Social Propaganda in Modern Warfare: #IOinAction

The modern battlefield: where tweets are launched instead of rockets and blogs bomb cyberspace…

Psychological warfare (PSYOPS/PSYWAR) is not a new phenomena: messing with the minds of the enemy and influencing the ‘hearts and minds’ of occupied civilians has been part of military warfare since the first airborne leaflet propaganda ‘bombs’ were dropped from aeroplanes in World War II: although as an interesting side note, Franco-Prussian historians also state airborne leaflets were dropped from hot air balloons as early as the 1870′s.

The RAND Corporation has published a number of papers on this topic: most notably the ‘U.S. Military’s Efforts to Influence Afghan Population Have Grown Less Effective Over Time’. The evolution of PSYOPS is changing to suit the way the global community receive their news. While face-to-face conversations may still be culturally appropriate in places like Afghanistan where the permeation of technology into the broader tribal culture is yet to reach full saturation (and issues such as literacy remain),  the advent of satellite television, the internet and social media has had profound impacts on the way other ‘hot-spots’ around the globe, and their populations assimilate news and current affairs.

In late 2012 we saw propaganda evolve as a form of PSYWAR. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has given life to a new a form of PSYOPS: mass, targeted and overtly official Social Propaganda. The rules of historical PSYOPS have also evolved. Historically, propaganda had six mainstream objectives:

Threaten destruction: to warn enemy troops and civilians that their location is about to be targeted. This has the dual purpose of reducing collateral damage and , historically, during times of war time production, endue workers to abandon their duties, thus reducing the enemy’s military effectiveness.
Prompt the enemy to surrender: and provide them with instructions on how to do so.
Offer rewards for the capture of specified war criminals or to encourage defection.
The dissemination of misinformation to reduce enemy morale and neutralize enemy propaganda.
Facilitate communication by creating a friendly atmosphere: promoting ideologies such as ‘freedom’
Providing instructions on how civilian populations under occupation can find or obtain humanitarian assistance.
From the outset of the following observational analysis- let me be clear: I would much rather see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (actually any conflict) traded tweet-for-tweet than air strike to rocket attack.  I am a proponent of peace; and truly hope this can be meaningfully achieved. I am not naive in thinking, however, that military action isn’t required in certain situations. As a race, we humans have yet to learn to resolve our differences with words. Perhaps social media is the start of a new era in warfare: A war of words?

In looking at the the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their use of ‘words’, we can see the following propaganda techniques in use:

Counter-Pubic Relations: Tweets from official Israeli accounts are actively engaged in a hostile manner, often emotively, and rebuked by the Hamas’ official Twitter account for their Armed Wing @AlqassamBrigade. This has two purposes: firstly it gives Hamas a voice in the Twittersphere; and secondly it forms an unequal rhetoric of online ideology. As is often the case on Twitter, ‘he who speaks loudest, longest and most frequently’ often lacks content of substance. New term: #PropogandaSpam
Gathering of intelligence via news media, particularly by journalists reporting on the effectiveness of Palestinian strikes into Israel. This is an unavoidable in today’s social and technological climate. If CNN isn’t filming, the enemy surely is. Either way, it can usually found on YouTube or Al Jazeera shortly thereafter.
Threats of destruction: Hamas are actively advising citizens of where they believe Israel plans to raze houses in the Gaza Strip. This serves as both a warning to civilians, while taking a public swipe at Israel. What is missing is active social follow up where real wins could be gained by positing pictures of Israeli bulldozers razing homes for example.
Use of photographs to attempt to ‘normalise’ and ‘humanise’ the conflict by publishing seemingly peaceful interaction between Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers and Palestinian civilians. This facilitates the promotion of a ‘friendly atmosphere’ in a hostile environment. Whether this is effective in reducing Palestinian/Hamas morale or civilian sentiment against Israel is doubtful. It does, however, accomplish point 5.
World Stage: Israel has the upper-hand here. By running their social media channels as official sources of information, and maintaining a balance between current conflict-related events and their broader business-as-usual corporate activities, they are promote an image of cohesion, integrity and professionalism in their social messaging. In contrast, Hamas’ emotive attacks on Israeli Tweets (often multiple runs at the same Tweet) lack social strategy and come across as highly emotive as a result.
Recruitment. The @IDFspokesperson official channel is a military recruiters dream (not going unnoticed is that Israeli citizens are obliged to perform military service, whilst those in diaspora are not – but are actively encouraged to).
So the question remains: Is PSYOPS or PSYWAR via social media effective?

Yes … and No, in this case.

I don’t think anyone, least of all the IDF, believes that propaganda will sway ‘the hearts and minds’ of the Palestinian people. This is a conflict of epic ideological and historic proportions. The IDF has however, recognised  and is actively exploiting the social value of real-time, self generated reporting. By having official social media streams that are actively engaged in the social sphere, they ARE influencing and educating the global community.

This is a public relations master-stroke for a people who know their conflict cannot be waged or won without international support. By being at the forefront of social reporting, the Israeli Government have also redefined the way Governments around the world communicate with their citizens and the global community. Israel has forged a defined path for official Government announcements and messaging via social media, instantly accessing a global audience without the need for news media.

Israel has harnessed one of the last frontiers of social media and in doing so has redefined propaganda for modern warfare.

Sometimes your enemy isn’t the target of your propaganda at all.

“So we must be ready to fight in Viet-Nam, but the ultimate victory will depend upon the hearts and the minds of the people who actually live out there. By helping to bring them hope and electricity you are also striking a very important blow for the cause of freedom throughout the world.”

United States President Lyndon Baines Johnson most notably stated during a speech entitled: “Remarks at a Dinner Meeting of the Texas Electric Cooperatives, Inc.” on 4 May 1965