Collective Propaganda is ubiquitous in a modern democracy. Edward Bernays, the American nephew of Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud, utilized theories based on the unconscious suppression of hidden desires, compounded by the rigidity of societal cultural norms and the subsequent influence on the rational decision making process. A pioneer in public relations, Bernays (2005), stated succinctly his seminal work, Propaganda, “The whole basis of successful propaganda is to have an objective and then to endeavor to arrive at it through an exact knowledge of the public and modifying circumstances to manipulate and sway that public” (p. 112). This would coincide with Ellul’s notions concerning effective application in confronting contradictory and insurmountable difficulties. Ellul (1973) states concerning mobilization of an individual exposed to propaganda that the results illustrate, “that there is not necessarily any continuity between conviction and action and no intrinsic rationality in opinions or acts” (p. 28). Hence, effective and consistent manipulation of information within the totality of a predefined environment dissuades the creation of, “wise or reasonable men but proselytes and militants” (ibid).
This philosophical framework forms the basis for the overall defining elements of Information Operations and largely, Strategic Communication operations, two military concepts utilized as part of non-kinetic warfare. Since large scale, alteration of behavior is a primary objective; a diversity of approaches is utilized to achieve operational objectives. This would entail methods that transcend conventional aspects of warfare such as the tangible boundaries inherent in land, air and sea or cyberspace conflicts. As such, IO (Information Operations) must embrace the informational environment, which necessitates effective leveraging of content, its bearing on the cognitive and the role of connectivity, which enables information flow. In this regard, IO is an integrated function. When used in conjunction with conventional military operations, IO capabilities will “influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own” (U.S. Army, 2011, p. 5).
This parallels the philosophical premise advocated by social theorists such as Bernays, Ellul or Gustave Le Bon, the French social theorist whose influential work on crowd dynamics correctly identified the collective factors, which enable successful application of IO. “In the collective mind the intellectual aptitudes of the individuals, and in consequence their individuality, are weakened” (Le Bon, 2002, p. 6). Ellul (1973) further states, “Only within the limits of collective foci of interest can propaganda be effective” (p. 49). Consequently, IO operations with militarized objectives parallel domestic campaigns, which focus on elite models of media control in order to successfully, materialize.
Concepts such as Forest (2013) ideological absolutism provide a simple dialectical framework to support what Cialdini (2009) termed, judgmental heuristics or short cuts, enabling predictable behavioral patterns based on cultural stereotypes. PSYOP (Psychological Operations), an IO component made particular use of such theories concerning the effectiveness in collusion with traditional methods of war. One caveat, as Paul (2008) noted was white propaganda or truth based persuasion being more effective in comparison to black propaganda, which was based on misleading information (p. 11). This would correlate with Cialdini in regards to mechanistic and automatic behavior patterns. Since social scientists have identified these aspects of human behavior as universal across a vast cultural spectrum, its application with the realm IO, vis à vis Psychological Operations (PSYOP), Military Deception (MILDEC) and Operations Security (OPSEC) has historically been an invaluable element in perpetuating a war of ideals. In addition to the aforementioned core methods, both Public Diplomacy (PD) and Public Affairs (PA) are also integral components of IO with the latter addressing foreign audiences while the former affects the domestic sphere, albeit with somewhat dubious connotations reflective of the elite model, in which media collusion serves to perpetuate a politically motivated agenda.
Nevertheless, the media within a functioning democracy should facilitate discourse and debate on issues which exist within a pluralist framework. However, as Bernays (2005) stated, “Ours must be a leadership democracy administered by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide the masses” (p.114). As such, domestic operations in order to quell dissent or distract and dissuade has also been historically evident. This is reflected by various statesman both past and present such as Brzezinski, Walter Lippmann, and revealed by academics such as Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, especially in the seminal work, Manufacturing Consent.
In summation, the realm of strategic communication and IO incorporates a diversity of covert methods to coerce a target audience or adversary. The core elements incorporate centuries of philosophical theories concerning mass and individual behavior while contemporary operations incorporate sophisticated technologies under both Electronic Warfare (EW) and Computer Network Operations (CNO). Irrespective of methodology, all core capabilities are equally employed to achieve strategic goals and objectives. In simplistic terms, as Forest (2013) notes it is, “described as governments and non-state actors competing against each other to convince target audiences that they offer a more legitimate and credible vision of the future, and that they have a better ability to deliver that vision” (p. 18). This would entail “the ability to manipulate without the appearance of manipulation” (Cialdini, 2009, p. 12).
In addition, the core pillars of IO work in tandem with conventional military capabilities and as such, wider acceptance of its adoption is advocated by Leonhard (2000) in his efforts to reverse the anachronistic thinking of military planners who are proponents of an ethos based on “doctrine drives technology” (p. 6). Irrespective of these considerations, the IO environment composed of content, connectivity and cognition is reflected in what Ellul (1973) states concerning the symbiotic relationship defining propaganda or to a greater extent, IO as “psychological and physical action as inseparable elements” (p. 20).
Bernays, E., & Miller, M. (2005). Propaganda (1st ed.). Brooklyn, N.Y.: IG Publishing.
Cialdini, R. (2009). Influence: Science and Practice. Boston: Pearson.
Ellul, J., Kellen, K., & Lerner, J. (1973). Propaganda: The formation of men’s attitudes. New York: Vintage Books.
Forest, J. and Honkus, F. (2013). Influence Warfare: How Terrorists and Governments Fight to Shape Perceptions in a War of Ideas. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.
Le Bon, G. (2002). The Crowd (1st ed.). Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.
Leonhard, R. (2000). The Principles of War for the Information Age. Novato Press, Calif.
Paul, C. (2008). Information Operations: Doctrine and Practice. Westport, CT: Praeger.
U.S. Army. (2011). Information Operations Primer: Fundamentals of Information Operations.