Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Does It Really Matter Who Owns Twitter?



Unless you live in a cave, you know that Elon Musk paid $44 Billion to buy Twitter and then take it from a public company to a private one. There has been more than a great deal of concern about the Twitter platform and the future of the company itself. On November 22, 2022 The Brookings Institute published “The future of Twitter: Four scenarios” (see: http://bit.ly/3UgiaN9, which is also a photo source.)


The four alternatives according to Brookings are:

1.     Bankruptcy

2.     Little Content Moderation and Lots of Extremism

3.     Technical Problems in Maintaining the Site

4.     Survival Through Premium Services


Of course there can also be multiple scenarios as well. PSYOPers are information maestros. Just as a symphony conductor blends the sounds of the various instruments together in a symphony, influencers will blend media and messages to orchestrate an effective campaign.


Two other analogies apply here as well. The first is that Twitter is a an information tool. When building a house, the carpenter knows that saws cut wood, hammers are used on nails and screwdrivers are used on screws. The tool has a purpose and is used for that purpose.


Another way to look at it as like playing a bocce court (Photo source: http://bit.ly/3gFCwlj).

Each court has its own nuances. Most are not completely level all the way around. The skillful player has to know where the court dips and where the ball is likely to go because of the nature of the court.


My point is that no matter which way Twitter goes, it still may useful for influence operations. Assuming for the moment that Twitter scenario number 2. Little Content Moderation and Lost of Extremism comes into being.


Influencers will need to assess if Twitter is an appropriate medium to transmit their message. It is also important to recognize that Twitter could be a source of intelligence on the extreme content and the extreme content’s authors, goals, etc.


People get their information in a variety of ways and successful influencers, like orchestra conductors must learn how to blend the appropriate medium to create optimal effectiveness

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

What’s Good for the Goose Isn’t Necessarily Good For the Gander


My good friends at Merriam Webster define this expression “to say that one person or situation should be treated the same way that another person or situation is treated” (see: https://bit.ly/3qPXRKh)

Should the U.S. concede the information advantage to our enemies and adversaries?


The Washington Post posted “Pentagon orders review of psyops after takedown of fake social accounts” (see: https://wapo.st/3R1IcSF, which is also a photo source.) The Post said the article was a follow-up to a previous article posted on August 25, 2022 “A phony, U.S.-friendly social media campaign prompts questions (see: https://wapo.st/3qWlGAa, also a photo source)


This second article was about the discovery and removal of pro-US messaging by Twitter and Meta. That article was sort of an expose of fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda,”. 


However, that type of activity was actually reported by the British publication the Guardian on 17 March 2011 (see: https://bit.ly/3dt5WkO, another photo source). This article addressed specific operations being conducted by the US Central Command under a $2.76 million contract with an LA based company, Ntrepid. The company has since moved to Herndon, VA (https://ntrepidcorp.com/)



It is clearly no secret that other countries, particularly Russia and China, engage in disinformation using a variety of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) including fake personas on social media.


The most recent article points out that “U.S. law authorizes the use of fictitious substitute accounts, but Pentagon policy and doctrine discourage spreading false information. Congress in 2019 effectively allowed the military to strike back online when countering foreign disinformation campaigns.”


Trying to get a more objective look, I found Gizmodo’s article “The Pentagon is Reportedly Auditing the U.S. Military’s Own Pro-American Social Media Psyop” published yesterday, September 19, 2022 (see: https://bit.ly/3S5OfXF). The closing paragraph of that article is:

“In response to Gizmodo’s questions, a DoD spokesperson sent the following comment in an email, “As a matter of policy, the Department of Defense conducts military information support operations in support of our national security priorities. These activities must be undertaken in compliance with U.S. law and DoD policy. We are committed to enforcing those safeguards.”


Let’s see if we can move beyond the hype shall we?


1.     Our enemies and adversaries are dominating the high ground of the information domain. Disinformation campaigns using automated means by Russia and China in particular have been widely documented.

2.     It appears that US law allows the DOD to execute similar campaigns as long as those campaigns are not primarily targeted to an American audience.

3.     The PSYOP hand has been caught in the information cookie jar on more than one occasion.

4.     Only a fool would allow their enemies to act freely.

5.     There is quite a bit of politics at play here. If I were a cynical person (as I have been accused of being) I would say that ‘someone’ in the White House is very concerned about looking bad especially with the midterm elections literally around the corner.


While of course the U.S. should take the high road, we cannot ignore the low roads or information highway routes being dominated by our enemies and adversaries.


As always, reader comments are encouraged.



Wednesday, August 24, 2022

When You Don’t Know If the Indirect Effect Will Be Greater


The NY Times featured an article on August 22, 2022 “People are paying to have personal messagespainted on Ukrainian artillery shells.” (see: https://nyti.ms/3CsFNwy, which is also a photo source.)


The article chronicles a novel way that Ukrainians are raising money to support their war effort against Russia. According to the article the signmyrocket is one of these efforts. Supporters can not only get their personal messages on the shells, but can, for an extra fee of course, they can get a video of their shell being shot.


