Friday, December 25, 2015

Quotable: Chris Townsend on “Wading into the Media War”

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Wednesday, December 23rd 2015
“. . . the DoD will need to devote more effort to public diplomacy,” concluded Army Major Chris Townsend, a Foreign Area Officer.  His article, “Wading into the Media War,” published on the website of Small Wars Journal on December 12, 2015, offered an initial take on how the Department of Defense might use new authorities contemplated in Section 1056 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016.

He doesn’t make the distinction between “electrons” and “ideas,” but the two are implicit throughout the article.  His discussion of how “DOD could contribute to the degradation of information on these networks,” for instance, discusses cyber options.  (See the full article for details.)  As for ideas, here are a few bullet points that relate to Public Diplomacy, narratives, and messaging.

  • The more difficult task for the DoD to contribute to is the countering of actual narratives offered by the IS. . . . there is a readily available cadre of civilian experts that could be hired by the DoD. Experts in Islamic theology could point out contradictions between IS behavior and Islamic scriptures, or challenge the interpretations of scriptures that the IS uses to justify its actions.

  • Another potential source of counter-messaging is the victims of IS atrocities. Refugee camps in the Middle East are full of those who can speak directly to information seekers.

  • Internet cafes or wifi services provided in these camps could give them an avenue to add their voice to the fight. DoD has tools for providing communications networks in remote locations that could facilitate such efforts with the side benefits of providing avenues for education and communication for the displaced.

  • Finally, the DoD will need to devote more effort to public diplomacy. Operational efforts should be explained in terms that highlight the benefits and justifications for military interventions.

  • A significant part of the IS narrative is the war with the West. Efforts must be made to communicate that military actions are not a battle against Islam, rather against extremists who pervert the faith for political ends.

  • Public diplomacy in today’s world requires technical savvy on which the DoD is ill suited to capitalize. Social media expertise and a better understanding of creating resonance in online messaging are necessary to avoid the current tone-deaf efforts of government messaging with no re-tweet value. Studies on what makes online messaging resonate can help create more effective communications that gain traction beyond the initial effort. Maximum proliferation from minimal efforts represents a potential force multiplier that should not be overlooked.

  • Ultimately, DoD efforts must be nested in a larger specific strategy aimed at degradation and disruption. US Cyber Command will be a powerful tool in the fight, but must operate in concert with the efforts of the CSCC while leveraging expertise from the civilian sector in social media and culture.

  • It will be interesting to see how the DoD interprets and implements its new mission in the unfamiliar battlespace of social media. Degradation or exploitation of networks, counter-narratives, and public diplomacy should be a part of that strategy.

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