Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Trump's credibility takes a hit

Kumuda Simpson,

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FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers have both testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that they do not have any information or evidence to support US President Donald Trump’s claims the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower during the election.

Trump sees or hears a claim made on cable TV or by Breitbart writers, and immediately launches a Twitterstorm without verifying the information, or thinking through the implications for policy and public diplomacy. ...

We are missing the boat on public diplomacy

John W. Graham, Munroe Eagles,

Canada needs to bring back the Understanding Canada program to fund international Canadian studies.

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Swissando: a two-year integrated public diplomacy campaign in Brazil

Swissando: a two-year integrated public diplomacy campaign in Brazil
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Presence Switzerland is responsible for promoting Switzerland’s image abroad and for implementing the Federal Council’s strategy on Switzerland’s communication abroad. Our public diplomacy agency is part of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. One of our main missions is to represent Switzerland at major international events such as the Olympic Games and the Universal Exhibitions. We use positive clichés in connection with Switzerland, from cheese and chocolate to mountains and the St. Bernard legend as a starting point from which to broaden public perceptions and emphasise Switzerland’s strengths, such as innovation, openness, and our political system. 
Social networks have been integral to our strategy for many years. Over the last two years we have stepped up activity on social platforms, which we use to bolster our traditional communication strategies and improve interaction with our target audiences. As a channel for public diplomacy, social networks provide unique opportunities to communicate directly with the general public, the media and authorities in another country.   
From the outset of the two-year campaign in Brazil, social media were central to the communication strategy surrounding the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. It was in choosing a label to use online that the whole campaign became known as ‘Swissando’, which gave the whole operation a distinctly Swiss-Brazilian feel. All of the campaign’s social media platforms used the ‘Swissando’ handle and the label was taken up by every event. The brand encapsulated all of the various facets of Switzerland’s connection with Brazil and was adopted by our target audiences in sectors as diverse as business, science, culture and sport. The mix of digital communication and side events, a highlight of which was the House of Switzerland at the heart of Rio during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, set in motion a virtuous circle – visitors used the hashtags suggested on site, which were followed by people online, who then came to discover the House of Switzerland for themselves.
 At the end of 2016, more than 72,000 people were following Swissando on social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat). Of all these social media platforms, Facebook generated the most interactions. Each Facebook post generated on average 390 engagements (clicks, likes, comments and shares). This was user engagement by a qualified audience, since 90% of the interactions were from Brazil.
Most community interactions took place during the Olympic Games, when we recorded more than 3,000 posts (Twitter and Instagram) using the campaign’s swissando hashtag. And it was not just visitors to the House of Switzerland in Rio who used the hashtag. It was also adopted by influencers, including travel bloggers and local celebrities. ...

Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy “Seen on the Web” March 19, 2017