Of course, this is not the first time that bombs have had a dual purpose. Life Magazine featured some bombs destined for the Pacific Theater in World War II. (Source: Life Magazine).


While some may view fundraising by Artem Poliukhovych at signmyrocket.com (which is also a photo source) as the main goal, there are of course other outcomes. Most of the messages have political overtones, but others like the one from Cristina Repetti of Chicago is personal – she simply wants her boyfriend, Vinny to come back home.



As PSYOP professionals, let’s take a moment to talk about the effects of this kind of effort.


1.     Direct Effect - Kinetic

First of all the bombs land on the enemy causing damage.


2.     Indirect Effect - PSYOP


The nature of the campaign, the fund raising, and the popular/media support create another effect and that is the PSYOP effect of showing the enemy that there is a worldwide community that stands against them.


This raises the question of what audience can actually see the articles about the bombs and their messages. Given the totalitarian control that Russia has over its ‘news’ media, it would be reasonable to assume that the Russian domestic media market will not see the messages.


The Russian diaspora outside Russia can certainly access on line and traditional media that will feature the articles. Russian soldiers inside Ukraine may or may not be an audience depending on their particular situation and of course their rank.


When it comes to Measures of Effectiveness (MOE), we could all take a lesson from the ‘signmyrocket.com’ results below. As always, reader comments encouraged.


Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Movies and PSYOP: The PRC is the Best!


While the picture here is from one of my favorite military satire sites, it, like most effective PSYOP, is based on truth. (see: https://bit.ly/3INygd3, which is also a photo source).


While the thrill of going to a darkened room with hundreds of strangers has been dampened due to COVID, there have been some exceptions. One of which has been “Top Gun: Maverick” which has topped over $1 Billion at the box office. 


The lure of movies as a propaganda medium has not been lost on other countries, in particular, the People’s Republic of China. Unbeknownst to me (because I let my subscription lapse) my favorite news magazine, The Economist published a January article “How Chinese propaganda films became watchable – Patriotic blockbusters are so entertaining people willingly buy tickets” (see: https://econ.st/3zgtUIi, another photo source).

The article talks about “The Battle at Lake Changjin” became the highest-grossing film in Chinese history, and the second-highest of the year worldwide. It made over $900m, just behind “Spider-Man: No Way Home”. You can watch the official trailer on YouTube at: https://bit.ly/3IXQnNy (another photo source) You can read a review in the British publication the Guardian at: https://bit.ly/3aUN50Y







I found it very interesting to learn that the film was especially popular among Young Chinese. This contrasts with Top Gun where the majority of viewers were over 35. (see: https://bit.ly/3v17JDm)


Stepping back, it would appear that the PRC is well aware its target audience. Clearly, their goal is to attract the younger citizen who is perhaps more disenchanted with the Chinese heavy surveillance efforts and potential censorship of internet news and other sites regarded as damaging to the Party and government.


Once upon a time, in World War II, one scholarly source summed up Hollywood’s role “During World War II, Hollywood produced films that acted as propaganda, increased military recruitment rates, assisted in military training, and boosted the morale of American soldiers and civilians alike, easily making cinema the most important form of popular media in the war effort.” (see: https://bit.ly/3B4pTYG)


The Office of War Information was created due to the need for offensive influence operations and under the pressure of World War II. Given the nature, resources and pressure created by Russia and other disinformation efforts – is it time to consider an Office of Disinformation Control?


Reader comments encouraged.

Monday, May 23, 2022

You Don’t Have to Like It


The 4th PSYOP Group (Fort Bragg, NC) created quite a hullaballoo with their May 2, 2022 recruiting video “Ghosts in the Machine” (which you can find at: https://bit.ly/3GeYEuX and is a photo source).

The video employs Koko the Clown, which first appeared in Out of the Ink Well from 1918 – 1929. You can learn more about him at: https://fleischer-studios.fandom.com/wiki/Koko_the_Clown

The Army Times shouted “ Foreboding Army PSYOPS recruitment video shows ‘who’s pulling the strings’” (https://bit.ly/3NrVtT6) According to the venerable ‘paper’, the film ‘gives off a slightly creepy surreal vibe’.  The Times picks up on the notion of ‘becoming the ghost puppeteer pulling the world’s strings, especially those of hot-button national security threats like the Chinese and Russian governments. The Times even goes so far as to say that the video’s real purpose “PSYOP aimed at an overseas audience.”

Another review – this one from boingboing.net said “Enjoy this creepy occult-ish U.S. Army Psychological Operations Recruitment video” (see: https://boingboing.net/2022/05/17/enjoy-this-creepy-occult-ish-u-s-army-psychological-operations-recruitment-video.html)

Even the ‘local’ Fort Bragg newspaper, the News & Observer chimed in saying “’Unsettling/ Fort Bragg recruitment video ignites debate over its mysterious intent’. (see: https://bit.ly/39NKHb9 which is a photo source as well).

As I reviewed the content, here’s what hit me:

·      The use of Sun Tzu – everyone’s favorite elegant strategist.

·      Implied that Psywarriors lead a life of adventure and intrigue.

