IN DEPTH: Why the US is losing the information war – the medium is the message

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January 7th, 2018 – Fort Russ News – 

– Analysis by Joaquin Flores, for FRN – Please support Flores’ Patreon

[From 2014] – Why is the US losing the information war? There is a growing list of reasons, and US leaders, commentators, and analysts have been trying to figure it out. Writing on the subject of what can be called the ‘Information Gap’, we might very well imagine that the problem they describe can be easily fixed. Mostly they think they can throw more money at it. We believe it can’t be easily fixed, and we will explain why. 

We ought to point out first that some analysts are more on point than others, which shows us that something important is missing: the intersection of people who support US foreign policy, with people who care without being paid to care, with a third vector, those who are actually knowledgeable enough about the world – at least enough so that they can create memes that will gain traction. With Ukraine as a case study of things to come, we can probably try to narrow in on more of the core reasons.

US elites are forced into using old media to push their Ukraine and Syria strategies, but growing numbers of US citizens no longer trust the ‘MSM’ and rely on New Media; reports from regular people and activists on the ground are more credible to contemporary media consumers and activists than are reports by so-called professionals in the traditional media.

It is true that US had been successful in manipulating New Media, in particular blogs and tweets allegedly from ‘on the ground’ journalists and activists in North Africa and the Middle East. However some of these were later exposed as hoaxes, others were soon spotted for their inconsistencies and obvious slant. 

Interestingly, the rate and manner by which Old Media picked up on and relied on these New Media media sources didn’t add to the credibility of the old sources so much as it showed the reliance of Old Media on New Media in terms of up-to-the-minute news.

In Novorossiya, tweets, phone camera videos, testimonials, blogs, and other New Media reports came from people witnessing what was, by and large, a popular uprising. This popular uprising was supported by international volunteers driven by convictions which they hold deeply.

This means that the US suffers from a severe shortage of “Tahrir Square” type twitter activists and protesters. They can deploy these through Soros and NED/USAID NGO’s in other countries, but not effectively for strictly US (vs. Russia) campaigns.  

Changes in access to broadband and local infrastructure are also key. With smart phones prevalent in use in Ukraine, any seemingly misleading tweet is responded to with calls for video. Where it used to be said “pics or it didn’t happen”, people now hold video as the stronger criteria for proof. The kinds of real information coming through New Media doesn’t favor the US position, so it’s been forced to use the ‘old media‘ model.

US elites focus their media message on mostly irrelevant audiences. This approach is fine for things going on inside the US – messaging for elections and so forth; issues like health care, infrastructure, financial sector reform, and so on may or may not be matters which potential voters have some say over. But as finally evidenced in the 2008 election of Obama, there is not really much of a connection between the explicit foreign policy demands of American people on the one hand, and actual US foreign policy on the other. The real shapers of opinion on US foreign policy among the informed, the aspiring political class, the bloggers, the chattering class, the alternative media ‘punditry’, are finding very little they can chew on coming from the US elite-backed mainstream media.

The rest of the world matters more – a whole lot more – in terms of shaping opinion and spreading information. One could say that the rest of the world has ‘grown up’ – it has certainly caught up, and in many spheres already surpassed the US in any number of ways. This isn’t to say that the US isn’t a key global player, but in the media game and in the battle for hearts and minds, people around the world are keying into their own favorite journalist-bloggers and websites.

An ever growing number of Americans too are likely to read and listen to their peers, before giving too much credence to the US’s media industrial complex. Entrepreneurs, journalists, and some state agencies in various countries, on an increasing basis, are launching or have launched their own full-fledged media enterprises. The contrasted reality presented in these enterprises compared to the problematic western vision, pushes viewers to pay attention to the former and give up on the latter.

The Big Mechanisms

So what’s really going on here, and what are some of the mechanisms at work? Between the real events happening in the raging conflict between Ukraine and Novorossiya, and our collective impression of it – lies an important middle-man: Media. The role of Media serves so many purposes, but in the short-term it primarily shapes how most of us understand these events as they unfold. They way stories are relayed to us informs our opinions, and in no small way determines the kinds of solutions to the presented problem that we are bound to find ‘smartest’ or ‘most just’. So far, so good – no big revelation there, we all know this.

Most of us also probably remember that it was only three years ago [2011 – ed] that then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared in front of a congressional committee that the US was losing the information war. Her words were surprisingly apt, and with one exception that you’ll spot, on point.

“During the Cold War we did a great job in getting America’s message out. After the Berlin Wall fell we said, ‘Okay, fine, enough of that, we are done,’ and unfortunately we are paying a big price for it,” she said. “Our private media cannot fill that gap.”

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“We are in an information war and we are losing that war. Al Jazeera is winning, the Chinese have opened a global multi-language television network, the Russians have opened up an English-language network. I’ve seen it in a few countries, and it is quite instructive,”.

Right – you called it – Al Jazeera basically pushes a nuanced version of NATO’s news for the Arabic speaking world. The Al Thani dynasty simply bought out the infrastructure sold to them by the BBC, when the latter closed shop in the region. 