This is a compilation of news, articles, essays, and reports on strategic communications, Public Diplomacy, public affairs, U.S. government international broadcasting, and information operations.  The editorial intent is to:
  • share with busy practitioners the academic and policy ferment in Public Diplomacy and related fields
  • from long speeches, testimonies, and articles, flag the portions that bear on Public Diplomacy
  • provide a window on armed forces thinking on the fields that neighbor Public Diplomacy such as military public affairs, information operations, inform-influence-engage, and cultural learning, and
  • introduce the long history of Public Diplomacy by citing some of the older books, articles, reports, and documents that are not available on the internet.
Public Diplomacy professionals always need a 360-degree view of how ideas are expressed, flow, and gain influence.  Many points of view citied here are contentious and/or biased; inclusion does not imply endorsement.
Edited by
Donald M. Bishop, Bren Chair of Strategic Communications, Marine Corps University
Jeffery W. Taylor, University of Mary Washington, Assistant                                                     
In the News
Instruments of Informational Power
Professional Topics
  2. CYBER
Countries and Regions
  4. CHINA
In the News
  • Committee Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., set out a broader theme of the hearing in opening remarks, in which she noted that too often the U.S. focuses on the digital and technical aspects of cyberwarfare and influence campaigns, but she argued the U.S. must “keep in mind that information warfare is about information, including psychological and cultural aspects.”
Expert panel to Congress: Can’t ‘bomb our way to success’ in info warfare
Brad D. Williams, Fifth Domain Cyber, March 16, 2017
  • “The United States is outraged by the report of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). That such anti-Israel propaganda would come from a body whose membership nearly universally does not recognize Israel is unsurprising. That it was drafted by Richard Falk, a man who has repeatedly made biased and deeply offensive comments about Israel and espoused ridiculous conspiracy theories, including about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is equally unsurprising. The United Nations Secretariat was right to distance itself from this report, but it must go further and withdraw the report altogether.
Ambassador Nikki Haley, United States Mission to the United Nations, March 15, 2017
  • U.N. chief Antonió Guterres rejected a report published by ECSWA, a Beirut-based agency of the world body— ECSWA—comprised entirely of 18 Arab states, which accuses Israel of “apartheid.”
UN Watch, March 16, 2017 
Elements of Informational Power
  • Just putting someone in charge, whether it is the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy or a new USIA is not sufficient. We must change our methods. It requires new thought leadership and new team members. Our current government team does not have the training, expertise, experience or methods to be effective. It also requires new rules. Our laws, based on an old communication environment where you can separate domestic and foreign influence, no longer reflect the reality of today’s world. They unduly hinder our ability to play in the game.
The Same Old Game, New Rules:  The Need for a New Team for the War of Ideas
Kevin McCarthy, To Inform is to Influence, March 12, 2017
  • . . . the job of chief diplomat of the United States comes with a responsibility to be a voice for the policies of the president, and the values and principles of the nation. It is often called “public diplomacy,” but that hardly does justice to the fact that eyes around the world are on the United States. A comment from the secretary can warn adversaries, guide decision-makers and keep allies motivated to support U.S. goals.
Editorial Board, The Washington Post, March 16, 2017
  • Even as Russia insists that RT is just another global network like the BBC or France 24, albeit one offering “alternative views” to the Western-dominated news media, many Western countries regard RT as the slickly produced heart of a broad, often covert disinformation campaign designed to sow doubt about democratic institutions and destabilize the West.
Russia’s RT Network: Is It More BBC or K.G.B.?
Steven Erlanger, The New York Times, March 8, 2017
  • . . . [David] Pozen describes Stephen Hess’s motivational typology of leaks: “In motivational terms, Hess explained, the main variants include: the ego leak, meant to satisfy the leaker’s ‘sense of self-importance’; the goodwill leak, meant to curry favor with a reporter; the policy leak, meant to help, hurt, or alter a plan or policy; the animus leak, meant to settle grudges or embarrass others; the trial-balloon leak, meant to test the response of key constituencies, members of Congress, or the general public; and the whistleblower leak, meant to reveal a perceived abuse and, unique among the list, ‘usually employed by career personnel.”
The Law of Leaks
Susan Hennessey and Helen Klein Murillo, Lawfare, February 15, 2017
Professional Topics
  • To appreciate the impact that increased Internet penetration will have on religiously conservative societies, it is crucial to understand how online interaction changes the behavior of members of marginalized communities. One important theory, that of “identity demarginalization,” is particularly instructive.
What the Middle East’s Internet Boom Means for Gay Rights, and More
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Nathaniel Barr, Foreign Affairs, March 4, 2017
  • Victims of online “trolling”, rejoice. A Norwegian site may have found the key to muzzling malicious commenters on the internet: requiring people to read an article before discussing it.  As an experiment, NRKbeta, a media and technology subsidiary of public broadcaster NRK, has since mid-February required viewers to correctly answer three questions about articles before being able to comment on them.
Norway ‘anti-troll’ site makes you read before commenting
Yahoo News, March 2, 2017
  1. CYBER
  • . . . the broad information operations launched by Russian intelligence agencies during last year’s election campaign — in which the cyber-enabled theft of personal correspondence from democratic political operatives was amplified by carefully timed online document dumps and automated bot armies on social media — have demonstrated the importance of “information security” to Western societies, as well.
NATO expert: Russians have it right — it’s information security not cyber
Shaun Waterman, cyberscoop, February 16, 2017
  • A top diplomat at NATO reported that cyberattacks targeting their networks and facilities shot up 60 percent in 2016. The disclosure placed the blame for the attacks on nation state institutions. It was also disclosed that numerous countries have expressed increasing concerns about the risk of hackers that target national election campaigns after what has been reported to have happened in the United States.
A global cyberwar on politics and government
Kevin Coleman, Fifth Domain Cyber, February 8, 2017
  • By now we’ve all agreed the term “fake news” is unhelpful, but without an alternative, we’re left awkwardly using air quotes whenever we utter the phrase. The reason we’re struggling with a replacement is because this is about more than news, it’s about the entire information ecosystem. And the term fake doesn’t begin to describe the complexity of the different types of misinformation (the inadvertent sharing of false information) and disinformation (the deliberate creation and sharing of information known to be false).
Fake news. It’s complicated.
Claire Wardle, First Draft, February 16, 2017
  • It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the web.  Fake news! Yes, like all of us, Berners-Lee is confounded with the problem of online communication and social bubbles creating a ripe landscape for false information. Specifically “the use of data science and armies of bots” to game the system.
The Father of the World Wide Web Has Some Worries About His Baby
Rhett Jones, Gizmodo, February 12, 2017
  • How To Spot Fake News
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), StopFake, February 27, 2017
  • . . . fighting the ill-informed with facts is like fighting a grease fire with water. It seems like it should work, but it’s actually going to make things worse.
There’s an intriguing sociological reason so many Americans are ignoring facts lately
Tristan Bridges, Business Insider, February 27, 2017
