Monday, April 30, 2018

China’s Military: A Very Successful Movie Producer

 
China News Magazine (May 2018) and their website (see: http://www.newschinamag.com/newschina/articleDetail.do?article_id=3440&section_id=4&magazine_id=29; which is also the photo source) ran a story entitled: “War Movies – Patriot Gains”, the subhead is “The success of china’s latest war movie, Operation Red Sea, is part of a new chapter in Chinese patriotic cinema, and reveals how China’s various military branches finance film.”

Movies are big business in China too the tune of $15.8 Billion in February – a record breaking performance even ahead off the best US monthly which the magazine reported as $13.95 Billion in 2011.

The PLA has been a big and successful backer of war movies having sponsored the current hit, Operation Red Sea (which also features the Chinese Navy), Wolf Warrior 2 (at left) last year which was SF themed and of course a PRC Top Gun – Sky Hunter.

Military produced films have ‘covered’ a number of conflicts (in Chinese terminology) such as the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), China’s Civil War (1945-59) and the Korean War (1950-53).

The settings have evolved along with the PRC’s needs and messages moving into more modern conflicts and showcasing the PRC’s military prowess.

Operation Red Sea is being lauded as the first of a new generation of Chinese War movies. Like their Western Counterparts, Chinese war movies did not appeal to the younger generation of moviegoers. This resulted in transferring responsibility to a new segment of the PRC government. A key element is to stimulate pride in the PRC military and China’s newly elevated international status.

Alas these things don’t happen in America. Hollywood is after box office, and while some moviemakers will tout their social progress philosophy or protest purposes ultimately the free film market is about box office and maybe a bit about “Oscar”.

What are the lessons to be learned for the PSYOP Community?

Actually those lessons would be more DOD focused to include working with filmmakers to insure realism and to do what can be done to influence a balanced perspective.


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Creating Disinformation Is Easier Than You Think


Fake news is perhaps more common these days than ‘real news’. On April 24, 2018 Bloomberg Politics reported “G-7 Says Tech Firms Like FaceBook and Twitter Will be ‘Held to Account’. (see: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-24/tech-firms-like-facebook-twitter-to-be-held-to-account-by-g-7; which is also the photo source. I wondered just how hard it would be for two people to create their own disinformation (fake news).

As many of you know, I regularly participate in joint exercises as the IO SME and Role Player. In my most recent exercise I worked with a colleague to create two streams of disinformation.

At first I thought the idea of planning and executing a disinformation campaign would be pretty daunting. Frankly – it’s not.

Our targeting mission was pretty simple. It would be our job to confuse the friendly Public Affairs Team and Media Operations Center (MOC).

1. Pick The Media
Our first step was to pick our media. We decided to concentrate on a single media so that we could concentrate our efforts. Fortunately the exercise takes place in a closed, off the net, isolated system so we were not unduly concerned with leakage.

2. Adopt A Role
Next we adopted a fictional persona. Just as if we were in a play we did a mini-character analysis of our new identity and developed what we believed would be the key messages they would want to transmit.

3. Build A Couple of Story Lines
Once we knew who we were portraying and what we wanted to say we created a couple of story lines and drafted messages.

4. MESL Injection
Our finally step was to create a time to inject each message. Our chosen medium was a Tweeter Take Off - this meant we had to limit what we could say to remain inside the character limit.

The end result was that the students spotted one of our characters and crafted some very responsive counter-propaganda messages. The other character slipped through the cracks and was never picked up.

The key to success was a combination of creativity and sensitivity to the situation so that your disinformation campaign is credible and blends in with the rest of the journalistic landscape.




Friday, April 6, 2018

Photo Shop Badge With Twitter Cluster – New PSYOP Award


While many argue that Social Media is very noisy, no one would argue that it is not influential, nor that imagery is the most potent way to influence someone. An April 1, 2018 article in the NY Times (see: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/01/world/middleeast/israel-gaza-fighting.html, Photo at Right) addressed how Israel and the Palestinians are both battling in the court of world opinion using dueling videos.

According to the article, Israel produced a video which you can see for your self at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/01/world/middleeast/israel-gaza-fighting.html. This video claims to show Hamas fighters. Still below.

Not to be out done, Hamas purports show unarmed protesters being shot. You can see the female protester carrying her flag at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/01/world/middleeast/israel-gaza-fighting.html Still below.

