Open Source Counter-Propaganda

In order to win the “War of Ideas” we need to mobilize and empower the masses. It’s one thing to talk about New Media, it’s quite another to make it available. Commercial outsourcing information activities is one thing (and potentially distasteful resulting from incredibly poor short-term judgement), outsourcing the struggle for minds and wills to indigenous population is another. The struggle must be, after all, ultimately conducted by, with, and through the local population for legitimacy, participation, and durability of the message and effect. After thinking more about Sean’s observation on improved connectivity in Baghdad, a friend and I were talking. While “neutral” media websites provided CENTCOM may not be the answer (we arguably squandered this opportunity five years ago), getting information and communication technologies into the hands of the general public is.

The insurgent is using off the shelf software and free tools to capture, brand, and transmit their messages. Why not do the same for ordinary Iraqis? We’ve talked about doing the same in Iran a few years ago: distribute free Farsi blogging tools and hosting to facilitate online discussions.

This “open source counter-propaganda” must be used to expose misinformation, atrocities, and adversarial “say-do” gaps as well as promote the positive and success stories.

Something to think about. The advantages will outweigh and beat the disadvantages in the long run. Capacity and connectivity are good.

(H/T Mike)

See also:

6 thoughts on “Open Source Counter-Propaganda

  1. “I cried that night because for the first time in a long time, so far away from home, I felt the unity that had been stolen from us in 2003.”There ARE Iraqi bloggers, lots of them on ALL sides of the Iraqi political equation, but generally they aren’t very happy with the United States despite their politics and not prone to cooperate with anyone like CENTCOM unless paid or coerced.
    One notable globally known Iraq blogger, Riverbend, an apparently middle class college girl, was forced to flee to Syria with her family and has been inactive since.
    From her last entry:
    Monday, October 22, 2007
    Bloggers Without Borders…
    “The first weeks here were something of a cultural shock. It has taken me these last three months to work away certain habits I’d acquired in Iraq after the war. It’s funny how you learn to act a certain way and don’t even know you’re doing strange things- like avoiding people’s eyes in the street or crazily murmuring prayers to yourself when stuck in traffic. It took me at least three weeks to teach myself to walk properly again- with head lifted, not constantly looking behind me.
    It is estimated that there are at least 1.5 million Iraqis in Syria today. I believe it. Walking down the streets of Damascus, you can hear the Iraqi accent everywhere. There are areas like Geramana and Qudsiya that are packed full of Iraqi refugees. Syrians are few and far between in these areas. Even the public schools in the areas are full of Iraqi children. A cousin of mine is now attending a school in Qudsiya and his class is composed of 26 Iraqi children, and 5 Syrian children. It’s beyond belief sometimes. Most of the families have nothing to live on beyond their savings which are quickly being depleted with rent and the costs of living.
    We live in an apartment building where two other Iraqis are renting. The people in the floor above us are a Christian family from northern Iraq who got chased out of their village by Peshmerga and the family on our floor is a Kurdish family who lost their home in Baghdad to militias and were waiting for immigration to Sweden or Switzerland or some such European refugee haven.
    The first evening we arrived, exhausted, dragging suitcases behind us, morale a little bit bruised, the Kurdish family sent over their representative – a 9 year old boy missing two front teeth, holding a lopsided cake, “We’re Abu Mohammed’s house- across from you- mama says if you need anything, just ask- this is our number. Abu Dalia’s family live upstairs, this is their number. We’re all Iraqi too… Welcome to the building.”
    I cried that night because for the first time in a long time, so far away from home, I felt the unity that had been stolen from us in 2003.”
    Would the State Department or CENTCOM REALLY want to give her communication tools even if she weren’t too exhausted to communicate more?
    What would she have to say about America’s destruction of Iraq, it’s society, and it’s heritage and culture?
    I don’t think CENTCOM would approve.

  2. Da Buffalo,thanks for commenting and I took care of the duplicate. As always, your comments are insightful.
    I can’t and won’t argue with River Bend’s reaction in 2003. We didn’t understand the information effects of our actions or what the military now calls the “say-do gap.” She was rightly frustrated by the actions. We need to not conflate 2008 with 2003, or 2004, or 2005…
    I was not suggesting that all regular Iraqis go through the military. The tools should be provided through whatever means and be available. Posting on DOD or other U.S. Government websites won’t work either.
    Honest opinions need to come out, negative or not. Even the negative that say the Americans are bad are just as likely, if not more, to say the insurgents are worse. Shut down the insurgency, get the government functioning, and then the Americans will have to leave. We should encourage the use of new media to empower mass movements and create security, physical and economic, to enhance structures of governance, including rule of law.

  3. I think something like Twitter (microblogging) would work even better. This is because Twitter allows you to send 140-words-or-less broadcasts from your SMS- or Internet-enabled mobile. It would be an effective way to get fast street-level observations, facts and thoughts, plus more Iraqis have access to mobiles than computers.

  4. Pardon the expression, Bitch PhD.
    …is twittering from the Democratic convention at the moment. I won’t vouch for the content or the posters sobriety… considering the current top twit is: ” Now drinking with Spencer Ackerman and Lindsay Beyerstein”, but it’s a good demonstration of how simple and effective Twitter is. If you have an account, the messages get sent to your ‘friends’ cellphone as well as the sidebar of a blog, almost any blog, even if you don’t currently have a computer or any interest in running a formal blog.
    There’s also txtmob , which protesters in the US have used quite effectively to organize ‘flashmobs’ and coordinate tactics.
    As I implied indirectly in my earlier comment about Riverbend, these technologies are ‘dual use’ and I suspect if the Iraqis got to using sites like txtmob, the end result MAY NOT BE in US foreign policy’s ‘best interest’, at least not until that interest coincides with full Iraqi national sovereignty.

  5. Andrew Meyer, to your point, I added “See Also” bullets that highlights Twitter.DaB: thanks. I’m not necessarily in agreement that txtmob would be bad for Iraqi use in the long term. It’s getting to the long term view that’s problematic. Senior leadership realizes that… now.

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