Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Social Media Counter-Propaganda – You Need An Insider



I was deployed as a Public Affairs Officer from 22 to 28 December 2018  to help support the Red Cross Camp Fire Recovery Effort.

Christmas was Day #47 of the Disaster. Normally by that time in the disaster most people either went back to their homes or relocated outside the affected area either temporarily or permanently. This was not the case here as about 700 people were still at the Red Cross Shelter Campus located at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico, CA, a city of slightly less than 100,000 people and about 90 miles north of Sacramento.

There was little interest from traditional broadcast and print media with the notable exception of the local newspaper, The Chico Enterprise Record. According to Wikipedia, “The Chico Enterprise-Record is the daily newspaper of Chico, California. Also known as the E-R, the newspaper was first published in Bidwell Bar, California as the Butte Record in 1853 and is now part of the MediaNews Group Corporation, who took control of the paper  in 1999.”

You can read a very good story on Christmas Day at the Shelter at: bit.ly/2VG7har (which is also a photo source).

Social Media, as you might expect, was ablaze with action, most of it rumor mongering.

While I was stationed at the main reception area at the Fairgrounds, a volunteer came up to me and said “You need to meet with this young woman.” I was introduced to a young woman in her late thirties or early forties. In the olden days we would have said ‘she looked like a hippie chick’.

Clearly articulate and concerned she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. She explained that she felt that the Red Cross was getting a bad rap on Facebook. She knew that because one of her friends was a volunteer at the A. If I let her look around the shelter facility for herself she would use her Social Media outlets to set the record straight.

As many of you know, I’m not an impulsive person, in this case I went with my ‘gut’ that this was indeed the right call and got her a “Day Pass” which gave her unfettered access to the campus.

Later in the day I found out that she made very good use of that access. In showing her the dining facility an hour or two later, it was quite clear that she knew many of the people who were at the shelter.

While I didn’t personally check her postings, the Shelter Site Director told me he was quite favorably impressed with her as a community leader and hoped to enlist her help for other projects such as a Christmas in January party for the children of Paradise.

Moral of the story: sometimes you have to put the analytics aside and just do what you feel is the right thing.


Monday, December 17, 2018

Don’t Overlook The Obvious


We all spend a lot of time in cars, but we might be overlooking an under employed PSYOP medium right outside our windshields: Billboards. The December 17, 2018, NY Times ran an article “Digital Data Gives Billboard Owners More Reason to ‘Love a Good Traffic Jam’ (see: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/16/business/media/billboards-highways-traffic-roads.html, which is also the photo source.)

According to the NY Times the average commuter’s one-way trip in the US was not quite a half hour. While some people are indeed illegally looking at their phones, most are looking out the windshield and can help but see the billboards in front of them.

We used billboards and posters on trolleys in Bosnia during my tour there in 1997 -1998 and there are some other good spots up for grabs around the world. Different locations have different perspectives on billboards.

If you’re interested in buying a good spot in Moscow, check out: http://bit.ly/2Grx02D (another photo source). Muscovites also spend quite a bit of time in their cars, perhaps a little turnabout would be fair play. Of course, I’m sure that Mr. Putin, being a former spy has a seasoned network of media watchers on the lookout for anomalies in media messaging that deviate from the party line.

Cuba, on the other hand recognizes the importance of billboards as a way to constantly convey messages about the revolution and proselytize for the Communist way of life. (see: http://bit.ly/2EykEUB, another photo source.) 




Then again, recognizing the potential of billboards is not always a good thing. Beijing has a different approach, they hate them and have been systematically destroying them. (see: http://bit.ly/2Esqkik, another photo source.)

And the award for best use of billboards for PSYOP goes to Israel for pictures of Israeli soldiers on a billboard in Tehran, Iran commemorating a war memorial. (see: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-45665280, another picture source). How they got there no one (except perhaps the Mosad) seems to know.


Billboards can also be an effective medium because they are visible. Imagery can potentially convey what words cannot as demonstrated by the Israeli soldiers who were identified because of their US made M16 rifles. Target populations with low literacy rates in densely populated cities can also be reached via this medium.

Consider this week’s posting a break from your typical digital overload. At the moment, I’m planning on this being the last posting of 2018 as I will be deploying as a Public Affairs Manager to support the Red Cross recovery efforts in conjunction with the Camp Fire in Northern California.

May 2019 be the very best of years for you and yours.




Thursday, December 13, 2018

No Wonder the USG Can’t Do Cyber Influence - It Can’t Even Do Radio!


The NY Times National December 13, 2018 print edition ran a below the fold, page 1 article “Troubled Vessel for US Ideals Faces New Tilt”, the same article on line was titled: Troubled by Lapses, Government’s Voice to the World Braces for New Trump Management” (see: https://nyti.ms/2RW3G5B, which is also a photo source).