  • President Trump’s claim that he’s been the subject of false and “fake news” stories has been mocked by an eye-rolling media, but a Secrets analysis of Trump coverage reveals that Team Trump have been hit with an average of one false, distorted or denied story a day.
Trump, ‘We are fighting the fake news,’ our list shows one ‘fake’ story a day
Paul Bedard, Washington Examiner, February 24, 2017
  • . . . how do we know which of the news providers around us can be trusted? Consider the following list of earmarks of journalistic quality: 1.  Willingness to retract, correct, and implicitly or explicitly apologize for misstatements in a timely manner…. 2.A reliance on professional ethics, including . . .Accuracy…. An interest in contrary evidence…. 3.Follow the story regardless of its political implication…
Here’s what non-fake news looks like
Michael Schudson, Columbia Journalism Review, February 23, 2017
  • The Russia Foreign Ministry has launched a new feature on its website to flag news stories it considers to be fake. The new section of the site . . . showcases screenshots of five media reports from publications including the New York Times, Bloomberg and NBC News. Stamped across each image is a large, red “FAKE” imprint with a statement below reading, “This article puts forward information that does not correspond to reality.” There is no further information or evidence provided to back up such a claim, just a link to the original publisher’s story.
Russia’s New Website to Flag Fake News Is Flagging Stuff That’s Definitely Not Fake News
Aric Jenkins, Fortune, February 23, 2017
  • How can the West respond to Moscow’s attempts to blur the boundaries between truth and falsehood, and its insistence that there are no objective facts?  1. Root out disinformation (by increasing daily media monitoring, both in mainstream and social media sites). 2. Debunk disinformation (by developing fact-checking institutions . . . and investing in quality journalism by re-establishing the position of fact-checker).  3. Protect media consumers against disinformation (by explaining Russian false narratives and disinformation techniques . . . . 4. Predict disinformation attacks (by analyzing Kremlin narratives, their characteristics and frequency to find the most vulnerable target groups).
Kremlin Mind Games And How The West Can Change The Rules
Urve Eslas and Donald N. Jensen, Center for European Policy Analysis, February 20, 2017
  • Last week, we described how trolling and personal intimidation towards journalists and commentators is the most prominent form of propaganda in the Nordic countries. The conclusion was confirmed in a story published last Thursday by the Swedish daily Eskilstuna Kuriren. For the first time, Swedish readers could go behind the scenes and learn about how work is done at a Swedish troll factory.
Behind the scenes at the Swedish troll factory
Disinformation Review, February 20, 2017
  • Fact-checkers have grappled with the question of whether political falsehoods should be called “lies” long before 2016.  “I have been reluctant to use that phrase, too, simply because I can’t get into someone’s head,” says Glenn Kessler, columnist for The Washington Post Fact Checker.
When is a false claim a lie? Here’s what fact-checkers think
Alexios Mantzarlis, StopFake, March 10, 2017
  • Here is some reading material for the job of DNSA/SC. Please excuse my freestyle reference citations, I sought to put the titles first for clarity and ease of reading. 1.  Propaganda and CounterTerrorism, Dr. Emma Briant, 2015.  Probably the most comprehensive book written about not only the position of DNSA/SC, but about Strategic Communications, Information Operations, and a bit about Public Diplomacy.  Please excuse the fact that my name appears all too often. 2.  National Strategic Communication: Back to the Future, 2013, US Army War College. 3.  Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication, September 2004.   Jeff Jones helped work on this document while he was the serving DNSA/SC. 4.  U.S. Governmental Information Operations and Strategic Communications: A Discredited Tool or User Failure? Implications for Future Conflict By Dr. Steve Tatham, 2013 5.  Terrorist Use of the Internet: Information Operations in CyberspaceBy Catherine A. Theohary 6.  Strategic Communication: Origins, Concepts, and Current DebatesBy Christopher Paul 7.  Strategic Communications and the Decline of US Soft Power By Gene E. Bigler 8.  Public Diplomacy War by Other Means Oleg Svet 9.  Engaging the Private Sector for the Public Good: The Power of Network Diplomacy By Kristin Lord
Reading List: Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications
Joel Harding, To Inform is to Influence, February 20, 2017
  • Military success can be either directly aided or challenged by activities in the Information Environment. Military communicators need to convey the message that operations are in line with political decisions and serve the interest of the involved nations and their populace. In this respect, they may act as guardians of the political Narrative, ensuring that political will is reflected in words and deeds throughout operations planning and execution.
Multinational Capability Development Campaign Military Strategic Communication Handbook Draft
U.S. Joint Forces Command,, February 26, 2017
  • Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Management and Budget said: “It is not a soft-power budget. This is a hard-power budget, and that was done intentionally. The president very clearly wants to send a message to our allies and our potential adversaries that this is a strong-power administration.”
The Most Unkindest Cuts
Max Boot, Commentary, March 16, 2017
  • “It’s dead on arrival. It’s not going to happen. It would be a disaster,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, of the Trump budget plan.  “If you take soft power off the table, then you’re never going to win the war.”
Want to Win Wars? Fund Soft Power, Trump’s Generals Say
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Defense One, March 2, 201
  • The Dutch government, like its German and French counterparts, fears that Russia is trying to influence the upcoming election through hacking schemes and by spreading fake news.
Russian hackers use Dutch polls as practice
Thessa Lageman, Deutsche Welle, March 10, 2017
  • If the Russian government did interfere in the [U.S.]’s electoral processes last year, then it has the capacity to do so in every election going forward. This is a powerful and dangerous weapon, more than warships or tanks or bombers. Neither Russia nor any potential adversary has the power to damage the U.S. political system with weapons of war. But by creating doubts about the validity, integrity, and reliability of U.S. elections, it can shake that system to its foundations.
Russia’s ability to manipulate U.S. elections is a national security issue, not a political one
Robert Kagan, Brookings, March 9, 2017
  • This is not about who has more firepower. It’s about who has the best idea about how you will be governed. It’s an information fight about their version of theological conformity against individual freedom. Military force is part of the struggle, but we will not win until we change the minds of millions of Muslims who believe in this Islamist jihad.
Trump, ISIS and Einstein
Bruce M. Lawlor and Kevin McCarty, The Washington Times, March 8, 2017
  • Not all who undergo a process of radicalisation leading to violence in the West are young adults (in their twenties), but the majority appear to be, and the trend is towards radicalisation at even younger ages. This sketch pivots on this demographic finding. The primary focus of attention is young men, since women, while they are radicalising in larger numbers, remain a small minority, and it is still too early to definitively say whether there are additional gender specific interpretive issues.
Sketch of a Social Ecology Model for Explaining Homegrown Terrorist Radicalisation
Lorne L. Dawson, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague, January 2017
  • In political activism and academe, anti-Semitism is increasingly widespread but typically denied by those who have embraced it.
    Anti-Semitism, the “Longest Hatred”
    Raymond Stock, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2017
  • Weber Shandwick will also support media literacy efforts at the K-12 and college level and share information and insights on “content manipulation” and the media landscape with employees, clients, and the PR industry.
Weber Shandwick roundtable to start dialogue on fighting fake news
Sean Czarnecki, PR Week, December 27, 2016

