New Media and ‘the War of Ideas’ – On looking in your own backyard

by Roy Revie

Don’t worry, this isn’t another article about “Social Media and the Arab Spring”. Not that it’s unimportant, but it strikes me that those involved in the revolutions are better placed to examine these questions. In any case, I’m sure the booming industry in Arab Spring conferences, books, and special journal issues will sufficiently suck out any revolutionary joy and furnish us with reports on the minutiae of what they think is important. I’ll leave them to it. Besides, the revolutionary potential of communication technologies which can sometimes allow you to talk to each other and broadcast information that would otherwise be repressed seems kind of self evident. While Western leaders implore foreign autocrats (with a vigour which varies proportionally to some ‘tipping point’ calculus of self-interest) to ‘tear down this firewall!’, and op-ed after op-ed is written about the impact of technology on autocracies I want to reverse the lens: how is social media changing the way liberal Western governments operate? What are the implications of the American embrace of ‘internet freedom’ for US Government foreign policy and military practice?

The key focus of US government communication efforts is influence on publics, both foreign and domestic, as a means to winning legitimacy. This element of state activity is seen as all the more important in the post-9/11 ‘battle of ideas’ in which Robert Gates has said success “will be less a matter of imposing one’s will and more a function of shaping behaviour – of friends, adversaries, and most importantly, the people in between”. Militarily, contemporary conflict has seen, one theorist suggests, a “shift in the classical centres of gravity away from the will of governments and armies to the perceptions of populations”. In these circumstances, it is not difficult to see why the rise of Web 2.0 has forced widespread and serious consideration of communication policy. As Ali Fisher has written, “the internet provides a unique environment for the ideological clashes that have occurred” since 9/11, as new communication platforms produce a situation where “the hegemonic group is unable to use the organs of the State for coercion”. A cursory look at the most memorable events of the Iraq war support this: while early on the system of ‘embedding’ journalists seemed a massive PR coup for the Coalition, providing a largely compliant media with heart-of-the-action footage, what history will remember will be the unofficial ‘emergent’ images from Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, and Saddam Hussein’s execution chamber. Influence and communication has had to be re-thought.

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Foreign Policy shoots back on Global Thinkers

Foreign Policy editor Joshua Keating is generous in referring to PULSE’s 20 Top Global Thinkers of 2009 list as ‘a welcome addition to the conversation‘. FP has certainly ignited a debate around its choices in its inaugural global thinkers list.

Keating misses our point, however, in part because he misreads our argument. It is clear from our post that we are referring specifically to the incongruity of having individuals such as Dick Cheney, General Petraeus, Larry Summers, Thomas Friedman, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Salam Fayyad, The Kagans and Ahmed Rashid on a list of thinkers.  We surmised that it may have to do with the fact that the main thrust of their work aligns with the US military and economic agenda worldwide. We could not have been referring to FP’s entire list, since, as Keating correctly notes, several of our choices overlap with FP’s, and there are others on the list that we actually respect and admire.

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Web 2.0 warfare from Gaza to Iran

Twitterati hack official Iranian websites
Twitterati hack official Iranian websites

by Tom Griffin

Recent weeks have seen an explosion of interest in Twitter, a social networking application which has been used by thousands of internet users to pass on news, views and rumours about the situation unfolding in Iran in the wake of the disputed presidential election.

The Iranian struggle is not however, the first conflict in which emerging ‘Web 2.0’ social media technologies have played a significant role. Israel’s offensive in Gaza in December 2008 – January 2009 provides an important precedent which shows that, despite its undoubted potential for empowering new forms of bottom-up organisation, the social web is not immune from very traditional propaganda techniques.

Operation Cast Lead – The First Social Media War
The roots of Israel’s media strategy in Gaza emerged in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon War. The Winograd Commission appointed by the Israeli Government to look into the conflict criticised a lack of co-ordination in the country’s media effort. This led to the creation of the National Information Directorate in the Prime Minister’s Office to co-ordinate efforts across government departments.[1][2]

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Good Cop, Bad Cop

Big brother is blogging you!
Big brother is blogging you (a scene from 1984)

Considering that past winners have included the frothing-at-the-mouth zionut Mellanie Phillips, it would perhaps be more accurate to rename the Orwell Prize the Orwellian Prize. Here is Ross McKibbin on this year’s winner for the best political blog. Here is Ross McKibbin on this year’s winner for the best political blog.

The Orwell Prize committee this year introduced a new prize for political blogging. It has been won by an anonymous ‘English detective’ who calls himself ‘NightJack’. His posts are a mixture of general comment and diary accounts of apparently typical days in the lives of English policemen. They are vigorously written and sometimes perfectly reasonable. NightJack regrets that the police today are kitted out as imperial stormtroopers, he has little nostalgia for the old canteen culture, he laments the mass of paperwork that has been foisted on the police (like everyone else in the public sector) and fairly argues that if plea-bargaining is to become entrenched it ought to be formalised.

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