In a way I’ve been studying Information Operations (info-ops, or IO) and Psychological Operations (PSYOP) all my life. We all have – particularly if you grew up in the marketing-saturated post-World War II United States. But I also started reading intently about those practices when I first worked at the Cold War Pentagon in the mid-1980s.
Those two terms have specific meanings in a military and international-relations context. The Pentagon’s official doctrinal definitions can be found in Joint Publication 3-13, “Information Operations” (updated in 2006) and in Joint Pub 3-53 “Doctrine for Joint Psychological Operations” (dating back to 2003). They make plain that PSYOP is one of “five core IO capabilities: electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, operations security, and military deception.” As the latter manual states, “The overall function of PSYOP is to cause selected foreign audiences to take actions favorable to the objectives of the United States and its allies or coalition partners” (page xii).
There are plenty of military examples from ancient times to modern, including mass-market broadcast propaganda and information activities through leafletting, radio, and other means. In a now-well-known modern example, why did so many Iraqi military commanders give up quickly in the first hours of the 2003 U.S./allied invasion? Because they were SMS-spammed into surrendering. According to Jane’s Defence Weekly of 30 April 2003, cited in the U.K. Parliamentary inquiry report into the decision to go to war, “The targeting of individual Iraqi commanders with mobile phone text messages demonstrated the extent to which it [psyops campaign] was underpinned by new thinking.”
But I was struck last week by another interesting example of new thinking – this time not from the world of military operations, but the more prosaic world of 10-percent unemployment in which Americans have to be creative to land a job. A few days ago, this short video popped up on YouTube:
While there’s nothing deceptive about this example, it is also no stretch to imagine that the other core capabilities in IO (CNO, network-borne spoofing, phishing, and deception) are beginning to take advantage of the Internet’s pervasiveness to offer more powerful, sometimes more subtle but effective PSYOP uses, thanks to the network-effect of global Internet connectivity and information immersion. And just as this enterprising job-seeker found, a bit of research, planning, and creative targeting can be used with impressive results – all without firing a shot… or in this case without hiring a career consultant. Expect similar offbeat Internet approaches to be used more and more frequently in targeted messaging for pre-hostility military operations, intelligence activities, international diplomacy, political campaigns of course, and it goes without saying for product marketing. In a world of vanity searches and AdWords, that’s unavoidable.
I would be interested in any thoughts you have sparked by the Google Job Experiment and its implications for work, war, and social networks.
Filed under: Government, Society, Technology Tagged: | Cold War, Defense, Defense Department, Department of Defense, DoD, Google, info-ops, information, information operations, Jane's, JDW, military, Parliament, Pentagon, psychological operations, psychology, PSYOP