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Trusting information: it’s a jungle out there

Trust in information and trust in people are shaped by the co-existence of competition and cooperation.

Trusting information: it’s a jungle out there
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Before cyberspace existed, early in the twentieth century, Russian anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin wrote that “competition is the law of the jungle, but cooperation is the law of civilisation.”

Evocative for its time, this challenge statement sought to elevate the ideal of cooperation as a noble pursuit of human societies, discounting the idea that competition is the driving force of nature. Kropotkin supported the improvement of society across all classes and his expressed views exiled him for 40 years from his homeland.

Politics and information

In this period, the ‘civilised’ world had reached an inflection point in large mass socialist and popular movements competing with prevailing imperialist privilege. Nations would enter a significant period of conflict across the globe.

Political, war and social correspondents wrote of events in one place influencing popular opinion on the other side of the world, transcribing events first-hand to inform recipients. Information could be intercepted, and corrupted, redacted or even intentionally inaccurate. Lengthy delays across shipping lanes or abridged telegrams would render nuanced information outdated, until many years later when historians piece together events using the colourful and descriptive – but not always accurate – personal accounts via letters and journals.

Contemporary published writers such as Kropotkin were celebrities to their audiences. Those awaiting news at home, had little choice but to trust the information they were able to access. Information protection was controlled and centralised by governments and organisations. It is a fair assessment that competition advantaged self-interest with little respect for contrary opinions or views. Institutions held sway over people’s beliefs and values as they were relied upon for a bigger view of the world.

Kropotkin lamented the predicted decay of societies consumed by competition and ignorant to the sustaining opportunities for mutual aid and protection. Undoubtedly the notion of civilisation had shifted significantly with the turn of the century and the revolutionary years that would follow.

The role of information, one hundred years later, is still as prominent, more readily available and contestable and, therefore its protection may be deemed more egalitarian. The option to choose competition or cooperation to serve self-interest is more dynamic. Broadcasted publication is available to anybody with a device, an internet connection and a social media account.

People and information

In, Why Information Security Matters, I described how information protection is relevant to everyone and that cyberspace and international affairs have increased our interconnectedness: blurring the lines between global and local issues; as well as individual and national security challenges. Cyberspace has also presented new vulnerabilities, and the tempo of information being exchanged. The pursuit of advantage over another, through competition means anything is possible: In the theme of the ABC television show, Question Everything!

Information protection is necessary because humans compete with one another to progress, achieve advantage and survive. Innovation and evolution would not be possible without competition. This necessity for growth challenges the premise of Kropotkin’s quote, but it also challenges our innate desire to trust others.

Unless we view competition as a necessary contributor to cooperation. Where discourse and debate challenge our own viewpoints and biases to ultimately come together for a common ideal.

Cooperation might be described as the recognition between two individuals that survival outside of an ecosystem, beyond relationships and existence entirely alone is just not possible.

Trust in information, and trust in people, are shaped by the co-existence of competition and cooperation.

People and propaganda

Let’s revisit Kropotkin’s quote. Is this the pacificist remark of the son and grandson of Russian generals, himself an officer in the Tsarist Army? Is it a form of propaganda, projecting a personal political viewpoint into the world? How do we validate the true intent of a statement that can be interpreted in multiple ways, one hundred and twenty years after it was made, without being able to query the source?

Kropotkin was a child of Imperial privilege who might have also been described as a communist idealist. An activist, exile, author, Kropotkin was also a trained geographer and passionate Darwinist, interested in translating the success and failures in the animal kingdom to the optimal pathways for human socialist endeavours. He expressed his opinions through written word, which offers us the opportunity to gain an insight into human interactions and the role of information in society during his lifetime.

Human behaviour has historically relied on propaganda, or fake news, to manipulate others into cooperating with their viewpoint as part of competition over another, in the pursuit of personal opinion, power, and survival. It is likely true that modern society consists of both the laws of the jungle and civilisation to endure. I wonder what Kropotkin would have made of the role of information in the modern era. Undoubtedly, he would have capitalised on its scope, speed and distribution.

Pace and information

Cyberspace is an integral medium for all types of modern informational exchange, and the anonymity of those who choose to manipulate others through and in cyberspace, elevates the role of trust in the confidence, integrity and availability of information. The governance of digital information is highly politicised, but increasingly necessary to provide assurance to everyone that cyberspace is a safe place for people to interact with one another.

Author: Mycaila Delbridge, Strategic Partnerships, Penten

Mycaila is part of Penten's Business Strategy team working on a range of contemporary security technology challenges through commercial and public sector partnerships. A veteran with almost 20 years experience in the Australian Army, she holds a Masters in Cybersecurity Operations and a Masters in Security & Strategy. Mycaila lives in Canberra with her family.

Penten is an Australian, cyber company focused on innovation in secure mobility, applied artificial intelligence (AI) and tactical communications security.

In 2019 and 2020 Penten was awarded Cyber Business of the Year at the Australian Defence Industry Awards. In 2021 Penten won Emerging Exporter of the Year and Exporter of Government Solutions in the ACT Chief Minister’s Export Awards.

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