The recent change in social media policy by US DoD is a sign of the times and in fact may represent a real paradigm shift in management culture surrounding the relationship between military personnel and the outside world. Whilst CB3 welcomes this move, appreciating that it won’t come without its pitfalls and problems, the deeper societal, psychological, cultural, relational, management and organisational ramifications of this move are as yet unknown. This may be only the start of the shifting of institutionally inert techtonic plates – watch this space.
In the meantime, below see David Meerman Scott interview Roxie Merritt, Director of New Media Operations at Office of Assistant Secretary of Defence for Public Affairs, talking about this bold move.
No sooner do we get used to Web 2.0 than people are talking about Web 3.0. – the semantic web.
But will it be really be as revolutionary as some think? After all, it may still rely on pretty ancient basics, like text. Even video and audio are pretty 20th century. But what if you could ‘feel’ via the web, exchange sentiments, emotions across cyberspace? Sounds mad? Well it may be not that far away. This is where communication and cybernetics meet.
We managed to have a chat with Professor Kevin Warwick, the world’s first cyborg, who claims that despite ideas of the ‘Terminator’ his main driver is to enhance communication way beyond the limited scope of speech or text. He has already managed brain-to-brain signal transfer at a local level but within the next decade or two this could be much improved and, via the internet, the possibilities are staggering.
Watch the video and let your imagination run wild.
Without doubt the information age has brought with the idea of ‘real’ dialogical communication, in which the global extent of networked society has blossomed. A quick history lesson in from the classrooms of public relations adequately plots the transition from the hypodermic method of communication aimed at a centralised model of society, through to the two-step flow approach focussed on a decentralised society and finally into the contemporary networked communication process of a distributed system.
Amongst the vast majority of communication practitioners, and beyond, this shift is explained and celebrated by new/now/digital/social media. So far so good – nothing earthshattering and novel yet. But does modern day ‘messaging’ cater for this environment?
The very idea of a message – something transmitted to an audience, the very fact one ‘sends’ messages infers indeed a one-way transaction. But as we’re constantly informed by the social media gurus the new world is all about the ‘conversation’, dialogue, two-way communication, the community etc. The notion of a message, purveyed hypodermically, is anathema to the new protocols and ethos of the information environment. It grates against the sensitivities of the community involved.
One example is thst conducted by the Obama campaign forged around a slogan of ‘Yes, we can!’. Throughout Obama’s campaign, in every media interview he gave, he embodied a sense that his ideas, his objectives, his desires, via the words and phrases he used were those of a larger community, not of a single man or entity, such as a future administration. Less of the message, more of the idea. His engagements with traditional media translated very well into the cyber domain, took place as part of a conversation and the techniques used, subtle as they were, allowed traditional media to converge with the needs of new, social media.
Does traditional media training cater for this change in the environment?
The output of a modern media interview is now one that is part of a wider conversation, one that is placed on the web immediately, directly or indirectly, inviting immediate comment and, if required, a response. It’s not a one-off maneouvre. But much media training relies on the interview being such a singularity – get your message out, full stop.
Much would be gained by interviewees being aware and being trained to treat their interviews as not just a transmission mechanism for their message but as part of a conversation. This requires knowledge and understanding of that conversation, what it is centred around, how it is conducted, its tone and style. Once again basic presentation is important – hands out of pockets, body language, dress code etc – but the timbre, wording, structure and emphasis are subtly altered, to align with the nature of contemporary information exchange and the format of the medium.
The media interviews of old for TV, radio or print are still relevant and require specific techniques. But more frequently these interviews form part of a wider format of communication, relying less on the message and more on the conversation.
There is one book that should be recommended to newly appointed public affairs officers; “The Utility of Force” by Rupert Smith. Smith’s erudite vision of ‘war amongst the peoples’ is a vital backdrop to modern military public affairs. However, whilst Smith’s book does elude to the media and the ‘theatre’ of war, it does not examine the phenomena in detail, being outside the scope of his excellent book.
Now that gap has been filled and one more book can be added to the list of recommendations: Rid and Hecker’s “War 2.0: Irregular Warfare in the Information Age”.