The Voice of America (VOA) mission is “Since its creation in 1942, Voice of America has been committed to providing comprehensive coverage of the news and telling audiences the truth.”

It self describes itself as “Voice of America (VOA) is the largest U.S. international broadcaster, providing news and information in more than 40 languages to an estimated weekly audience of more than 275 million people. VOA produces content for digital, television, and radio platforms. It is easily accessed via your mobile phone and on social media. It is also distributed by satellite, cable, FM and MW, and is carried on a network of approximately 2,200 affiliate stations.”


The VOA prides itself as having a firewall that “prohibits interference by U.S. government”.

The Times report not only illustrates some cracks in the all, but a bevy of misconduct that has severely tarnished the VOA’s reputation. In 2013, none other than Hillary Clinton declared that the Board of Governors of the VOA “practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world”. You can hear it for yourself at: http://bit.ly/2BfCqrS, which is also a photo source)

Clearly the task of blending journalism with political messaging is fraught with challenges. The success of journalistic message ultimately rests with their reputation for truth. While there is not doubt that message selection, wording, tone and visuals shape that message, influence efforts are based on truth.

The NY Times and others are more than a little concerned that as the political appointees of President Trump assume their roles, the definition of ‘truth’ will slip far to the right. Michael Pack, the nominee for VOA Board of Governors CEO ‘runs a conservative film making business in his home. You can check out his company and spouse/VP at: https://manifoldproductions.com/aboutus.html

It’s hard enough developing content that appeals to foreign audiences. Content that is liberally (pardon me) laced with clearly self-serving government interest as expressed by Mr. Trump’s desire for “our own Worldwide Network to show the World the way we really are, GREAT” is doomed to failure before it starts (see: http://bit.ly/2RW9zjd, also a photo source.)

VOA is a proof of concept, albeit a bad one, that the US government (USG) is unable to perform even rudimentary, country focused, radio based influence operations. It’s no wonder that cyber influence remains even more elusive.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

If NATO cyberspace policy violates many of the principles of war – What hope is there for cyber influence?


The November 16, 2018 on-line edition of Breaking Defense ran an article “NATO To ‘Integrate’ Offensive Cyber By Members (see: http://bit.ly/2rebnZo, which is also the photo source).

NATO established a Cyber Operations Center (CYOC) on August 31, 2019 to serve as a focal point for the Alliance’s cyber efforts and to insure that the Alliance had situational awareness concerning the cyber efforts of its members. According German MG Wolfgang Renner, head of the CYOC, “NATO is clear that we will not perform offensive cyberspace operations ….. However, we will integrate sovereign cyberspace effects from the allies who are willing to volunteer.”

To say that such a cyber policy is nascent would be kind. The policy is far from official even though NATO members engage in cyberspace operations everyday. It’s a military, legal and technical quagmire that appears to be in danger of violating many of the longstanding principles of warfare.

Serving on a NATO staff requires not only the skill and knowledge required of your rank and your specialty, but a certain kind of finesse that allows you to work well with international colleagues who will often out rank you. You also will need to know when your country’s national influence needs to be in play and when to work for the good of the alliance.

We know that cyberspace operations are fast moving and we also know that they don’t respect borders. If several of the 29 member states’ interests are attacked simultaneously it is only natural to assume that the military of that country will give the highest priority to their own self-defense.
 
This sort of ad hoc approach would seem to violate the principle of Unity Command right off the top.

Given that each member state will have different priorities, this would also seem to violate the principles of Objective and Mass. Each member state will pursue different objectives and the total mass of the cyber force (and its resources) will be diluted.

Which leads me to yet another principle that appears to be in jeopardy – Simplicity. The “Fog of War” is nothing compared to the fog of cyberspace operations. The variables at play and the speed of the interaction is unlike the traditional domains.

Knowing that even the best plan often doesn’t survive contact, it would seem that MG Renner and his staff have their work cut out for them. Of course, the focus on cyberspace operations here are things like Distributed Denial of Service, Malware, etc., I’m willing to be they haven’t considered or are woefully understaffed to address the impact of Cyberspace operations as a PSYACT or optimizing the diverse influence of the Alliance members while minimizing second and third order effects.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Main Street USA: Latest Chinese Propaganda Target


On October 20, 2018 Yahoo Finance ran an on-line article “China broadens its propaganda drive to heartland America” (see: https://yhoo.it/2qNJ8jP, which is also a photo source).  The article noted how the Chinese publication ChinaWatch (which you can see on line at: www.chinadaily.com.cn/) ran a series of articles targeted at US soybean farmers.

I did a search today (15 Nov 18) on that site and two articles came up dated a couple of days ago. See photo. According to the article, the Chinese were using their publication to try and drive a wedge between President Trump and his Midwest Farmer supporters.