  • . . . there is still not one ISIS militant who has faced trial for international crimes anywhere in the world. So I am speaking to you, the Iraqi government, and to you, UN member states, when I ask: Why? Why has nothing been done? Could it be that these crimes are not serious enough to warrant an international investigation? NO – ISIS is today the most brutal terror group in the world, representing what the Security Council has called an “unprecedented threat” to international peace and security.  [Transcript]
Amal Clooney breaks with Hollywood, echoes Trump approach to ISIS and the U.N.
Pardes Saleh, Red Alerts Politics, March 10, 2017
  • . . . within the Pentagon’s modernization budget — which represents a paltry one-percent of gross domestic product — the Army gets only one in seven acquisition dollars. How little is that? It’s about a third of the $70 billion that Americans spend on lottery tickets each year. It’s about a quarter of the $83 billion they spend on tobacco products. It’s about a fifth of the $100 billion they spend on illegal drugs (or for that matter, beer).
U.S. Spends Three Times More On Lottery Tickets Than On Equipping Its Army (And It Shows)
Loren Thompson, Forbes, March 2, 2017
  • What isn’t clear is if the Global Engagement Center, with all of its new “authority, resources and mandate,” will be used to target American audiences or pay American journalists.
US Officials Won’t Say if a New Anti–Russia Propaganda Project Is Targeting Americans
Adam H. Johnson, The Nation, March 9, 2017
  • Stop the culture of micromanagement. This environment breeds a sense of distrust among subordinate leaders. Gallup found that disengagement among employees, as a direct cause of micromanagement, cost the average 10,000-person company more than $600,000 annually in salary for days during which no work was performed.  * * * . . . operating in a communications-denied or -degraded environment is almost a certainty. Our [composite warfare commander ] structure is sure to crumble when its crutch of perfect information is removed.
Distributed Lethality Requires Distributing Authority
Lieutenant (j.g.) Andrew Beeler, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, January, 2017

