Since the recognition of Estonia’s independence in 1991, a flurry of tech savvy entrepreneurs have marked out this small Baltic nation as a hotbed of innovation. Internationally recognised startups like Skype, Transferwise and Pipedrive have all capitalised on a post-Soviet education legacy and skills surplus in an openly governed state with a predominantly Nordic ethnic identity in contrast with its Slavic neighbours.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Estonia’s erudite president until 2016, spent a decade fostering the political landscape necessary for Estonians to embrace the digital age, compensating for its tiny workforce and lack of infrastructure. Today Estonia boasts the most technologically advanced system of government in the world, a decade of free public Wi-Fi outdoors, 94% of tax returns completed online within 5 minutes, internet banking for 97% of its customers, and all but paper-free offices nationwide.
This incredible efficiency also brought a new and unprecedented vulnerability, exemplified by the 2007 attack on Estonia’s digital banking system allegedly mounted by Russia. This has since been described by military historians as the world’s first cyber war. The ensuing decade of cyber conflict has culminated in the propagation of ‘disinformation’ as seen in the fake news and social media posts following last year’s presidential election. As a strategy developed and codified by Estonia’s old overlord where, according to Ilves, truth has been devalued and that “all truths have become equivalent”, Estonia has in contrast emerged as a significant player in the battle against disinformation and broader cyber warfare. Accepting the dire reality that this new warfare is a permanent fixture in a connected world, the private companies and government cyber labs of Estonia and the US will have to form part of the front line defences of democratic countries.
Students with an interest in studying Computer Science or HSPS should research the political debates surrounding the role of tech and social media in journalism and particularly the coverage of elections and campaigns.