Rema Rajeshwari and Dr Suneem Khan share an interesting perspective via their post ‘Fake News, the 21st century Insurgency in their Khakhi Diaries blog on the Times of India. They talk about influence operations. It is a term for propaganda in the digital age.
This has been well described in an article on the Lowy Institute site – Paradigm shift: Understanding propaganda in the digital age – where they say that propaganda in digital age represents a new form of public manipulation with endless possibilities.
Influence operations in the digital age are not merely propaganda with new tools. They represent an evolved form of manipulation which present actors with endless possibilities – both benign and malignant. While the origins of this new form are semi-accidental, it has nonetheless opened up opportunities for the manipulation and exploitation of human beings that were previously inaccessible. Now conducted across the whole of society, we are only at the beginning of a new era of population-centric competition.
With regard to propaganda, the fundamental distinction between the old and the new lies in the difference between participatory and passive forms of information consumption.
They were talking of the same fake news peddling by BBC Urdu on Kashmir that we discussed in the last blog post.
Now, that brings us to another important issue. So, why is BBC Urdu and other so-called liberal news outlets engaging in false propaganda against India on the pretext of Kashmir?
I mean, I can understand Pakistan doing it. But the BBC?
Changing paradigms of war and peace
We have to see the current “narrative war” in the context of how the paradigms of what constitutes a war are changing. The Chief of the Australian Army said in his futures statement last year titled “Accelerated Warfare”:
As an Army in Motion, our profession demands a continuous contest of ideas. This requires wide engagement across Defence, whole of government, industry, academia and our international military partners as well as with new and emerging partners. Our aim is to strengthen our joint warfighting philosophy to meet the challenges of the future while also being strategy and concept-led.(source)
It is no longer a War and Peace binary. It is a constant contest of ideas and ways of life being fought on the planes of minds. Every single day. Who survives and what survives depends not just on the power of ideas but more importantly on how we use what we have in hand.
Participatory vs Passive and Relentless vs Episodic
The new propaganda strategy is changing completely as well. In the past, propaganda’s main objective was to change what people think. If you were a Capitalist, then your aim in the Communist countries was to enforce your way was better. No more. If you are a Capitalist and know what people want in terms of good life, you don’t have to tell them that Communism is bad. You just have to play on their need for “good life” and make that an echo chamber. The multiplying effect will take care of the rest. You will soon have a die-hard constituency in that society which swears by working for the “good things” in life, socialism be damned!
The old propaganda warfare was passive in nature. The writers or the “scholars” – or as KGB agent Yuri Bezmenov called the Indians doing Soviets’ dirty work in India “Useful idiots” – wrote their pieces in earlier days, which would be used by general population via magazines and newspapers. There was no participation from the public. It was a one-way communication channel. So, the investment was in those who wrote and shared their ideas.
Now, with Social media, we all can have a say. And do. Interaction and consumption of narratives is participatory, not passive.
This creates a challenge for those who are structuring the propaganda.
That is why today it is being Influence Operations. Influencing people in a way to create an ideological constituency that is closed, yet participatory. An echo chamber where everyone shouts and jostles.
Research into digital age influence operations is revealing IOs are rarely about changing what people believe. They are instead about confirming what people already believe – described by Alicia Wanless and Michael Berk as aParticipatory Propaganda
model. This requires little of the sophistication of analogue PsyOps. In contrast, it involves flooding people with confirmation bias for a given belief – and starving them of opportunities to question and doubt other beliefs. It’s easy to see how toxic binaries form organically in communities which can then be exploited by networkrouting
. The echo chamber effect was a key component of Russian interference in the 2016 US election. (source)
As Berk and Wanless say in their paper titled “Participatory Propaganda: The Engagement of Audiences in the Spread of Persuasive Communications”
Providing invaluable insight on the evolving human-technology interaction in creating new formats of persuasive messaging, these studies lend to an enriched understanding of modern propaganda methods. At the same time, the true effects and magnitude of successful influencing of large audiences in the digital age can only be understood if target audiences are perceived not only as ‘objects’ of influence, but as ‘subjects’ of persuasive communications as well.
The objects of propaganda of the erstwhile Propaganda game are now the influencers of new operations. Operations that are relentless and continuous, irrespective of declared and episodic wars.
For, there are very few declared and episodic wars any more. What we have instead are continuous, participatory and relentless wars of ideas and civilization itself.
Media like BBC, Washington Post, NYT, et al have selected their military banners
It is in that context that we need to view the narrative war by BBC, Washington Post, New York Times, The Guardian and the like. They are fighting on behalf of an idea that promotes terrorism for others (BBC’s double standards) as well as justifies terror against other nation-states to further a neo-colonial agenda.
Make no mistake, the wars are not binary episodic occurrences. They are a continuous play of ideas that are backed by a Participatory Propaganda mechanism, which creates constituencies of anger and hate.
So when a media outlet becomes a willing participant in that ideological battle, it is also a soldier on that battlefield. It is fighting under a military banner. Every day. One word at a time. One idea at a time.
Unfortunately, in this battle of ideas, the so-called liberal media has chosen to fight under the Islamist military colors.