  • And Americans are increasingly living in social silos and susceptible to confirmation bias — receptive only to information and ideas that confirm what they already think. Hence the nation’s foundational precepts need to be carefully studied, robustly debated and thoughtfully celebrated. ***The United States began as an errand into the wilderness and for many generations had a longing for dispersal, for living beyond the sound of a neighbor’s ax. James Fenimore Cooper in the forest, Henry Thoreau by the pond, Herman Melville at sea, Mark Twain on the river, Teddy Roosevelt experiencing the “iron desolation” of the high plains, and Willa Cather experiencing “that vast silence” of Nebraska’s plains, all enriched the American experience.
The Intellectual Diversity we Need
George F. Will, The Washington Post, March 10, 2017
Countries and Regions
Now there is funding for domestically produced TV and film content. Anti-Western rhetoric has skyrocketed since the start of the current geopolitical rift. Meanwhile, more than half the population considers television the most trustworthy news source, according to a poll last year by the Levada Center, an independent research organization. And because people have little firsthand knowledge about foreigners, it is easy for TV producers to hop on the pendulum as it swings back against the West. In this way they impose their state-sponsored views: the West must be feared, Western people have crumbling morals, etc.
Four Centuries and Three Decades of Russian Thinking
Justin Lifflander, American Foreign Service Association, Accessed March 18, 2017
  • The English version of Sputnik informed that the EU is spreading fake news about Russia among its citizens and now intends to spread it also among Russians. As an example of such fake news it gives e.g. the “annexation of Crimea” or the “Russian invasion of Ukraine”. Just one problem – Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and military intervention in the East of Ukraine both happen to be true; you will find the debunks in the table again.
Fake news à la russe
EU East Stratcom Task Force, Disinformation Review, March 9, 2017
  • Russian authorities have decided to step up their efforts to control the flow of information and to counter misrepresentation of their country. This narrative has echoed around international media reporting over the last week. At a closer look, however, little of what has been reported is in fact news: Russia has been building up capacities to actively influence public opinion at home and abroad over a considerable period of time – and hasn’t done much to hide it.
Nothing new – but no reason to relax
Disinformation Review, March 2, 2017

