Baltic Journal of European studies (Sep 2019)

Cyber-Attacks and Freedom of Expression: Coercion, Intimidation and Virtual Occupation

  • Burton Joe

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 9, no. 3
pp. 116 – 133


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This article explores how cyber-attacks affect freedom of expression. It begins by outlining the literature on cyber coercion and exploring other conceptions of how offensive cyber operations have been used to shape adversary behaviour, including efforts to intimidate through cyberspace, and the concept of ‘cyber swaggering’. The article moves on to explore how cyber-attacks have been used to undermine electoral process, to erode free and fair media reporting, and how manipulation of social media can constitute a ‘virtual infiltration’ and ‘virtual occupation’ of the information domain. The article then explores how cyber-attacks conducted during the conflict in Ukraine have limited or otherwise affected freedom of expression. I argue that the wider effects of cyber operations on political, civil and human rights have been underexplored in the cyber security literature; that cyber-attacks have adversely affected freedom of expression in the conflict in Ukraine and in other political disputes; and that the coercion concept is ill-suited to accounting for the socio-psychological impact of modern cyber operations.