by Angela Trethewey
In Surging on the Cyberspace Battlefield (COMOPS, May 8th) Christina Smith praised the militaryâ€™s openness to both positive and negative responses to videos posted on the militaryâ€™s YouTube channel, Multi-National Force Iraq (MNFIRAQ). She called it a hopeful sign that â€œmilitary and civilian leaders might be willing to read and react constructivelyâ€ to feedback from a variety of perspectives.
Ms. Smith was not alone in her hopefulness. The website was an idea originally conceived by two Army contractors and other enlisted men to make productive use the footage being shot daily by the military. Documenting the daily â€œboots on the groundâ€ perspective of the war is not necessarily a new idea. Combat reporters routinely filmed missions in
Shortly after we praised the Pentagon for its forward-looking move it announced on May 14th that it was halting access to the increasingly popular channel. Despite its potential to inspire national dialogue about the war, enhance support of our troops in
The internet is an increasingly important battle front in the war of ideas and a primary recruitment tool for violent extremists. The
Why? Because more messages for more audiences on more channels empowers more people to interpret local meanings regarding what US and Allied troops are doing in
Of course we here at COMOPS are not privy to all the considerations that may have factored into this decision. But from a strategic communication point of view, it was a step backward. If we are promoting the ideals of a democratic society as part of our war of ideas strategy, then we must enact, display and promote democratic communication, even in the context of everyday military life. We can not promote or even appropriately display the complex workings of democracy if our leaders routinely try to control communication in the war of ideas. Like war, democracy is a messy and complex business. Any attempt to control our â€œmessage,â€ by closing off dialogue about the war, the nature of democracy, or our enemies moves us further away from our democratic ideals and is an ineffective posture in a media saturated world.
The stated security concerns could have been addressed by keeping the YouTube material on the public network. While we donâ€™t know what network load may have been generated by soldiers uploading videos, bandwidth is a tractable problem that can be addressed given the will to do so. It appears that the larger problem for the military is the lack of ability to closely control and monitor the content and responses to YouTube and sites like it. Yet, as Noah Schactman, in a national security blog post for Wired, says correctly, “This is as much an information war as it is bombs and bullets,” he said. “And [the military] are muzzling their best voices.”
The opposition currently offers multiple sources of propaganda that largely go unchallenged in the new media. For example, the Divine Victory of Hizbollah is a nine part series telling an unchallenged story that fuels resentment of
What has the potential to counter propaganda is a disruptive message, one that provides audiences with new material around which they can organize new meanings. The MNFIRAQ You Tube channel afforded the opportunity to do precisely that. The pragmatic complexity model would suggest that the