Friday, January 20, 2017

Media Bias: An International Trend



Now that Mr. Trump is the Tweeter-n-Chief, it’s appropriate to reflect a bit on the state of the media. Mr. Trump, among others was very vocal in criticism of his treatment at the hands of the media. The NY Times Sunday, 15 January 2017 ran an article “Learning to Speak Al Jazeera” (see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/14/opinion/sunday/learning-to-speak-al-jazeera.html?_r=0, which is also the photo source).

The thesis of the article is that almost every media outlet is biased and has its own agenda. I did a bit of research to quantify Media Bias a bit more and came across an article in the Student News Daily (see: https://www.studentnewsdaily.com/types-of-media-bias/), which listed the following types of Media Bias:
  1. By omission
  2. By selection of sources
  3. By story selection
  4. By placement
  5. By labeling
  6. By spin

In my view this is a pretty good list and could relate to how most people gauge their every day interactions. But these are not the only kinds of bias.

Yesterday (19 January 17) I was in a Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Class (MCLE). As a California attorney I am required to take 25 credits of MCLE in a 3-year period. Of these 6 hours are required:
  • Legal Ethics: 4 hours (required)
  • Competence Issues (formerly known as Prevention, Detection and Treatment of Substance Abuse or Mental Illness): 1 hour (required)
  • Recognition and Elimination of Bias in the Legal Profession and Society: 1 hour (required)
As it turns out I was earning my Elimination of Bias credit, which ironically is very hard to get, when our instructor pointed out that there were two kinds of bias – the kind you know about, and the kind you don’t (hidden).

Hidden bias is, according to our instructor, the most insidious of all. She referred to Harvard’s Project Implicit a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public on hidden biases (see: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/aboutus.html). They even offer an on-line implicit association test (IAT) test so that you can do some self-calibration. I took one of these tests and upon reflection, its result was not a big surprise or hidden.
In comparing my results with all others who have taken the test I was in the largest group – 30% of the total, the next largest were 24, 19 and 18.

In summarizing what does all this mean.

There are personal and professional biases. You are not very likely going to be able to change personal biases. However, being aware of your biases in your professional life is something to work on. The instructor relayed that training on hidden bias was mandatory. As a result of the training one of the attorneys decided to use a ‘duty roster’ to assign work to his Associates in a more organized and fair manner.

For we in the PSYOP/MISO community, it is vital that we recognize the lenses of our professional and personal biases as we approach our missions. We need to filter these as best as we can in order to be more attuned to our target audiences and better able to accomplish our mission.

As always, reader comments are encouraged.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Grassroots Influence – Can It Work?


We all appreciate the complexity of the Middle East. In the hurricane of social media is it possible for a grassroots influence effort to succeed? One example may come from Baghdad, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Damascus.

The effort employs Bahlool, a character (at right) is a Judge from a ‘very old time’ and is famous in Arabic countries and is designed for the audience to identify with. The target audience is men and women between 15 and 25 years old. The team is split having people in both Iraq and Syria, they claim that some of their cartoons have gotten over 1 million views.

This grassroots effort has been active in jump starting their efforts via FaceBook and YouTube. 
The effort began in late 2016 and in November, the team claimed:

Here’s a quick snapshot from Facebook (as of 25NOV16):

Total Likes:                                          119,259
Weekly Page Engaged Users:             446,764
Weekly Total Reach:                           3,151,389
Weekly Organic Reach:                      520,067
Weekly Total Impressions:                 8,499,788
Source: E-mail

In December the group reported thousands of ‘likes’ and that they were receiving many positive comments, suggestions and people wanting to help. Many of the comments were coming from displaced people in Falluja, Ramdai and Anbar.


The team summarizes its philosophy by saying we fight ISIS by the idea, not by the gun because guns do not reach the mind.

