The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the largest military attack on a European state since Second World War. While there is nothing unique about humans fighting one another, the nature of war is always heavily influenced by current technology, and this war is no exception. .
Here are 5 latest stories about technologies that have changed the face of modern warfare, for better or for worse…
Over the past decade, a multi-billion dollars commercial drone market has emerged that allows people cheap access to technology previously just available for military use. For a few hundred dollars, anyone can buy a small drone, and when Russia began its invasion in February, Ukraine’s drone community speedily jump into action.
The Ukrainian army reportedly posted on Facebook an invitation to citizens to donate their drones to help with surveillance operations. “kyiv needs you and your drone at this moment of fury!”
A commercial drone dealer in Kyiv delivered around 300 DJI drones to the military. But concerns have already been raised about DJI’s responsibility as a company in regulating the use of its products during the war.
In a recent open letter from Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister to DJI, the company was asked to block access to its Russian-registered products. The letter also claimed that the Russian military used a DJI product called the AeroScope to aim missiles at Ukrainian citizens.
AeroScope is a surveillance system which geo-locates DJI drones and their pilots in real time. Unconfirmed reports out of Ukraine claim that Russian forces are using AeroScope technology to locate and attack civilians who are supporting the military with their domestic drones.
DJI responded to the Ukrainian letter by stating that it has no control over the use of AeroScope technology and can’t disable these systems. The company suggest that it was open to geo-fencing DJI products in Ukrainian airspace, basically disabling the use of its drones in the country.
As billions of people watch the huge devastation in Ukraine from afar, it is a natural response to want to help. In times of crisis, non-governmental organizations and charities rapidly come forward to offer aid to war victims, and donating to these organizations is generally the first port of call for someone looking to help.
But, in today’s hyper-connected world, new methods have emerged to offer help in times of crisis. Within days of Russian forces invading Ukraine people from around the world began booking Airbnb stays in the country to send money directly to those in need.
The idea quickly went viral, and within two days, more than 61,000 Airbnb nights in Ukraine were purchased, worth nearly $2 million dollars. Airbnb immediately suspended its own fees for stays in Ukraine, so all the money went straight to the hosts.
Of course, you can possibly guess what happened next. As the trend accelerated, scammers appeared posting fake listings to steal cash from unsuspecting humanitarians.
In a latest statement, Airbnb said to have suspended a small number of fake accounts. The company even reports that about $15 million has been sent to Ukraine from international donation bookings.
In addition to the scammers, some commenters have questioned whether “donating” money through Airbnb listings sends cash to people who actually need it. Anit Mukherjee from the Center for Global Development recently told Vox News that those in Ukraine who own Airbnb listings are probably among the richest 1 percent in the country. Therefore, despite good intentions, this is probably not the most effective way to support those who need it.
New media have consistently profoundly changed the way the general public relate with war. Perhaps the best-studied example is how television brought the Vietnam War into the lounge rooms of millions of Americans in the 1960s, and some experts argue that this ultimately strengthened the anti-war movement.
Smartphones and social media have already left their mark on international politics. Most notably, about a decade ago, Twitter was used extensively to mobilize protests during the Arab Spring wave of revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa.
In 2022, the Ukraine’s invansion ushered in a new kind of war correspondence: youth used the social media app TikTok, a platform with more than a billion active users. TikTok is characterized by users posting short, pithy videos, generally with background music. This is how influential young Ukrainians communicated their experiences in a modern war zone.
Until now, frontline TikTok posts have everything from traditional vlog-style reports of young people huddled in bunkers while their cities are bombed, to more surreal classic TikTok-style posts showing the explosions in the sky over Kyiv while pop music is playing on the soundtrack.
And of course, as with any new communication medium, misinformation quickly become a big problem. As Russia worked too hard to control the narrative of the war within its borders, TikTok quickly banned user uploads from inside the country.
A recent investigation by Vice News revealed that pro-Russian disinformation is still spreading on TikTok. The Kremlin is allegedly paying influencers of Russian social media to post propaganda messages on the platform.
Deep Fake Propaganda
For the past few years, researchers warned us about the dangers of deepfakes, and now we’ve seen one of the first deployment of this technology during the war. This video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy calling his soldiers to lay down their arms and surrender to the Russians appeared on a tabloid news site recently.
The Ukraine-based Russian-language news site editor where the video appeared claims that Russians hacked the website, but the true source of the deepfake has yet to be revealed. Although the Russian media promoted the video, some experts suspect the deepfake is of poor quality, so, it doesn’t have to be Kremlin-sourced propaganda.
Regardless of the ultimate source of the video, the appearance of a fake video like this is a clear example of how modern technology offers new and perfidious ways to make traditional forms of wartime propaganda. For example, during World War II, an infamous fake radio show was created in UK and broadcast on radio stations in Germany.
The short profane rants of a German character referred to as The Chief told the story of rebellious Nazis conspiring against the corrupt state. Reportedly, the Chief’s broadcasts were so convincing that US officials in Berlin relayed the fake news to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was ultimately amused to discover the project was fake.
The Tinder Trap
Dating apps are a international phenomenon and that they work due to the precise ability for smartphones to geo-locate a user and match them with different users in a close vicinity. Thus, what happens when a group of Tinder-linked young, single, Russian, male soldiers invade a neighbouring country?
Early in the invasion, an extraordinary report in The Sun described a series of experiences in which Ukrainian women suddenly saw their phones flashed with automated Tinder matches from nearby Russian soldiers waiting an invasion across the border. The surreal story re-counts of Ukrainian women dealing with flirty Russian soldiers few miles away.
As news of the Tinder situation spread, users around the world quickly began changing their locations to spots in Ukraine or Russia so as to either troll Russian soldiers or try to counter the spread of propaganda inside Russia. A group of Slovakian creatives have started a movement called Special Love Operation, which aims to connect with Tinder users in Russia and help spread real news about the war.
Although there is no evidence that Tinder has been used in any spying or surveillance capacity, the technology’s involvement points to a long history of women as resistance fighters, seducing enemy soldiers in war and attracting them to death.