·      Adopting the ‘Ghost’ as a branding tool – including the famed Ghost Army of WWII.

·      Arouse patriotism by showcasing potential peer enemies.

·      Concluding that information is everywhere and needs to be controlled as a weapon of war by a special breed of revitalized PSYWAR practitioners.

I did not see any nefarious plots nor occult visions. Rather it seemed to me that soldiers of the 4th POG thought pretty hard about the kind of colleague they want to attract and focused this latest work product as a way to appeal to those individuals and to influence them to apply for PSYOP selection.

If you’re sufficiently motivated to join PSYOP (we don’t use the s) you can check out the Army’s Official recruiting page at: https://bit.ly/3wGd6rH. According to our good friends at the Army Times if you make it, you may be eligible for reenlistment bonus packages of up to $21,000 for enlisted personnel, not to mention potential airborne and language pay and educational allowances.

The bottom line is not whether your like it or find it spooky – the measure of effectiveness is how many people are motivated to sign-up to become PSYOP soldiers.



Monday, April 18, 2022

American Psychological Association: The role of psychological warfare in the battle for Ukraine


Something a bit different today. Rather than analysis I am providing some highlights from a well respected academic and professional source – the American Psychological Association.


As an online instructor for American Military University and the Monterey College of Law I am often asked about ‘peer reviewed scholarly journals’ for students’ use in military intelligence and related subjects. Unfortunately and necessarily, much of the current subject matter is often classified so that there is a paucity of these sources.


One of my new sources, the SOF News showcased an article from the American Psychological Association (topic as in the headline) on April 11, 2022 which you can see at: https://bit.ly/3vqbhhO, which is also a photo source..


The article starts out by stating “at least 70 countries have engaged in coordinated online disinformation campaigns in recent years, with Russia alone launching more than 30 attacks on elections around the world since 2016 (2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation (PDF, 6.05MB), University of Oxford; Hacking Democracies, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 2019).”


Here some highlights:

“The Ukrainians are fighting a 21st-century war, which is half on the internet,” said Stephan Lewandowsky, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Bristol who studies misinformation at the societal level. “That new approach has worked extremely well because it has preempted Russian attempts to rewrite history.”


A “ploy Russian President Vladimir Putin has used to great success is conspiracy “gish gallop,” or rapid-fire lying, said Roozenbeek, for instance around the Malaysian Airlines disaster of 2014. The Kremlin’s constant stream of lies—that it was a Ukrainian attack, that all the passengers were dead before takeoff, that the pilot intentionally crashed the plane—is used to sow confusion and disillusionment (Paul, C., & Matthews, M., RAND Corporation (PDF, 177KB), 2016).”


Once it takes hold, misinformation is tough to correct. Psychologists have shown that prebunking, or preemptively warning people about incorrect or misleading information, is more effective than debunking falsehoods after the fact (Lewandowsky, S., et al., The Debunking Handbook 2020). Personal and emotional appeals, rather than merely providing a fact-check, can also be helpful.


The article also offers some suggestions on further reading in case you are interested:

LikeWar: The weaponization of social media
Singer, P. W., & Brooking, E. T., 2018

Controlling the spread of misinformation
APA, 2021

Putin, Zelenskyy, and Biden all have unique leadership styles
Hunter, S., & Scott Ligon, G., The Conversation, 2022

Misinformation, disinformation, and violent conflict: From Iraq and the “War on Terror” to future threats to peace.
Lewandowsky, S., et al., American Psychologist, 2013

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Shortwave Follow-up: Why the BBC’s Service Matters


On March 25, 2022 Rand published an article “Why the BBC World Service’s New Ukrainian Shortwave Service Matters” (see: https://bit.ly/3LPiFd4, which is also a photo source).


One of the reasons I think shortwave is under-rated is because most everyone else is focused on Social Media. While Social Media is important, it is not the be all and end all for communications and influence operations.


Social Media depends on Internet access. Remarkably (or perhaps intentionally) the Ukraine’s Internet remains intact at least as of 1540 Pacific Time on 7 April. For some background, check out this article: “Why is Ukraine’s Internet Still Up? Perhaps Because the Invaders Need It: at https://bit.ly/3NV92eH (another photo source)


However, it is abundantly clear that Russia has destroyed other aspects of the Ukrainian infrastructure and will do so when they feel it is in their bests interests. Destruction of infrastructure renders the internet impotent.

 Shortwave on the other hand, requires no major infrastructure and has proven its resiliency in times of disaster, peace and conflict.

The nub is that people have to want to listen and they need to know what frequencies to tune in and when to do so.


The BBC has a hard earned brand reputation and is no doubt proving to be an information lifeline.


The article concludes with a call to action: “Perhaps it's time for the United States to consider whether RFE/RL should return to its roots and follow the BBC's lead in restarting shortwave services to Ukraine and southeastern Russia.”


I would offer one of my one – should PSYOP get in the shortwave game? If so, would it make sense to specialize in a particular audience – say reinforcing the morale of those opposing the Russian invasion?


Reader input eagerly awaited.