  • “In the past people were able to influence each other only through direct contact,” the textbook reads. “Today, the means of influencing the human mind have become much more sophisticated, thanks to the accumulated knowledge of thousands of years, information technologies, communication, and management.”
The Secrets of Russia’s Propaganda War, Revealed
Alexey Kovalev and Matthew, The Moscow Times, updated March 2, 2017
  • The annexation of Crimea has become a major source of national pride for Russians, even greater than the honor of being the first country to send a man into space, a poll suggests.
More Russians Are Proud Of Crimea Than Being First Country To Send A Man To Space, Poll Says
Damien Sharkov, Newsweek, March 1, 2017
  •  The United States still cannot get over the Russian interference in last year’s presidential elections, while European countries are terrified at the prospect of something like that happening to them this year.  The new methods of Russian influence are well-known * * * Hackers * * * Fake News * * * Feaks * * * Trolls * * * Pranksters * * * Soft power v propaganda * * *
Russia’s soft warfare: Hackers, fake news, freaks, trolls and pranksters are Russia’s new soft power weapon arsenal.
Roman Dobrokhotov, Al Jazeera, February 27, 2017
  • To an outsider it might seem odd that Russian media would blank out Trump at a time when the future of his plans to mend ties between Washington and Moscow are hanging in the balance.  But for Russians who just one month ago were rejoicing with state media over the inauguration of a pro-Kremlin US president, Trump’s unaccounted-for disappearance from their TV screens explains itself.
Russia falls out of love with Trump as reality sinks in
Isabel Gorst, The Irish Times, February 25, 2017
  • But Perentzhiev’s statement disregards NATO’s stated mission, strategic concept, and overall purpose. NATO’s strategic documents show that NATO’s purpose is to cultivate cooperation in an effort to promote peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.
Is NATO an Anti-Russian Project, as Russian Analyst Says?, February 13, 2017
  • The usual disinformation about Ukraine being a nazi state – governed allegedly by “the same people” who collaborated with Nazi Germany (or their descendants) – was accompanied by calls for a “denazification” of Ukraine, to be performed by Russia. The similarly repeated disinformation about Ukraine performing a genocide of Russians in Donbas was accompanied by calls for annexation of the whole Ukraine.
Hatred and lies. “News” about Ukraine
EU East Stratcom Task Force, Disinformation Review, March 9, 2017
  • Ukraine’s Ministry of Information Policy is preparing a list of websites that “undermine Ukrainian sovereignty” as part of an effort to uphold the country’s new information security doctrine, signed on February 25 by President Petro Poroshenko.
Ukraine Will Blacklist Websites That ‘Undermine Ukrainian Sovereignty’
Isaac Web, Global Voices, March 2, 2017
  • An unambiguous trend emerged: the ISIS brand is contracting. Indeed, in recent months, the geographic scope of ISIS’ media has narrowed, with dormancy levels the highest at the periphery.
Is ISIS Breaking Apart?
Charlie Winter and Colin P. Clarke, Foreign Affairs, January 31, 2017
  1. CHINA
  • Once in power, the Communist Party banned Western news organizations, only permitting reporters from the Eastern bloc, including the Soviet news agency TASS, and occasional sympathetic journalists from the West like Agnes Smedley, Edgar Snow, and Anna Louise Strong.
No More Utopias
Gail Pellett, Los Angeles Review of Books, March 3, 2017
  • For seven decades, the bi-national, bi-directional, university-to-university exchanges of Fulbright have been the flagship of American cultural diplomacy. Without [the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Public Diplomacy] is little more than an embassy press-office. And yet, after decades of discussion, the role of education and culture is never mentioned in discussing the peculiar American creation, Public Diplomacy. PD proponents rarely mention its educational and cultural base. In the stormy months ahead more than ever, it might help to include ECA and Fulbright into the PD rhetoric.
Does No One Care?
Richard Arndt, John Brown’s Press and Public Diplomacy Blog Review, March 8, 2017
  • . . . the movement of students from one country to another is sensitive to fluctuations tied to political and economic forces. So some officials cautioned that a “Trump effect’ is just one possible explanation for this year’s application figures. Beyond that, many schools, including New York University, the University of Southern California and Northeastern University, reported that their international numbers are up. Purdue University reported a 1.2 percent decline in graduate school applications.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs: Workshop on "Public Diplomacy in a Post-Truth Society"; see also.