Reader comments encouraged.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Global Engagement Center – New Focal Point for Countering Propaganda & Disinformation



As a parting holiday gift, President Obama signed the National Defense Act which, included (on page 547) Section 1287 Global Engagement Center (see: https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/s2943/BILLS-114s2943enr.pdf)
According to Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and his co-sponsor, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT):
NOTE: The bipartisan Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act is organized around two main priorities to help achieve the goal of combatting the constantly evolving threat of foreign disinformation from our enemies:
  • The first priority is developing a whole-of-government strategy for countering THE foreign propaganda and disinformation being wages against us and our allies by our enemies. The bill would increase the authority, resources, and mandate of the Global Engagement Center to include state actors like Russia and China as well as non-state actors. The Center will be led by the State Department, but with the active senior level participation of the Department of Defense, USAID, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the Intelligence Community, and other relevant agencies. The Center will develop, integrate, and synchronize whole-of-government initiatives to expose and counter foreign disinformation operations by our enemies and proactively advance fact-based narratives that support U.S. allies and interests.
  • Second, the legislation seeks to leverage expertise from outside government to create more adaptive and responsive U.S. strategy options. The legislation establishes a fund to help train local journalists and provide grants and contracts to NGOs, civil society organizations, think tanks, private sector companies, media organizations, and other experts outside the U.S. government with experience in identifying and analyzing the latest trends in foreign government disinformation techniques. This fund will complement and support the Center’s role by integrating capabilities and expertise available outside the U.S. government into the strategy-making process. It will also empower a decentralized network of private sector experts and integrate their expertise into the strategy-making process.
There are two ways to look at this latest attempt at central coordination of influence. The positive view is that there is finally recognition that the US does not have a current influence strategy and needs one very badly. The new law and organization also concedes that the government does not have the internal capability to develop and execute this strategy itself. By placing the Global Engagement Center within the Department of State, it can legitimately foster the President’s influence goals as the diplomatic arm of the cabinet.
The other, more negative view can found in The Event Chronicle (see: http://www.theeventchronicle.com/fake-news-agenda/obamas-christmas-gift-america-countering-disinformation-propaganda-act/#), which is also the photo source and The True Pundit (http://truepundit.com/obama-quietly-signs-the-countering-disinformation-and-propaganda-act-into-law/). The negative view is deeply distrustful of government influence activity and compares the new Global Engagement Center to "The Records Department of the Ministry of Truth" in George Orwell's book 1984.
As with many polarizing actions, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. The US clearly needs an overarching influence strategy and critics have legitimate cause for concern based on what many perceive as the dismal track record of influence efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and the media criticism of the use of contractors to further DOD influence goals abroad.
Of course DOD’s actual role is unclear and the establishment of the Center within Department of State follows the civilian rule of government theory. Experience has shown that the practice will be far more difficult than the conception.
Reader input eagerly sought.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Millennials Are A Tough Propaganda Target – Even For the Chinese




I had the best intentions of taking two weeks off for the Blog, but in reading the NY Times on my iPad this morning I came across “Propaganda With A Millennial Twist Pops Up in China” (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/31/world/asia/china-propaganda-communist-party-millennials.html?_r=0; which is also the photo source)

It seems that even the government of the PRC is having issues trying to influence their younger citizens. They have even resorted to hiring outside contractors who translate government messages into animation designed to appeal to millennials.

It must be quite a challenge to transmit messages from the most controlling of Chinese leaders in way that will appeal to digital natives. Chinese President Xi Jinping realizes the importance of employing the native digital media to reach millennials. He also realizes that influence is not a quick business and often requires the classic media principles of frequency and reach.

According to the article, “the party has invested millions in animated videos that cast Mr. Xi as a compassionate champion of Chinese workers. Scholars have delivered TED-style talks that rail against Western imperialism. Hip-hop songs pay homage to party history and warn of America’s efforts to topple the Chinese government.”

The article also points out that the venerable People’s Daily is employing video and animation.

However, it is quite comforting to learn that these government sponsored efforts are not universally accepted. While some videos may have one viral – that’s a measure of production (how many), not a measure of effectiveness (how well they accomplish their influence mission.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Does FaceBook Read The PSYOP Regiment Blog?


I posted on Fake news yesterday, 14 December 16. Today I received a summary from Wired Magazine which featured: Facebook Finally Gets Real About Fighting Fake News (see: https://www.wired.com/2016/12/facebook-gets-real-fighting-fake-news/?mbid=nl_121516_p3&CNDID=38062549; which is also the photo source).

