Cross-posted at CTLab.
There’s a lot of talk about the Internet as a tool to broadcast information. For many groups today, the media is as essential as oxygen, without it they suffocate and fade away. Not only do they need the media to highlight their cause and influence decision makers, but more importantly they need it to build support for their actions and propagate their message. In other words, it is for advertising the cause and intimidating the competition.
How is the “new” different than the “old”? The “old” method of mediated communication, notably newspapers, required significant overhead and was vulnerable to disruptions in getting supplies and distribution of content. In the late-1940s, when newsprint and presses were in short supply in Europe (and access was limited in the East), radio filled a void. Of course listening required both electricity and, of course, radios. But once you had a radio, you could tune-in to “banned” broadcasts without a trace (provided the radio wasn’t overheard), unlike a newspaper which needed to be physically acquired. It could also be broadcast across large geographic territories, ignoring political boundaries. This medium fell short in building active networks of support as listening was passive and you could not know if you were you one of one or one of many.
The Internet is different. Not only does it provide a hyperactive information environment filled with content from countless trusted and untrusted sources, but consumers of information are increasingly on equal footing with professional broadcasters. The informal media may, at times, even be superior to the formal media in their access and analysis. The recent Pew Research report documents the cut-back in foreign affairs coverage by the major media as the U.S. media increasingly focuses on profits rather than a duty to inform the public and on government and corporate sources rather than elite experts. The void will, and is, be filled by somebody, including the blogosphere, YouTube, social networks, and other forms of mediated and unmediated communication.
New Media is more than 24/7 news cycles. It is the ability to create trusted peer relationships, or the appearance of, to create legitimacy of information as well as depth and breadth of acceptance. This can be done as traditional media or other new media outlets pick up on a bit of “news” for redistribution, giving the impression of validity as the sources go up from one to many, often in excess of the three needed to create a “fact.” It is easier to see you’re not alone in the New Media environment, something that was not possible with radios and film (unless you risked gathering as a group).
There are several defining characteristics of the new media environment. The obvious are hyperconnectivity, persistence of information, inexpensive reach, and dislocation with speaker and listener virtually close but geographically distant. New Media also democraticizes information in the sense that hierarchies are bypassed, permitting both direct access to policy and decision makers and the possibility of “15-minutes of fame” (if even only one minute or less) to everyone. Information can be created and consumed by everyone regardless of “eliteness,” CV, and at minimal cost to any party.
To the insurgent and terrorist, New Media’s capacity to amplify and increase the velocity of an issue that is critical. They increasingly rely on the Internet’s ability to share multiple kinds of media quickly and persistently to permit retrieval across time zones around the world from computers or cell phones. The value is the ability to not just persuade an audience to support their action, but to mobilize their support and to facilitate their will to act on behalf of the group (or not to act on behalf of another group, such as the counterinsurgent).
While the modern electronic environment gives strategic reach beyond what the pamphleteers of the New World had over two hundred years ago, the goal is the same: to persuade, mobilize, and even facilitate action. The reach of the new pamphleteer, if you will, is potentially global and while intended for specific audiences, they do not fear unintended audiences. The purpose is to create support (they prefer active support, but passive is acceptable) that is physical (such as sanctuary), financial (money), moral (backing by religious leaders), social (support of friends and family and fellow travelers), and of course to create a recruiting pool.
In 1952, presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower noted civilian leaders look upon public opinion as something to be followed while military leaders know that opinions can be changed. Today, we know civilian leaders do not take such a passive view of public opinion, especially when key legislation or positions are at stake. We also know that insurgents and terrorists know that opinions can be changed. In fact, it is this knowledge that empowers and enables them.
In this spirit, below are some images and comments from a presentation of mine on the tactical application of New Media to persuade, mobilize, and facilitate action by insurgents.