Bruce Wharton

Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 

Wharton image from

Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Stanford, California
March 20, 2017
(As Prepared for Delivery)
Thank you very much for that kind introduction. Nearly six decades ago Herbert Hoover said he wanted the Hoover Institution “to sustain for America the safeguards of the American way of life,” so it is fitting that we have gathered here today to debate a pressing challenge for both our nation and the world community – the idea of a “Post-Truth Society.” I am grateful to the Hoover Institution and to the U.S. Advisory Commission for Public Diplomacy for bringing us together for this important discussion.
“Post-truth” society
There has been much discussion in the media, academia, and within the U.S. government about living in a “post-truth” or “post-factual” society and how to operate in it. Much was made of Oxford Dictionary’s decision to make “post-truth” the Word of the Year in 2016, an adjective they defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
In such a world, the public policy debate is framed largely by what “feels” true and what correlates with people’s pre-existing set of beliefs and prejudices, which can often be disconnected from actual facts and the specifics of policy. It isn’t so much that facts are dismissed entirely, but rather they are of secondary importance or simply not as compelling, especially when they challenge what feels true at an instinctual level. In this context, all opinions have equal weight, regardless of how extreme they may be.
While this is not a new concept — it has played a role in politics since antiquity — in our age, social media has exacerbated the problem, accelerating the speed at which false stories spread, creating “digital wildfires” of misinformation. By the time a false story is out there, it is often too late to mount an effective rebuttal based on facts.
Compounding the problem is the active work of non-state and state actors who aim not only to disseminate misinformation but, most damaging, to erode trust in traditional sources of information. These actors — whom Get Smart fans might collectively call “KAOS” — do not necessarily want people to believe they are telling the truth, but rather to think that no one is. Their goal is to diminish public trust in government institutions, established media outlets, and subject matter experts, leaving citizens open to the influence of an onslaught of questionable information generated through re-enforcing social media loops.
While there is much that is accurate about this description, I would like to contest the view that we are living in a “post-truth” society — if by that we mean truth and facts no longer matter. Facts do exist. They are out there; we cannot operate without them. And they remain compelling when they are part of a larger truth-based narrative that is backed up by supporting actions. Crafting and effectively putting forth that narrative with foreign publics is the real challenge of Public Diplomacy today. Making sure “our actions match our words” is everyone’s challenge.
Competition from pseudo-facts
As I said, I don’t think we are in a world beyond facts. What we are facing now is intense competition at all levels. Facts compete with pseudo-facts on substance, on speed, and for audiences’ attention. And yes, people accept stories that “feel” true more readily than stories that challenge their beliefs. But they accept them because they believe they are true.
Brexit is often cited as an example of the post-truth phenomenon — with a leading pro-exit member of Parliament famously saying that “people in this country have had enough of experts.” But about the same time, the Institute for Government, a British government organization, released a poll conducted by the research firm Populus, indicating that 85 percent of those surveyed wanted politicians to consult professionals and experts when making difficult decisions and 83 percent wanted government to make decisions based on objective evidence. In the UK, trust in experts and confidence in government have both increased since a similar poll in 2014, and both people who voted to leave and to remain in the EU shared much the same view.
On this side of the Atlantic, polling also shows that Americans hunger for factual truth. According to a study by the Media Insight Project, a partnership of the American Press Institute and the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, nearly 90 percent of Americans say it is “extremely” or “very important” that the media get its facts correct. Furthermore, about 40 percent say they can remember a specific incident that eroded their confidence in the media, most often one involving inaccuracies or a perception of one-sidedness, making factual accuracy the most important component of public trust in journalism.
There are also dangers in accepting a post-truth paradigm. Communicators, experts, and officials may feel overwhelmed and succumb to inaction or, worse, be seduced into adopting “post-truth techniques” that appeal only to emotion and sideline facts or challenging audiences’ beliefs.
There is also the temptation to counter the barrage of misinformation by attempting to rebut every false story, but this is a losing proposition. There are too many of them, they spread too quickly, and there are too few of us to chase them.
A paper published by RAND in 2016, titled “The Russian ‘Firehose of Falsehood’ Propaganda Model,” made three important observations: 1) people tend to believe something when it is repeated, 2) propagandists gain the advantage when they get to make the first impression, and 3) subsequent rebuttals may actually work to reinforce the original misinformation, rather than dissipate it. The paper’s conclusion is that the most effective way to respond to misinformation is not to counter every false story out there, but to direct a “stream” of accurate messaging at whatever the firehose of falsehoods is aimed, in an effort to lead the targeted audience in a more productive direction.
I agree with this approach and have so for years. The way to counter pseudo-facts and misinformation is to present a compelling narrative of our own, one that is true, defensible, and based on the enduring values and goals that people share, not the least of which is strengthening our collective security and prosperity. To gain credibility and make our narrative relevant, we must also listen to and acknowledge our audiences’ underlying fears, grievances, and beliefs.
But it is not just a matter of telling a good story; the narrative must be tied to action.
A case in point is the history of space exploration in this country, in particular the quest to put a man on the moon. In the Cold War context, this effort was an important security goal, one that required public support, resources, and full political commitment over many years. In 1961, President Kennedy gave his historic speech before a joint session of Congress that set the United States on a course to the moon, which he followed with other speeches and public acts that inspired not just the American people, but invited audiences around the globe to be part of this great endeavor. And foreign publics responded by embracing U.S. aspirations on behalf of the human race. When the entire planet watched Neil Armstrong alight from the Eagle lunar module and utter the phrase “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” he distilled into these few words a decade-long narrative that fueled the imagination and hopes of billions around the world.
Another example is the Voice of America. I am glad Amanda Bennet is here and will talk more about this later, but something she said last week at a public meeting on the Hill really struck me. She described VOA as “exporting the First Amendment” – that is to say, the value and importance that Americans place on a free and independent press – by providing fact-based, balanced reporting to millions of people in closed societies every day. We talk about it, and we do it. Nothing is as powerful as a living example, and as a Public Diplomacy practitioner, I could not be prouder of the message, both literal and figurative, that VOA delivers.
In short, we’ve got to “walk the talk,” or risk losing credibility. This is not to say countering disinformation is easy. It requires strategic thought, creative tactics, and sustained investment. The State Department and other parts of the federal government have been focused on this issue for several years, and analyzing how these efforts have fared is helping us chart the way ahead.
Case study – State’s approach to fighting extremist ideology
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we in government — and those of you in academia and the think tank world — were desperate to find explanations for what had happened and, more importantly, to prevent something similar from happening again, with a particular focus on containing and countering the appeal of violent extremist ideology.
All ideas were encouraged, and we pressed our people to think creatively and to try new approaches. One approach aimed at mass appeal was the $15 million “Shared Values” campaign featuring Muslims living happily in the United States. As well intended as this was, the messaging did not acknowledge underlying grievances and was not considered effective in reaching young Muslim audiences overseas.
Another idea you may remember from a just few years ago was the “Welcome to ISIS Land” video, which went viral for all the wrong reasons. It was heavily criticized for embracing the enemy’s tactics and coming across as bullying. Most critically, it proved to be ineffective as the U.S. government was not a credible source of information for the intended audience, who only seemed to be alienated by the message.
Hampering our efforts was an inability to measure the impact of our work reliably. For instance, the former Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), which was established in 2010 to counter extremist ideology, could point to the size of its Facebook and Twitter followings — and the number of death threats and efforts to shut down its accounts were evidence that the center had gotten under the skin of ISIS — but it could not measure effectiveness. As a result, it was never clear whether its efforts reached those at risk of joining ISIS, let alone diverted them from that path.
The CSCC was also under resourced. Its budget hovered in the range of $5-6 million per year, while the Pentagon was spending about $150 million on similar efforts and the CIA even more. This situation even emerged as a media story, with ABC News describing the U.S. government’s messaging strategy to counter extremist ideology as underfunded and ineffective.
This experience provided us with a wealth of valuable lessons for charting a new way forward in countering false narratives, including:
  • Not imitating the enemy,
  • Having a credible message based on facts and evidence that acknowledge underlying grievances,
  • Partnering with credible, independent, trusted messengers,
  • Using technology to identify the right audiences and the best approaches for reaching them,
  • Employing analytics to evaluate effectiveness and feeding that information back into the process, and
  • Securing political and bureaucratic support, including sufficient funding and personnel.

