Visual Propaganda: a cross-disciplinary conference on the influence of images

It has long been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what words to which people? The pixels or streaks of paint of an image is the only commonality shared by different audiences. The context in which they are received and interpreted matters. Beyond the intended framing, including words or other images, personal and shared history, language, current or developing narratives, and other inputs, both direct and indirect, all matter in the impact of a picture.

On March 16, 2012, Georgia State University, in conjunction with the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College, convened a conference entitled Visual Propaganda and Online Radicalization.  This public event followed two days of working meetings between the conference’s speakers and others from a variety of disciplines to better understand the role of images, still and moving, in recruiting, radicalizing, and mobilizing support. Also discussed was the possibility of over-analyzing images.

Conference day presentations are available here. Speakers included David Perlmutter, Scott Ruston, Anne Stenersen, Carol Winkler, Hussein Amin, Saeid Belkasim, Cori Dauber, Doug Jordan, Jad Melki, Shawn Powers, and me, Matt Armstrong.

My presentation was “Now Media, Identity, & the Marketplace for Loyalty.” Video of my part of the conference, which was a quick 15min, is here. This presentation will be more fleshed out elsewhere, including a book chapter Shawn Powers and I are writing presently named “From Nation-State to Nations-State: Conceptualizing Radicalization in the Marketplace for Loyalties.”

In the case of over-analysis, there was an interesting discussion on the use of fancy Islamic calligraphy in logos or brands of insurgent or terrorist groups. The meaning of these texts were analyzed but elder native Arab speakers from and living in the Middle East dismissed some of the conclusions. The contention was the youth cannot read the script or don’t bother to read it. The result is the calligraphy is better interpreted as a picture rather than text. The meaning is derived from the appearance of the image framing the logo as religious, Arab, or something else based on its similarity to other script, or all of the above.

The product of the working meetings will be book from the Strategic Studies Institute on visual propaganda.

The President’s National Framework for Strategic Communication (and Public Diplomacy) for 2012

It should be common knowledge that the “information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account, and the information man ought always to be consulted. This statement from 1951 foreshadowed Eisenhower’s dictum of the next year that “everything we say, everything we do, and everything we fail to say or do will have its impact in other lands.” Words and deeds needed more than just synchronization as public opinion could be leveraged to support the successful conduct of foreign policy.  Continue reading “The President’s National Framework for Strategic Communication (and Public Diplomacy) for 2012”

Navy Strategic Communication Workshop

I’m off to the beautiful Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California to give a lecture tomorrow as part of the Navy Strategic Communication Workshop. About the SCW:

The Navy Strategic Communication Workshop (SCW) is a three‐day workshop designed to help commands in the development and implementation of a Strategic Communication planning process. Participants are encouraged to attend as part of a command sponsored team of three to five members, led by a senior executive (Flag Officer or Senior Executive Service member). Ideally, teams include a diverse mix of functional area responsibilities. Teams are asked to bring strategic plans or change initiatives that might require a strategic communication component. Through a combination of classroom presentations and facilitated breakout sessions, teams will be able to apply new skills and techniques to advance their plans.

imageMy talk is titled “The New Information Environment” and will cover the information-centric “now media” environment of borderless news and audiences, dynamic and voluntary “diasporas” (my favorite depiction of this challenge is the image at right), and the organizational and conceptual confusion that abounds across the Government on the requirements, responsibilities and authorities to be effective in this environment. Of course I’ll talk about Wikileaks weave in that The New York Times has more Twitter followers than print subscribers, .

Also, of possible interest is my (draft) syllabus for the public diplomacy class I’m teaching this Spring 2011 at USC.

Definition of irony: event in London on censorship and Wikileaks bans photography and recording (updated)

At City University, London, right now is a conference titled “Too much information? Security and censorship in the age of Wikileaks.” The speakers are: Jonathan Dimbleby, chair; Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder; and David Aaronovitch, The Times.

Ironically, the event’s website states

Please note it will not be possible to take photos or recordings during this event.

At the event, the audience was reminded that they may not take pictures of the panel with Julian Assange.

Confusingly, the organizers also said:

We hope to run a live stream of the event, the link to this will be posted at www.city.ac.uk/journalism

Alas, there is no information on the webcast.

Tweets from the event so far include:

AarrBee: Assange seems to be suggesting Wikileaks doesn’t need to be accountable, because others aren’t. Not persuaded.

umaronline: Q: How do you decide what is published? – Assange > ‘We are a publisher. We’re funded by the public. The public decides.’

More to follow…

Continue reading “Definition of irony: event in London on censorship and Wikileaks bans photography and recording (updated)”

The Importance of Understanding Wikileaks

City University London is hosting a conversation with Wikileaks front man Julian Assange on 30 September 2010. The event, titled Too much information, security and censorship in the age of Wikileaks, will ostensibly ask several questions stemming from the sensational release of tens of thousands of internal military communications, labeled the Afghan War Diaries by Wikileaks:

Was this a victory for free expression? Or a stunt that put hundreds of lives in danger? Is censorship a necessary evil in wartime? And will mass leaking of information change journalism?