I will leave it to personal judgment to determine the validity of these as well as others you may find.

This particular influence skirmish shows how high impact video can be merged with Twitter as a distribution medium to sway global opinion.

On a side note, I recently took part in an exercise where part of my role was to develop a Twitter Disinformation Campaign. One of my colleagues and I assumed two different adversarial roles and generated a number of “Tweets” (they weren’t really on Twitter, but on an internal closed system) ranting against the Americans and their allies in the host nation. I was pleased to see that the good guys picked one of the up and provided some very creative counter-PSYOP.

I’ll be hosting a Peer to Peer Session and giving a presentation on the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union at the RSA Conference in San Francisco during the week of 16 April. If you’re attending comment on the post!

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Fake News Beats Real News: Implications For PSYOP

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The NY Times among others ran analysis of an MIT study comparing false news to real news. (see: http://nyti.ms/2pe1hqT, which is also the photo source below or https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/03/largest-study-ever-fake-news-mit-twitter/555104/?utm_source=atlfb  which is the photo source at right). Here are some of the highlights from my perspective:

1.     False news travels faster, farther and deeper through social media than true news.
2.     False claims were 70% more likely than the truth to be shared on Twitter.
3.     Software robots can accelerate the spread of false stories.
4.     When applying standard text-analysis tools, false claims were significant more ‘novel’ (meaning unusual/different) than true news.
5.     From a response perspective:
·      False claims elicited greater surprise and disgust.
·      True news inspired more anticipation, sadness/joy depending on the nature of the story.
6.     There is little certainty about the impact of false news on people’s beliefs and actions.

Clearly these key points are important for counter propaganda analysis. They can also provide some tips and pointers on the PSYOP transmit side as well.

1.     Make your message delivery vehicle different and inviting. Shy away from the listless and the bland.
2.     When developing counter propaganda, build from the emotions that were likely to be stimulated by the false news, especially when that propaganda elicited disgust.
3.     When analyzing propaganda consider Twitter to be among the least reliable of sources. Noting that ‘bots’ can generate significant volume. But also consider that volume of Tweets can be an intelligence indicator in and of themselves.
·      For example in disasters the volume of Tweets can reflect the public’s concerns. Initial high volume at the start of the disaster levels off and tapers off as the impact of the disaster fades.

The ubiquity and volume of social media are worthy of study and should be integrated into our PSYOP curriculum and exercises as a way of helping to create a real world environment.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Russians, Elections & Mueller – Oh My!


You cannot pick up a newspaper or listen to a news broadcast today without hearing something about how the Russians influenced the 2016 US presidential election. The barrage of news and commentary surrounding the disinformation operations is overwhelming.

We all know that there are PSYOP lessons to be learned buried in there and I thought the time had come for me to at least start pecking away at them. When I face complex international events I turn to the Economist as an impartial source. Since they are not a US publication they can, and do take liberties in the way they report and analyze the news.

I’ve used two articles from the February 24th, 2018 printed (yes real) magazine. The first was simply titled “The discord amplifier” (see: http://econ.st/2oAZJqj, which is also a photo source.)

The article notes “three companies Mr Prigozhin controlled, including the Internet Research Agency (IRA, see article), and 12 other named Russians with identity theft, conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud and conspiracy to defraud America by “impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States”.

Identity theft stood out to me. Identify theft implies that the perpetrators used the identities of real people as well as fictitious people in their social media ruses.

This is the very essence of Black Propaganda that either uses false sources or obscures the true source. Fake social media personas were employed to reduce voter turnout among blacks and Muslims, while encouraging votes for Bernie Sanders to decrease Hillary Clinton’s vote count.

The false personas were then able to mobilize “unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump campaign” largely because the false persona’s appealed to the already existing beliefs and bias of those people.

The article goes on to say that “Social media are designed to hijack their users’ attention. That makes them excellent conduits for the dissemination of lies and for the encouragement of animosity.” This employment of social media shows a deep recognition of intended and unintended consequences of it.

However, let’s not totally count on digital influence. I noted how groups of real people were duped and brought into play. Playing on humans is a hallmark of Russian tradecraft, as well stated in the article: “Russia’s activity consists of techniques from the pre-digital Soviet manual: marshaling human assets, be they active spies or sympathetic activists; funding organizations that may be helpful; and attempting to influence the media agenda.”