On the technology front, I am particularly enthusiastic about the potential to use tools such as social graph analysis (SGA) to help us identify credible individuals who drive and shape online opinion within each country. Network analysis can provide information in two critical areas: 1) topics important to people in target audiences and 2) the most uniquely influential people within those topical clusters. This information, which is used daily by business to analyze consumers’ tastes and persuade them to buy more, can provide a clearer view for engaging target audiences in partnership with the influencers they trust most. We in the U.S. government are prohibited from using such tools when the information of U.S. citizens is involved.
A new approach
The beneficiary of these lessons is the State Department’s new Global Engagement Center (GEC), which is legislatively given the task “to lead, synchronize, and coordinate efforts of the Federal Government to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United States national security interests.” In this role, the GEC leads the interagency in developing a whole-of-government approach to countering malign actors in the information space, seeking to fully leverage the strengths and capabilities of each agency involved in this effort. A key element to ensuring coordination and maximum efficacy is an interagency synchronization meeting hosted weekly by GEC.
The GEC also enjoys strong support on the Hill, from both sides of the aisle. In fact, it was Congress that expanded the GEC’s mandate — which originally focused solely on non-state actors — to include recognizing, understanding, and exposing state-sponsored propaganda and disinformation and countering its effects.
In terms of resources, the GEC is funded at approximately $16 million dollars for FY-17 and is slated to have an additional $19.8 million in supplemental funding in FY-18. Further, Congress has authorized – although not mandated – the Department of Defense to transfer up to $60 million a year, in both FY-17 and FY-18, to support GEC activities.
We are focusing today on the importance of facts, and central to the work of the GEC is injecting factual content into the information space to counter violent extremist radicalization and recruitment. Content is developed through collaborative, thematic campaigns in coordination with the U.S. interagency and with members of the Counter-ISIS Coalition and other global partners. GEC support includes funding, technical assistance, capacity building, and conceiving and implementing joint projects.
Using this approach, we have reduced direct engagement on violent extremism in favor of partner-driven messaging at the local level. These partners are credible voices that can deliver messages that resonate with at-risk populations, such as NGOs, schools, young people, social and civil society leaders, religious leaders, and governments.
Additionally, the GEC is utilizing data science from both the public and private sectors — including polling operations, audience studies, and academic research — to identify and understand target audiences, to guide and inform the development of messaging and content, and to measure effectiveness.
For instance, the GEC’s “Defectors” campaign used content from 14 Coalition countries that highlighted the lived experiences of ISIS defectors and the effects of their recruitment on their families. In just one week, the campaign reached 2.4 million people who watched over one million minutes of video. Ultimately, the Defectors campaign reached seven million individuals and garnered 780,000 “click-throughs” from people identified as being at risk for recruitment by violent extremists. Despite the impressive numbers, the cost of this data-driven campaign was only $15,000.
Of course, the GEC is still fairly new, so I look forward to letting you know in future discussions how it is faring. But I think we are on the right track in countering an ideology that trades in falsehoods by working with credible partners to present the facts and alternatives that are true.
Going back to my original premise, I respectfully disagree with the concept that we are living in a “post-truth society.” What we are facing instead is increased competition from pseudo-facts, but the truth is still valued, desired, and ultimately compelling. We just need to find the right ways to communicate it.
And while some of my remarks have been focused on the messaging component of Public Diplomacy, we must remember that many other PD tools play a vital role in sharing the truth, such as educational and cultural exchanges, youth initiatives, and English teaching programs. These types of people-to-people interactions help reframe conversations on contentious issues, demonstrate the value of transparency, and build trust with key audiences.
Finally, there is one last critical element in this debate. In addition to offering compelling, truthful narratives, I believe we must also help foreign audiences targeted by concerted disinformation campaigns to better understand the dangers of accepting everything at face value and encourage them to cultivate a “healthy skepticism.” By this I do not mean to promote paranoia, simply vigilance. But how do we do this effectively when people, especially young people, are bombarded with so much dubious information? How do we help them become healthy skeptics?
Training and education programs that both cultivate a questioning mindset and build the skills of information consumers to separate the wheat from the chaff are vital. One way we are doing this is through TechCamps focused on disinformation. These interactive workshops, led by technical experts, build the capacity of key foreign influencers in civil society to push back on fake news. A special fund dedicated to incubating collaborative follow-on projects maximizes each workshop’s impact and has resulted in such innovations as a one-stop data verification tool for Ukrainian journalists to fact-check online media content.
To be truly effective, however, we must start at a younger age. A recent study by Stanford showed that students at most grade levels cannot tell the difference between fake and real news as they often lack the critical thinking skills needed to separate truth from misinformation. Game theory has the potential to help us develop smarter ways to build the fact-checking skills of students, and video games could contain elements that help players of all ages become more aware – and wary of – faux facts. This realization has prompted some teachers across the country to use games, such as Simon says, to help students build these skills.
Beyond these ideas, I believe we should be asking what economic mechanisms might be used to encourage skepticism and objective truths. Are there known business models that reward honesty and penalize dishonesty? Perhaps some of you here may be tempted to undertake research in these areas.
I look forward to discussing these issues with you further, but before we open the floor for questions and comments, I want to thank all of you for your interest in, and support for, the work of Public Diplomacy. We in government need your input, your ideas, and your talent. Our challenges are too big and our resources too limited to go it alone. Together, I know we can successfully navigate the current sea of misinformation and propaganda and find a productive path forward. After all, we have truth on our side.
Thank you.