01 April 2008

IO, IO, It's off to blog I go!

Jay Rosen pointed me to a blog post over at Noah Shachtman's Danger Room called Military Report: Secretly 'Recruit or Hire Bloggers'.

Oooooh, scary. Shachtman even links to a .zip file copy of the report at cryptome.org! [Because, uh, it's not publicly available? Why, yes it is! link updated, also at USAF Air University]

If you don't know anything about blogs, blog metrics (i.e. sites like technorati) or have never heard of the web's power law (or long tail, which isn't mentioned in the report), then this might be an OK primer. The only eye-catching part of the first 18 pages of the report, for me anyway, was a graphic of Peretti/Bennett's micro-middle-mass media ecology ("infosphere" in the report).

If you do know that stuff, fast forward to page 19, Implications for Influence Operations. Influence Operations are a subset of Information Operations (IO) and are not unique to the military. For example, "culture jamming" is a form of influence operations. So is advertising. Military Information Operations have been around for a while and I'd argue the military was slow to notice the blogosphere. Starting on page 19 of the report, there's about 7 pages of reading pertaining to blogs and IO. Here's a paragraph from the report's conclusion:

One of the significant limitations of this paper, as an initial foray into military use of the blogosphere, is that much of the information available concerns American blogs, run by Americans, largely for an American audience. Military use of the blogosphere must necessarily focus on foreign blogs, bloggers and audiences. However, because some factors, such as the scale-free nature of the Internet and the psychological basis of influence are universals, we hope to lay a general basis for military use of the blogosphere that can be adapted to specific tactical circumstances by information operators.
I don't think Shachtman's post does a good job of representing the report or informing anyone about IO. For example, Shachtman quotes from the report, "clandestinely recruiting or hiring prominent bloggers" and "Hiring a block of bloggers to verbally attack a specific person or promote a specific message may be worth considering." He even provides a long blockquote, with a very strange ellipsis! Below I've provided the preceding paragraph and the first paragraph of Shachtman's blockquote, in italics, with the ellipsis removed:
This discussion of communities leads us to another point of difficulty in using blogs for IO. Segmentary opposition and its gentler cousin, in-group/out-group dynamics, may prevent a foreign audience from taking an overtly U.S. government-run or sponsored blog seriously. Even American blogs show a high incidence of ethnic clustering,39 and the deep-seated fissures between major tribal groups, and often between subgroups, frequently define traditionally tribal societies like those in Afghanistan. Even if there is no widespread preconception about U.S. use of propaganda, it may be easy for foreign audiences to dismiss the U.S. perspective with “Yes, but you aren’t one of us, you don’t really understand us.”

In this regard, information strategists can consider clandestinely recruiting or hiring prominent bloggers or other persons of prominence already within the target nation, group, or community to pass the U.S. message. In this way, the U.S. can overleap the entrenched inequalities and make use of preexisting intellectual and social capital. Sometimes numbers can be effective; hiring a block of bloggers to verbally attack a specific person or promote a specific message may be worth considering.40 On the other hand, such operations can have a blowback effect, as witnessed by the public reaction following revelations that the U.S. military had paid journalists to publish stories in the Iraqi press under their own names.41 People do not like to be deceived, and the price of being exposed is lost credibility and trust. [emphasis mine]
Does that make a difference? I kept the endnotes and linked them because I thought you might enjoy Daniel (of Fake Steve Jobs fame) Lyons' screed linked from endnote 40. I don't know why it didn't get linked by Shachtman in the blockquote. Strangely, Shachtman did link to a NYT story about the Iraqi press roughly corresponding to endnote 41 which, if I was Mark Mazzetti or Borzou Daragahi, I'd be a little upset.

Anyway, I read Danger Room occasionally and sometimes enjoy it. This one, not so much. If you are interested in blogs that cover IO well, I'd recommend SWJ or MountainRunner. You might also be interested in the University of Nebraska at Omaha blog: Information Warfare Online Resources.

Thanks for the pointer, Jay!

Propaganda: Can a Word Decide a War?
A culture of information empowerment down to the lowest levels needs to be inculcated among senior government officials, permitting for clear guidance provided to subordinates, risk mitigation procedures established, and, perhaps most importantly, acceptance that this will not be a zero-defect undertaking.

Winning hearts, minds, trust, and credibility, in the end, requires a local approach. Consider a major US metropolitan area. Neighborhoods take on their own personalities, driven by socio-economic factors and ethnic and racial identity, among other considerations. Value sets are different among the diversity of communities that make up the melting pot that is a large American city. It should not be difficult then to understand how it is nearly impossible to influence perceptions among audiences in a foreign country with a “one size fits all” set of messages and actions. Long-term US presence and engagement in foreign nations allows for a deeper understanding of cultural differences. These cultural underpinnings combined with the hard work of relationship building allow for effective tailoring of messages and the successful identification of key influencers. Engagement is the key whether it is by US soldiers in their area of operations, diplomats on Provincial Reconstruction Teams, US Agency for International Development workers, or nongovernmental organizations.32 Where no US presence exists, efforts must include recruiting key individuals for US exchange programs, people who will tell this nation’s story upon their return home.