One last point from this article was the use of armies of bots as a way to leverage their influence especially on Twitter. The article concludes like this ““If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos,” Mr Trump tweeted on February 17th, “they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.” For once, he had it right.”

The second article I referred to was in the same issue and entitled “Facebook unfriended” and subtitled “Russian meddling is only one challenge facing the social-media giant” (see: http://econ.st/2FJB62j, which is also a photo source).

This article stands for two propositions:

1.     FaceBook was a critical element in the disinformation campaign as evidenced by the fact that it was mentioned “mentioned no fewer than 35 times as a place where Russian trolls swayed Americans through targeted political advertising and curated posts.”
2.     FaceBook will not be as influential for any subsequent disinformation campaigns targeted at people under the age of 25 because it is losing significant ground to SnapChat and Instagram among others.

For we in the PSYOP Community the message is clear – stay on top of the latest in social media and technology, view them with caution and never loose sight of how even the oldest of influence tactics still work.

As always reader comments are encouraged.





Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Train Them While They Are Small


 I had put away an article about the PRC’s control of textbooks in elementary schools, but somehow it disappeared. However, I did find this article that addresses education in the PRC: China battles foreign influence in education (see: http://econ.st/2ohbkLf, which is also the photo source).

The Chinese have always been long haul players. Unlike many other cultures, the Chinese understand that influence requires frequency of messaging and controlling messages.

One of the dilemmas faced by countries is how much influence they want to let in from the outside and who can access it. According to the article the last front in the influence war are international schools catering to Chinese citizens and migrants, non-Chinese citizens inside China. Attendance at these schools has, for the most part been restricted.

One of the more interesting approaches to insuring that the youngest students get only ‘approved’ messages is a new law that “bans for-profit private schools from teaching the first 9 years of compulsory education.”

Of course you must appreciate that most parents want their children to attend prestigious Chinese Universities. Entrance exams for these native schools ‘prize rote learning over critical or lateral thinking.”

As noted in the article “The Communist Party is instead seeking to inculcate young Chinese with its own ideological values: the new directive on for-profit schools calls on them to “strengthen Party-building”. After pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, nationalistic “patriotic education” classes were stepped up in schools, a move that Xi Jinping, the president, has taken to new levels since 2012, seeking to infuse every possible field with “patriotic spirit”. “Morals, language, history, geography, sport and arts” are all part of the campaign now. Unusually, he also seeks to include students abroad in this “patriotic energy”.

The article concludes on a somewhat optimistic note: “Restricting for-profit schooling also risks hitting another growing educational market: urban private schools that cater to migrant children who cannot get places in regular state schools because they do not have the required residence permits. A law that undermines educational opportunities for the privileged and the underprivileged at once could prove far more incendiary than a little foreign influence.”

PSYOPers should be aware of the power of schools, even our own. If you have not taken part in your child’s career day you are missing an opportunity to share your experiences, but to also experience a bit of your child’s education. Clearly something every parent should do.

Monday, February 12, 2018

“Honey – are you home from the War?”


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I have often said that the funniest stuff is never made up.

Of course, I come from a Western mentality and my household doesn’t run like they did in the 1950s where Dad worked and Mom stayed home to cook and clean and otherwise feather the nest. While I was aware that Al Qaeda groups didn’t think much of women and their role in warfare while others embraced them as warriors, it didn’t occur to me that these two views would play themselves out in terrorist media wars.

Imagine my surprise when I caught the article “How to please your holy warrior’ in the February 3, 2018 of the Economist. (see: http://econ.st/2BUCf7M, which is also the photo source).

The article addresses the al-Qaeda published magazine for women called Beituki (“Your Home”). Rather than grab your rifle and kill infidels, the magazine urges““Make your house a paradise on earth,” it advises. “Prepare the food your husband loves, prepare his bed after that and do what he wants.”

The Al Qaeda view is contrary to ISIS and the Taliban who believe that women should be out there creating mayhem, just like their male counterparts. Rather than showing women in action, Beituki shows neat designer homes and domestic bliss.

While trying to find the actual Beituki website, I came across another reference which prepared an ‘infographic’ of their concept of the Al Qaeda magazine which you can see here and at: http://bit.ly/2G7QPag.

Unfortunately there is no data available to determine which of these competing views is more popular – go out there and shoot or stay home and cook.

There is a key message for PSYOPers though and that is you can’t take your own viewpoint as the most popular one or the perspective that will be embraced by your target audience.

Reader input invited.