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Propaganda, PSYOPS, and the End of Democracy

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David Troy blogs:

I wrote this piece in mid-2017 and declined to publish it at the time — I considered it to be perhaps too dark, or an overstatement of the situation. Now, over three years later, I think it was an accurate, if partial, assessment of where things stand. This week I plan to write more on this topic, and I think this is an appropriate time to revisit this piece.

We have all heard about “fake news” and most of us have some sense that there has been a concerted effort to manipulate online news media for political influence.

But for all the discussion, there has been relatively little analysis of the underlying strategy: how exactly does this work? What is the goal? And why does it seem so difficult to fight? This essay is an attempt to answer these questions as concisely as possible and is the product of a considerable amount of study of this topic.

Here is how and why propaganda and psyops techniques are being used by right-wing (and far left) political operators, specifically in the United States, but also in Europe and elsewhere.

How does modern propaganda work? There are three main tactics that define today’s efforts.

When we think about mass media, we think of television, radio, and newspapers, where a relatively small number of outlets and content producers can reach a very large audience. Historically, there has been a wariness of the power concentrated in these producers, as well as regulation that has aimed to ensure that these broadcasters do not have undue influence.

By contrast, contemporary propagandists aim to build up many smaller audiences. This is made possible by the internet, where a single blogger, YouTube star, or small website can garner audiences in the hundreds of thousands or low millions. That’s not a lot by mainstream media standards, but when taken together, an array of small audiences can reach many millions of people.

People only have so much time and attention. The more that people believe that mainstream media is biased — or worse, incorrect—the more they will distrust it and seek outlets that reinforce their own worldview. So the cultivation and growth of these smaller audiences is aided by the gradual chipping away at mainstream media.

Democracies place a high value on independent thinking and rational analysis, and having an “open mind” is a desirable quality. Those seeking to build small audiences for the purposes of propaganda can thus appeal to the ideal of an “open mind,” and prompt people to question both mainstream media and conventional wisdom, causing them to search for ‘alternative’ voices that comport with their own predispositions. This reinforces their self-image as an “independent thinker,” and accrues social capital with others who also question dominant narratives about reality.

By clawing away at consensus-reality, modern propaganda efforts aim to build a bloc of constituents composed of a wide range of small audiences. Because all of these audiences are built on opposition to consensus-reality, they can be relied upon to oppose it.

Now that we understand exactly what is being done, we can try to identify what it actually is. Today’s propaganda techniques borrow heavily from three other concepts: fascism, PSYOPS, and reflexive control.

The term fascism is widely used but broadly misunderstood. It is derived from the ancient Roman word fasces, which is a bundle of rods (or arrows) bound together with a strap, and an axe blade projecting from the bundle. This symbol was used to signify the power of a magistrate in Ancient Rome.

The modern idea of fascism came from Mussolini’s Italy, and was borrowed from the Sicilian concept of fasci, meaning “men organized for political purposes.”

Fascism is thus a literal bundling together of interest groups to wield political power and to achieve political ends. It is an aggregation of aggrieved audiences.

Contemporary right-wing propaganda is thus literally fascist in nature, inasmuch as it aims to build a voting bloc from many smaller audiences.

PSYOPS is a military term meaning “psychological operations.” It was developed as a technology rooted in modern behavioral science and psychology, and aims to exert control over a population to achieve military objectives.

For example, in managing the aftermath of the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was desirable that the many factions present in those countries support US military operations, or at the very least, that any opposition be minimized and managed.

To do this, coalition military forces deployed PSYOPS techniques as a kind of weapon aimed at achieving its goals.

According to SCL Group, a leading practitioner of military PSYOPS techniques, here are the steps involved in planning an effective behavioral modification campaign:

  1. Identify the objective: what do you want people to do; how do you want them to behave, or not behave?
  2. Strategic Communication Planning: what messages do you want to convey to produce the desired behavior?
  3. Target Audience Analysis: what audiences exist, and what are their belief systems and goals that may affect whether you can get them to adopt the desired behavior?
  4. Campaign Intervention Strategy: how does your strategic communication need to be tailored to produce the desired behavior in each of your target audiences?

In PSYOPS, the goal is . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s important and urgent.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2020 at 4:17 pm

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