The authors’ grasp of the nexus of modern warfare and information is well presented, making a clear and easily understood delineation between what they call War 1.0, the industrial use of force throughout the 20th century, and War 2.0, 21st century irregular war and counterinsurgency, fought ‘amongst the peoples’, peoples who now have an extraordinary access to information. Such a deep analysis is timely, given the intense debate within the US and NATO over future strategy, especially in Afghanistan. Rid and Hecker’s work on what is a seismic shift in the conduct of modern war, should rightly inform that debate, one which is moving ahead swiftly, riding a wave of civilian surge and non-kinetic approaches to counterinsurgency and post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction.
The case studies, using the US, UK and Israeli militaries and also Hezbollah, the Taliban and Al-Qaida, provide ample evidence of the complexity of information in irregular warfare, and the oft-misunderstood deeper consequences of it. As they point out, in less than a decade three wars involving sophisticated militaries and insurgents have raged amid the vortex of perhaps the most fundamental information revolution in history. They explore the effects of such on organization, politics, strategy, implementation and objectives.
From a military viewpoint, the book is replete with examples where the provision of information, via media or otherwise, to the local population is in fact of higher operational priority than such provision to a home audience. Public affairs now directly influence military outcomes, a point Smith would concede. Many military personnel realize that information can’t be controlled, that speed of response is crucial, that release authority should be as low as possible. In short, seeing the public as the new centre of gravity, many do ‘get it’. However, it is argued that conceptual, cultural, organizational and political resistance prevent the more effective use of information in a media (both traditional and new)-saturated age. Whilst extolling the many virtues of new technologies, equally Rid and Hecker point out the dangers, especially in the US, of over-reliance on new media as a solution and warn of it being over-rated or, at the very least, used without the full understanding of its nature, especially regarding a media-savvy enemy. Further, they warn of information and communication being overly concerned with the domestic audience and often being largely politically, as opposed to militarily, driven, especially in the case of the UK. However, whilst Rid and Hecker’s analysis is sound, their concerns over the capabilities of military public affairs officers, many of whom do ‘get it’, are sometimes a little harsh.
On the opposing side, their examination makes it clear that Hezbollah has made information a centerpiece of its operations, from simple techniques, such as branded material, to the more sophisticated, via mainstream television and internet activities. Similarly, they contend that the Taliban have also undergone a transformation, from being media–shy to avidly exploiting it, along with hi-tech activities available in a burgeoning new media, especially SMS, market.
For Al-Qaida, the authors argue that the consequences of the information age have gone deeper. The strategic transformation of Al-Qaida from a hierarchical organization to a cellular one, relies heavily, and utilizes efficiently, web technology – allowing the ‘community’ to focus on ideas, common purpose, participation and ‘fuzzy membership’, epitomized by ‘electronic jihad’, as opposed to strict edicts and protocols transmitted via easily compromised methods.
However, whilst the nature of new media may suit insurgents, Rid and Hecker make the cogent argument that the challenges of the contemporary information environment have posed problems for the insurgent and terrorist. Strategic inertia, loss of control, heightened political risk and management of globalised themes all have their impact on the effectiveness of the message.
Whilst Rid and Hecker’s recommendations are unfortunately not explored in great detail, they are insightful, for military public affairs officers, strategists, senior officers and policy-makers. Their recommendations are thread with considered approaches to modern technology and core practices recognized by any public relations practitioner but they are also reminiscent of a well known military doctrine, that of Mission Command. They promote decentralisation, freedom, speed of action, delegation, initiative and the acceptance of a degree of risk – all virtues of Mission Command but rarely used in the practice of military information and communication. One only needs to have read their compelling case studies to agree that such virtues are vital in the information age.
Timely, evidence-driven, clear and concise, “War 2.0” challenges the ideas and protocols of the 20th century, dragging us into the modern reality inhabited by ‘digital natives’, and is recommended reading for all, young and old, involved in or studying the conduct of irregular warfare. And along with their doctrinal notes from staff college, public affairs officer should now add one more book to their compulsory reading list.