To be sure, this was not an exercise of “free expression.” An expression would be the labeling and framing of the material. The purpose was, as Wikileaks purports is their mission, to create transparency for the purpose of accountability. City University should then ask if this mission was accomplished and, if so, was there a cost? The questions must move beyond what Assange says he wants to achieve and challenge him on the results he gets.

Continue reading “The Importance of Understanding Wikileaks”

Event: Digital Statecraft: Media, Broadcasting, and the Internet as Instruments of Public Diplomacy in the Middle East

Today, the Aspen Institute hosts a discussion on “digital statecraft” at its Washington, DC, office at DuPont Circle. Digital Statecraft: Media, Broadcasting, and the Internet as Instruments of Public Diplomacy in the Middle East will feature Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute and Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors; Eli Khoury, CEO of Quantum Communications, a leading advertising and communications firm in the Middle East; and Duncan MacInnes, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) in the Office of the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

The topic is “the use of social and digital media as a tool to promote a vibrant civil society in the Middle East” and will include “insights and lessons learned from their extensive experience in the media sector and the region.”

The event will be webcast and archived on the Aspen Institute’s website. Lunch will also be served.

Date: today, Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Time: 12p – 1p

RSVP is requested: call 202-736-2526 or email maysam.ali@aspeninstitute.org.

See also:

The world of Wikileaks Part 2: A means of evaluating Public Diplomacy

By Ali Fisher

Wikileaks Part 2 looks at the impact of releasing information through the traditional media on the network of interactions using social media and reflects on the potential to use network analysis in evaluation. (See also The Small World of Wikileaks, Part 1.)

image From a Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy perspective, evaluation has become increasingly important with forthcoming reports and even spending decisions, for example, in the UK. If an organisation is seeking to develop lasting relationships, seeking to subsequently identify those relationships would be a logical part of any evaluation or bid for further funding.

The example of Wikileaks has much in common with those engaged in Public Diplomacy and seeking to measure their attempts to disperse information on specific issues. In terms of Public Diplomacy, Wikileaks part 1 discussed creating a baseline of interactions and information sharing behaviours. Part 1 also highlighted that information about Wikileaks was trapped in a ‘Small World’ limiting the ability of Wikileaks to go mainstream.

Continue reading “The world of Wikileaks Part 2: A means of evaluating Public Diplomacy”

State of the Internet

You’ve seen Did You Know 4.0, the update to Shift Happens that focuses on the changing media landscape, including convergence and technology. The convergence readers of this blog will appreciate is what I call “Now Media“: the reality that information influences, not platforms. Information is increasingly platform independent and platform jumping. Each mode of consumption will have certain advantages and disadvantages over other modes. Further, the consumption channel may not be the same as the delivery channel. This all conspires against the antiquated terms “new media” and “old media” that describe the conflict of broadcast/print and the Internet. As I often ask in my presentations, seminars, and classes: When you or your principal speaks to the BBC or The New York Times, do you specify the comments are only for the broadcast or print edition? Is the Associated Press new media when you get it via Yahoo and old media when you read it in The Washington Post?

Although it is not always the “last three feet” between an event and a consumer (which may or may not be the media itself), the Internet is instrumental in how information is distributed, modified, and consumed. This latest video entitled “The State of the Internet” by Jess3 compliments Did You Know by focusing on the “master” medium and online social networking.

See also:

  • MountainRunner Institute periodically hosts Now Media seminars (and soon workshops). These events ground participants in the opportunities and threats in the modern information and physical environment of global communication and dynamic ‘diasporas’ (what I call “hyphens to commas”). In February and June, we convened a seminar in Washington, DC (http://nowmedia.eventbrite.com). In August, we convened a seminar in the San Antonio area. In October, we’ll hold it in Atlanta and we’re planning another event, location TBD. Email me for more information. An information page will be available soon.

In the interest of informed debate on Public Diplomacy

By Craig Hayden

I am curious to hear the following statement, made by one of America’s preeminent critics of public diplomacy thinking, clarified a bit more:

All too many academic theories about PD are incomprehensible, pompously-expressed “concepts” from persons — among them rightfully esteemed tenured professors whose intelligence is all too often joined with a tactless inability to handle the last three feet of person-to-person contact — who have never actually worked as diplomats in the field of “public diplomacy,” which they pontificate about, often too assuredly, from their ivory towers on comfortable campuses so distant from what some call the “real world.”

The quote appeared in a recent article on the Huffington Post. Truth be told, I am admittedly a fan of John Brown and his frequent skewerings of pretension (unless, of course, such barbs are leveled at my alma mater, then I’m shamelessly hypocritical). But it made me pause. Perhaps Dr. Brown was being polite, but I think we need to put some sort of name to the real troublemakers that Brown is alluding to.

Continue reading “In the interest of informed debate on Public Diplomacy”