Nice try Hillary! But now surely, we can speculate that this was intended as a ruse on her part, reminiscent of the ‘missile gap’ which cold warriors in DC waxed on about fifty years ago. And surely we’d have to imagine that the folks behind Clinton have some of this in mind in talking about what we might call the ‘Info Gap’. It’s probably fair to say that this is a case of the US feigning a weakness it doesn’t think it really has. The twist here is that it’s true: at least in Ukraine, the US is losing the info war.

The way we understand and internalize media isn’t simply a function of a particular story with its slant, nor is it even all of the stories on a given subject that we’ve come across. It’s much deeper and the internalization happens on a much deeper level. It has to do with our entire social conditioning, and the entire cultural superstructure in which we live. This really shapes our entire schema. These are biases that are heavily ingrained in the recesses of our brains.

New Media may be a clichéd phrase but this has evolved a bit and now it’s working out for the Russian interest in Novorossiya. Also, this doesn’t mean that the revolutionary aspects of the thesis of Marshall McLuhan’s 1964 work Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man have been exhausted. In fact, some of that might help us to unwrap our question because indeed the medium is the message.

In the past with the “old media”: television, radio, and newspaper combined to create a rather solid paradigmatic shell in the mind of the subject. This served a purpose during the Cold War. On the NATO side was a media establishment built on the centuries old basic standard British charter ‘colony’ model which were parading as independent media networks.

On the other side was the ‘state-run Kremlin propaganda’ with its overtly ‘top-down’ methods and custom of ‘speaking with one voice’. Comparing the two models and figuring out which one to believe in was similar to watching Rocky IV and figuring out who to root for.

In this schema, the subject is led to confuse the arbitrary super-structural legal categories of private vs. public (read as ‘independent news’ vs. ‘state run propaganda’) for actual meaningful differences in the sphere of power, qua ”social relations of production”, at the base. What is meant here is that in western culture, there is a tendency to favor things coming from the private sector over things from the public sector, even if the first category always doesn’t serve the real interests of private individuals any better than the second.

A fundamental defect however – as in advertising and marketing – was that there were upward limits to its utility. There were always layers of the population that could see through the veil created by this, retrospectively speaking, lower form of technology.

At the root of this defect was the sense among perceptive consumers that the message was coming from a seemingly foreign and authority-based source; being somewhat incompatible with post 1968 memetics and messaging. Indeed, the message of the medium was really that truth-forming comes from authority. This is ‘power over’. In contrast, the message of the medium of New Media is that truth-forming comes from the people; it is ‘power with’.

Why Won’t the Russians Face the Same Problem?

The efforts of faking mass support, and faking atrocities are increasingly a more difficult undertaking. There are thousands of volunteer whistle-blowers and ‘exposers’ who are making youtube videos and blogging on these, whenever the US stages the kind of obvious falsehoods depicted in films like Wag the Dog. Perceptive individuals could see these before, but New Media gives them not only an outlet, but also access to an ever growing audience to get their truth out. In short, we are increasingly entering a period where it pays to be honest.

New Media is different in that information comes from real-existing peer groups, greatly enhancing the credibility. As an organizing tactic, this ‘truth’ about information dissemination was known and explored for several generations, and had informed grass roots political, social, and religious organizing as well as advertising and marketing for the most part of the last century. This is why, for example, we witnessed an explosion in the garment industry, where labels went from being one inch long inside the collar, to being a foot long across the front of the shirt.

The Russians have increasingly adapted the methods of ”New Media”. The rise of New Media changed the rules. Social Peer To Peer (SP2P) processes are an advanced form of information management which are crucial to both soft power and Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW). These are being used with increasing efficacy by the Russian side.

Meanwhile American fears that they are losing a grip on the use of P2P propaganda have pushed them into an over-reliance on Old Media, thus exacerbating the problem in the manner of a vicious cycle.

So in a word, to answer our question ‘No’, Russia will not face this problem so long as it continues to conduct its foreign policy in ways which are genuinely supported by the mass publics in the regions of the world where they act, which with few exceptions are within their own historical sphere.

The US may force Russia to continue to provide humanitarian support, and allow Russian citizens to volunteer in peace keeping missions in any future conflict zones either in its historic sphere of influence, or even in other parts of the world. Through developmental projects like the BRICS New Development Bank, and the general rise of multi-polarity – something which mass publics worldwide have demanded since before the end of the Cold War – Russia will continue to win the information war with countless teams of volunteers from around the world willing to inform their peers, spread truth by showing and not just telling, and combating the mythologies of both the western MSM and its increasingly suspect version of a controlled ‘alternative media’.

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Joaquin Flores is Editor-in-Chief of Fort Russ News, as well as the Director of the Belgrade based think-tank, the Center for Syncretic Studies. He was educated at California State University, Los Angeles, in the field of International Relations. He previously served as Chief Negotiator and Internal Organizer in several jurisdictions for the SEIU labor union in California. Flores has twenty years experience in community, labor, and anti-war organizing.  Flores has appeared innumerable times on Iran’s ‘PressTV’ and Russia’s ‘RT’ news to share his expert opinion and analysis on current geopolitical matters. 

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