Who’s the ‘Man’? You know – the ‘Man’! Jack Black, School of Rock? The ‘Man‘! What we’re talking about is The Establishment, The Elite, Them – sometimes elusive to pin down and definitively categorise but definately there – that’s the ‘Man’. Yet if you live in certain societies, then the ‘Man’ is very visible – think of Iran right now – or if not so visible, then presenting a pervasive and omnipresent shadow – think of the People’s Republic of China. However, today even the serious ‘Man’, wielding his riot baton or spying on every move, is facing a problem – a serious problem. And at the core of that problem is communicating with its subjects, or publics.
There was a time when government enforcement and counter culture knew their places – the former within officialdom, ceremony, uniform and a conventional media who knew not to rock the boat too much, and the latter in dark, smoky bars (where have they gone?), underground leaflets, Che Guevara t-shirts, folk/pop songs and grassroots communication. It was all so straightforward. But then came the Summer of Love, Winter of Discontent, Punk, fall of the Berlin Wall and loads of other stuff which really messed up the status quo of society and state. And throughout that period there was a growing and rich seam of information, through modern technology (we all think its so now but the microchip began life in the 1960s and zero-G (as opposed to 3G) mobile telephone network kicked off in 1971 in Finland).
With little choice, democracies have rolled with this wave of universally availablable information capability, have even been created as a by-product of it, and democratic governments have had to adjust to the competetiveness of the contemporary information market. But after years of staving it off, trying to eliminate it or simply ignoring it, governments with a less than unblemished democratic credentials are really starting to feel the impact of this ubiquitous wave of communicative ability.
In Iran, much has been made of the effects of a technologically savvy and educated population using digital technology, via twitter, youtube, e-mail and blogs, to make their voice heard by the government. The Iranian government, too late, appeared to understand that they no longer had the monopoly on information via their state-owned outlets. Regardless of the political outcome of the Iranian situation, whether Ahmadinjad and Ayatollah Khamenei retain power or not, a fire has been lit which will have lasting repercussions in how that society is governed. Not least, communication and access to information will be at the heart of Iran’s future. A crackdown is likely but the genie is out of the bottle – empowerment of the counter culture is not going away. In Iran, the ‘Man’ will have to think hard about what to do about the information factor.
And as likely as it is in the short term, crackdown is not an easy option, as China now testifies. After years of developing Green Dam, a compulsory software system to allow a degree of government control over the internet, the government is now wavering. Further, as Al Jazeera reported last week, the Chinese government is appreciating that it has to enter the information ring, not merely block it. The government is taking steps to make its own state-controlled media operation more competitive in the market, making it more attractive and of consequence to possible viewers – it is entering, like in any other democracy, a battle to grab ratings. With some 300 million Chinese online and therefore having a choice over who informs them of what’s going on (and most not referring to Chinese state media), the government is going to try to win them back, not coerce them back. Even if Green Dam does eventually get the green light, this is a major change of attitude by the ‘Man’.
This realisation is ground-breaking. If essentially undemocratic regimes are finally understanding that they cannot control information, then they will have to seek methods of joining the battle for audiences, just as democracies have had to do gradually over the last fifty years. The ‘Man’ is waking up to the fact he is playing a new game with different rules, and he’s going to have to learn fast if he is to survive. The problems are manifest – there is no legacy for playing this game, information structures will have to undergo major transformations, the very game encourages democratic and free market ideologies and the old guard may just never accept or understand the rules. Public relations, public affairs, new media, public diplomacy – these are all big factors in the game, all of which will have to be recalibrated, and dialogical communications must feature as part of a new engagement strategy. The impact will have deep political and socio-cultural consequences. There is historical precedent – post-Gutenberg, it took some time before the pamphleteers of the 16th Century would contribute considerably to the demise of the Ancien regime, the ‘Man’ of the day. Sure, the new game may not bring forth real revolution in the near future – it’s all about playing for the long term – but democratic or not, the ‘Man’ will have to adjust and will also have to accept that some accession of power will be necessary.
There are several regimes out there who are finding themselves at this juncture – they know who they are and we know who they are. In these regimes, the ‘Man’ has a stark choice – adjust to the new game, understand the rules and accept the limitation on state power, or die … slowly.