An interesting element of the article was the conclusion that Chinese publications are offered advertising space in US publications, especially newspapers, because the revenue from those accounts help to stem the overall decline of newspaper revenue.

Perhaps the Chinese have succumbed to the use of Measure of Production (we ran all these ads) rather than Measures of Effectiveness (the defection of the President’s supporters to the PRC’s perspective of the Trade war.

The Chinese claim that they didn’t violate any laws nor does the Chinese government interfere in other countries’ affairs or elections. You can read more about the statement and the context at: https://yhoo.it/2qNJ8jP, which is also a photo source.

From an effectiveness standpoint, I don’t think there are many in the PSYOP community, especially those from farming areas that believe that the Chinese Publications had any influence at all.

Perhaps the political motivation to show off ‘production’ to the masters in Beijing was the real goal and not successful influence operations. 

In my view, this initial effort is an influence camel’s nose coming under the US tent. It may take a while for the camel to get in, if at all, but that nose is doing more than just nosing around.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Chinese Long Haul in the African Media Market



The October 20, 2018 print edition of the Economist ran a story: “Chinese media in Africa: Soft power and censorship”. You can see at (https://econ.st/2EHFIJ5, which is a the photo source).

The bulk of the article details how, in spite of major investments; the Chinese are not making much of a dent in the Chinese Media market. The Chinese Global TV Network (see: https://www.cgtn.com/) opened a bureau in Africa in 2012. They also launched a newspaper, China Daily Africa and ChinAfrica a magazine while half the journalists may be African, it’s clear that Beijing pulls the strings.

The article noted that there are always two editorial meetings at GCTN stations. The first for the general staff and the other is where the Chinese editors seek story approval from their Beijing masters.

While ‘old fashioned propaganda’ may have stalled, the article continues, the Chinese have embarked on a three-pronged approach to expand their interest.

1.     A mass training program for African journalists.
2.     Chinese investment in private companies such as the South Africa based Independent Media where the Chinese no have a 20% interest.
3.     Expansion of StarTimes, (see photo from website) a pay TV network now in 25 countries and claiming 24 million subscribers, a figure doubted by many experts.

What is interesting about StarTimes is its wide range of content which according to the article includes: “Chinese Super League football, kung-fu movies and soap operas. StarTimes even hosts competitions for African actors to dub dramas into languages such as Hausa and Swahili, a move few Western broadcasters have bothered with.”

It is the last activity that should pique the curiosity of the PSYOP community. By writing their own dramas the Chinese are subtlety deciding what people see and by making that ‘entertainment’ available in native languages while others do not, it’s clear to see how a long haul strategy will give the Chinese dominance in small market segments.

Of course small segments can serve as jump off points to bigger ones on the road to systematic domination of the larger market.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Social Media Makes Perception Reality


I have written several posts on the impact of Social Media. The 10/2/18 Foreign Policy Magazine ran an article “The Future of War Will Be ‘Liked’ (see: https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/10/02/future-of-war-memes/?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits; which is also a photo source) which echoed my thoughts in a very authoritative way.
As noted in the article, many state and non-state actors use social media “to ridicule their foes and expand their influence, in a world where online sway can drive real-world power. Yet beneath it all, a more serious side of conflict also takes place, its ammunition the bevy of images taken from actual battles. Today, nearly all our moves are tracked, including those in anything from election campaigns to military ones.”

My Blog entry of 9/7/18 Facebook Emerges As Major Weapons System in Libya I discussed how FaceBook served as an intelligence source, the article nicely observes the same – “to ridicule their foes and expand their influence, in a world where online sway can drive real-world power. Yet beneath it all, a more serious side of conflict also takes place, its ammunition the bevy of images taken from actual battles. Today, nearly all our moves are tracked, including those in anything from election campaigns to military ones.”

The article continues “Some of it is intentional: selfies taken in the midst of battle, observers watching events, smartphone in hand. Others are captured in the background: be it images that lay in the distance or even information in the digital background, from the geolocation of CIA black sites revealed by guards’ use of exercise apps to the metadata that accompanies every online post. The result is that the smallest of firefights is observed by a global audience, while terrorist attacks are even shared out live by the killers themselves. ….. It works for both good and bad: Terrorists use this information to win new recruits; human rights activists use it to highlight the plight of civilians caught in harm’s way and even steer rescues their way. During the 2016-2017 Battle of Mosul—the most livestreamed and hashtagged siege in history—thousands of virtual observers waited for each new snippet of content, spinning it to all of these ends at once.

Social media is becoming as important as kinetic operations because, according to none other than GEN Stanley McChrystal, as he explained, is that battles are now being waged over truth itself. In these fights, “the line between reality and perception will be blurred,” he said. “Separating fact from fiction will be tough for governments but almost impossible for populations.”

It is this later fact that needs emphasis. The truth is what the population believes and all too often they believe the cesspool of information on Social Media.