretation is that the Kuki-Zo community strategically crafted a restrained emotional response as a signal of resoluteness. In this context, Pradip Phanojaobam’s recent comment in a local TV discussion about the U.S. media’s coverage after 9/11 seems relevant. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, there was a concerted effort to foster national unity and maintain a sense of security from the side of the US media. It was felt that broadcasting highly distressing emotionally charged images of the survivors and relatives of the victims can potentially heighten public fear and anxiety. So, media organizations prioritized messages of resilience, strength, and unity. If this is indeed the case underlying the Kuki-Zo community’s reaction, it may be attributed to the Kuki-Zo community’s centralized approach, while a similar strategy seems lacking on the Meitei side. The absence of a clear strategy becomes evident on the Meitei side, where social media also lacks a well-crafted approach to conveying strategic emotions by major players.
Moreover, misinformation has permeated social media, utilizing fake profiles, especially on Facebook. One recent example is the fake profile of Arambai Tenggol leader Korounganba on FB announcing false information about the cancellation of the Kangla meeting one day prior to the scheduled date. Another alarming tactic employed by the Kuki-Zo militants is the release of violent videos depicting the beheading of Meitei volunteers or the images of two teenagers who they had kidnapped. These contents were made public long after the killings had occurred, meaning these contents were kept to be released at an opportune time, aiming to evoke reactions from the Meitei population, creating economic and political disruption in the valley. These actions can be comprehended as integral components of the ongoing psychological operations against the Meiteis on social media orchestrated by Kuki-Zo militants.
Furthermore, there is an ongoing debate surrounding the sharing of images and videos from the frontline. There are allegations that certain social media pages have unintentionally exposed the positions of volunteers by posting content on social media. Here, we should understand that social media is nothing but a sea of information. Frontline selfies and reels have become a phenomenon of war, as seen in conflicts like the Russo-Ukrainian war, and many firms, including media houses, now track the geolocations of photos and videos posted by troops to ascertain their activities. Therefore, uploading media from the frontline can inadvertently reveal defensive positions, even in Manipur, as it does not take much to see their geolocations.
Another debate revolves around the social media campaign regarding the purchase of defensive equipment for volunteers, particularly drones with thermal cameras. Some argue that such discussions should not be public, as it informs the other side of the Meiteis’ defensive capabilities. In contrast, climate activist Licypria Kangujam’s social media handle contends that Meiteis should openly showcase their defensive capabilities for deterrence just like our country displays military capabilities on Independence and Republic Day. Also, drone technology is one technological aspect that countries do not openly reveal much. While countries like the US, Iran, and China possess advanced drone technology, the full extent of their capabilities, especially specific details and applications, is often not publicly disclosed due to strategic and security reasons.
Most importantly, some village protection volunteers have revealed that they have been using drones with thermal cameras for quite some time to defend their villages from Kuki-Zo raids. However, these volunteers are now complaining that their drones are facing issues. They believe the recent social media hype around monetary contributions for thermal drones has alerted the other side, leading them to acquire jammers to counter these drones. Here, it appears that the critical distinction between hidden and public military capabilities, a crucial aspect of warfare strategy involving the deliberate management and manipulation of information, has not been fully considered.
So, the lack of strategic communication, the proliferation of misinformation, and inadvertent information disclosure in social media represent major challenges for the Meitei community till now. Therefore, a thoughtful and well-informed strategy becomes imperative.

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Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092


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