Incoming! 77th Brigade’s Social Media Warriors

“UK army gets Twitter Troops…”

Australia’s Sky News

“The 77th Brigade will use non-military methods…”

UK Telegraph 

“Keyboard Warriors: British Army joins the Twitter Wars…”

The Daily Beast 

“British Army May Use Internet ‘Trolls’ to Conduct Psychological War …”

Sputnik International

“It’s not going to be a ragtag group of hackers, though…”

Slate.com 

I’ve been reading the news coverage generated by the Ministry of Defence’s announcement on the establishment of 77th Brigade with great interest.

Like the Israeli Defence Force before them (who are the pioneers of social media information and psychological operations) the United Kingdom has recognised that social media warfare is a battlefield in which it must be present if it is to have real, offline impacts in it’s area of operations. The lessons well learnt from Afghanistan, Northern Africa, Ukraine and now Iraq mark II are that we’re in the midst of an information warfare revival not seen since the height of the Cold War.

Call my cynical, but the news media reports about the establishment of 77th Brigade and it’s revolutionary mission is all a bit odd given they’ve spend the better part of the last 14 months being served up social media based information operations (info ops) and psychological operations (PSYOP) click-play content in high definition and on a silver plate covered in blood splatter from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). More recently, we’ve seen info ops and PSYOP originating from Russia added to that equation.

What did the the news media really think ISIL, for example, were doing?

Waging a jihadi tea party and streaming it on YouTube for the benefit of all humankind?

I understand the profitability factor of sending ISIL generated snuff videos viral – the mechanics of revenue and readership aren’t lost on me: but while news corporations are motivated by money  – soaked in the blood of Iraqi’s, think about this:

It’s the news media who are giving these imbeciles social media oxygen.

The news media’s arrogant attitude toward profit over power has to stop.

“People have a right to know”, “Freedom of Speech”, “Freedom of Press” I hear them lament … but this isn’t a balanced argument, because the news media aren’t upholding journalistic fourth estate ideals in their reporting. If they were,  fact instead of the banal click-play reproduction of ISIL generated (and delivered) snuff content would be reported.

You don’t need snuff content to tell a story.

You only need it for large scale profit.

And here in lies the biggest challenge facing the 77th Brigade, and other military units around the world just like it.

Will the news media work with them, or continue to work against them?

The League of Extraordinary News Media Outlets?

We live in a time where the news media no longer have to go looking for a story. Citizen journalists provide a never ending stream of free content that is bought, sold and syndicated around the world. It’s a race for virality – whom ever serves up the best, most shocking and sometimes outlandish click-play content gets a free kick into the realm of social media stardom.

While the news media argue that they are simply delivering what the information consuming public have an appetite for, they neglect to mention the role they had in creating that appetite. Like a drug dealer claiming they aren’t the ones starting addictions, the news media have actively primed audiences for the content and news they sell. Only now they find themselves trying to deliver content at warp speed to an insatiable audience hungry for their next fix. There is no happy ending for this addiction because while news is geared for profit instead of truth (or positive influence) the few will continue to get rich on the misery of the masses.

This presents military info ops and PSYOP professionals with both opportunity and risk.

They can use the news media to their strategic advantage, while always remaining mindful of the fact that they may end up the ones being played – for profit.

But what if the news media were educated in the ways of info ops and PSYOP and joined their military brothers and sisters on the public affairs battlefield?

ISIL are waging a generational war.

The news media are unwittingly conditioning the youth of today for tomorrows conflicts. They are saturating their adolescent consciousness with images and videos that are desensitising them to the horrors of war. Will today’s 10 year old watching the nightly news with their parents be as shocked and outraged at the snuff imagery they see now, as they will be in 5 years? 10 years?

While the world’s militaries scramble to pull together resources to fight wars in the information age, their fight is not theirs alone.

The media must take responsibility for their part in the information battlefield equation.

This isn’t a Putin-esque media control mechanism – it’s the exact opposite.

It’s the media voluntarily joining forces to support their country’s military as tweets are launched and blogs are fired. Instead of serving up snuff content, they can tell their stories without giving oxygen to social media terrorists. Let ISIL broadcast their high definition videos to the world and tweet their way to world war hashtag; if the media tune out en mass, they are left broadcasting to an internal audience. Their global reach and audience saturation evaporates. It’s exactly what they don’t want. ISIL count on the western media giving them air time (free publicity) to further their agenda, and the media are voluntarily being held hostage to it for no other reason but revenue.

The news media really can still have their story – and their profit too.

They just need to dial down the promulgation of terrorist rhetoric in the process.

For only when the western and allied media, start refusing to give terrorists and their click-play content oxygen – will the information war truly be winnable.

~ @NicoleMatejic