Highlights of the article are:
·      A Flood of Fact Checking
·      Eyeballs and Ad Dollars (they are re-evaluating which publishers may violate their Audience Network ad policies and (along with Google) punish fake news sites.

While I’m pretty sure FB is not one of my loyal readers, I did find the timing a bit more than coincidental. I guess this comes with being long time military, competitive and legal analyst.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Does The Fake News Phenomenon Ruin PSYOP/MISO?


There has been a barrage of media efforts to explain and analyze the Fake News Phenomenon.  One such article was “How to report fake news to social media” (see: http://www.bbc.com/news/38053324 ) which is also the photo source. Another is “The Cynical Gambit to Make ‘Fake News’ Meaningless (see: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/12/the-fight-to-make-fake-news-meaningless/509888/).

Social Media such as FaceBook is considered the major home for fake news. Perhaps the most recent notorious example of fake news was the stories claiming that a pizzeria was a child slavery hideout (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/technology/fact-check-this-pizzeria-is-not-a-child-trafficking-site.html?_r=0).

What does this all mean?

Well, first of all, anyone that takes on the Internet at face value is probably in for a rude awakening sooner or later. The ubiquitous availability of social media makes anyone into a journalist. While some ersatz reporters are earnest in their efforts, others are not so scrupulous nor do they consider the unintended impact of their work.

PSYOP has been classified as white, gray and black depending on its source. (You can see Appendix A in FM-3-05.30, 15 April 2005: https://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm3-05-30.pdf; which is an older, Army Field Manual, but necessarily the latest one). While it may not be the latest manual the definitions are still relevant.
·      A-2 White products are over products. DOD forces use overt products in support of their operations.
·      A-6 Products that conceal and/or do not identify a source are known as gray products. Gray products are best used to support operational plans.
·      A-9 Products that purport to emanate from a source other than the true one are known as black products. Black products are best used to support strategic plans.

One can argue that these definitions don’t apply to Fake News or that it is impossible to neatly classify social media postings in 2016. As the definitions imply, each of the classes have their advantages and uses.

Fake news on the other hand, cannot be used to inform, because it’s fake! Fake news can be employed in MISO to influence or to cast doubts on the credibility of other news and/or other sources.

In any event, today’s PSYOP/MISO practitioner needs to add an understand and appreciation of fake news to their skill set.

Let me take this opportunity to wish my readers the Best for the Holidays.

I have good intentions of trying to take two weeks off from Blogging. So, don’t be disappointed if you don’t see any new postings until the New Year. Of course, with the approaching inauguration of the Tweeter-n-Chief, this could change.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Can hacking be the ultimate Cyber-PSYOP?



The latest outcry about hackers comes from a country long suspected of using cyber means for a variety of nefarious reasons – Russia. On December 2, 2016 CNN published a story: Russia: “Foreign hackers are trying to take down our banks” (see: http://money.cnn.com/2016/12/02/technology/russia-hack-banks-foreign/). In October 2016 Sputnik news proclaimed “Russian Foreign Ministry Confirms site Hacked, US ‘Jester Claims Responsibility” (see: https://sputniknews.com/science/201610231046639282-russian-foreign-ministry-hack/; which is also the photo source).

Whether or not either or both of these articles are correct may not be as important as the possibilities the two articles raise.

On one hand, these alleged acts could be the work of US or allied hackers seeking to give Russia a taste of its own cyber medicine. It could also mean that yesterday’s loudspeaker is today’s internet hack so that tactical PSYOP/MISO organizations need to be able to perform some level of cyber PSYOP through Computer Network Attack (CNA).

This would also seem to signal that new forms of Special Operations training for UW should include giving insurgents some cyber capabilities just as SOF trainers have taught UW techniques in the past.

While this is certainly feasible since the nature of internet based attacks is to lower the skill level of the attacker, is it a good idea to spread cyber attack knowledge around? The unintended consequences of sharing knowledge and broadening the skill set of insurgents should be obvious. There is no guarantee that the new cyber warrior wouldn’t turn his or her newly acquired cyber ‘gun’ at you.

We’ve seen how SIGINT made its way out from behind the ‘green door’ and into the planning of tactical units. It’s only a matter of time until some variation of this evolutionary path is taken by cyber as well.