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Fox News, Information Warfare, and Public Perception

By Rich

Despite living in Boulder Colorado for 16 years I’m neither a hippie nor a conspiracy theorist. I don’t use patchouli oil, wear a beanie, or ingest any mood-altering substances you can’t buy in a grocery store. I don’t think the Masons control our destiny, black helicopters molest cattle, or the NSA monitors all our communications. Oh, really? Okay, but the cattle thing definitely isn’t real. Except maybe in Nebraska, but that’s not the CIA, not that there’s anything wrong with it…

Anyway, what I’m saying is that I’m fairly skeptical, if a tad on the D side of the political game.

But after seeing Fox (and the AP) on this Foley Congressional page thing, I’m really starting to wonder.

Wikipedia defines information warfare as:

Information warfare is the use and management of information in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent. Information warfare may involve collection of tactical information, assurance that one’s own information is valid, spreading of propaganda or disinformation among the enemy, undermining the quality of opposing force information and denial of information collection opportunities to opposing forces.

Information warfare consists of three broad goals. Controlling the opponent’s access to information, securing your own lines of information (and communication), and using disinformation to create confusion, control opponent actions, and, basically, control the brains of the conflict (including civilians).

I’ve never been a fan of Fox news. Actually, I’m not the biggest fan of any news station these days, and refuse to watch local news (unless I’m on it, of course). But I always figured even Fox has a shred of objectivity. And they can’t really be in some big conspiracy with the GOP and Diebold, can they? It’s just about ratings, isn’t it?

If you’re only a tad paranoid, their latest actions just might sound like information warfare. As the scandal around Representative Mark Foley hit the news cycle Fox repeatedly identified him as a Democrat.

Huh?

Yep- as reported on BoingBoing Fox news identified, on screen, Mark Foley as a Democrat, not a Republican. Since probably very few Americans can tell you how many representatives are in Congress, never mind who they are and their party affiliations, it might, just might, lead some to believe that it’s the Dems running around hitting on underage boys.

200610041059

200610041218

(from BoingBoing.net)

That, my friends, is a classic use of information warfare. At least if it’s on purpose, but since there have been three reports, no corrections, and one instance was on a show recorded hours before air, it’s reasonable to assume that if it’s not on purpose, there’s a distinct lack of contrition over such a major mistake.

So let’s look into the security implications, since this is a security site.

The mass media has more power to sway public opinion than any other single source of information. Disinformation is a core principle of information warfare. Spammers use it to pump stock prices. Hackers use it to access your systems. Competitors set up false blogs to ruin your corporate reputation. Heck, some vendors try and leverage us industry analysts in their information warfare strategies.

All of this is a form of information warfare, we’re just not always willing to admit it.

Information warriors know that compromising mass media is one of the single most effective techniques, as long as you don’t get caught. All it takes is a few seeds of doubt to sway public opinion. If those seeds are true, it’s just good public relations; if they’re false, it’s information warfare.

The best information warfare takes a kernel of believable truth, like some Congressman hitting on an underage employee, and salts it with just the slightest disinformation, like mistakingly listing him as a member of the wrong party in on-air graphics. Outright lies are rarely as effective as the slight lemon twist because without a foundation of credibility they are immediately dismissed by the mass majority.

Disinformation is most effective when most of it is just information.

Which brings us back to Fox. One mistake I could accept; these things happen. I could even understand that same mistake multiple times in the same broadcast. But different times, in different broadcasts, including prepared material? That stretches credibility.

Bias in media is pretty bad, but hard to eliminate. Outright disinformation? Now that’s classic information warfare.

Besides, we all know Democrats stick with inte s. At least they’re over 18…

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Comments

Rich:

You might this interesting:

http://www.cjrdaily.org/politics/theres_no_conspiracy_behind_an.php

By bkwatch


First- thanks to scalefree for both the reference, and highlighting a WordPress bug. By accidentally leaving the close to your link off, the entire comments section became a hotlink to to that prwatch article! Should be fixed now, VERY interesting.

I do try and avoid politics on this site and I appreciate the support for a borderline-political post.

Bkwatch brings up an interesting principle some of my coworkers call "counterfeit reality". Basically, if you can control the information feed you can craft a reality. In some cases that virtual reality might collide with shared reality, but I’‘d argue that the Internet allows these virtual views to to persist indefinitely.

The Internet allows those with fringe views to connect and isolate themselves in ways like never before. Pretty scary once all the group think and self validation sets in. Contradictory evidence is filtered or ignored, only that with reinforces desired positions is included.

Fox is one of the first major news outlets (in current times) to pick and support a particular world view. Don’‘t think I’‘m comparing it to Internet nutters, but it does allow reinforcement without contradiction. Of course the Right would claim CNN and the NYT do the same for the left, but statistical analysis does tend to show less skewing in those sources.

Then again, maybe that’s just what I want to believe and I read the NYT to support it.

Nah, can’‘t be that.

By rmogull


You ahould read <a href=\"http://www.prwatch.org/documents/truth.pdf\" rel=\"nofollow\" rel="nofollow">Truth From These Podia: Summary of a Study of Strategic Influence, Perception Management, Strateegic Information Warfare and Strategic Psychological Operations in Gulf II</a> by Col. Sam Gardiner, USAF (Ret.)  He\‘s taught Information Warfare at the National War College, so he\‘s no random crank.  The thesis of the paper is that the Bush administration directed a campaign of propaganda, disinformation & influence at the American public to create support for the Iraq war.  He makes a very persuasive case, getting very detailed & measuring specific elements to demonstrate a causal relationship between actions & responses.  Check it out.

By scalefree


Rich,

I can’‘t buy this sentence:

Information warriors know that compromising mass media is one of the single most effective techniques, as long as you don’t get caught.

Not just BoingBoing, but The Daily Show called Fox on this too. It seems obvious they’‘ve been caught. Now the question is what are the repercussions. Based on the fact that this is on Securosis, TDS, & BB vs. the NY Times, I’‘d say they’‘re getting away with it *despite* being caught. This is part of the fragmentation of our popular culture/community—a group of people believes Fox (is innocent), and another group of people believes Fox is a distorted political action broadsheet. I don’‘t see anything changing, aside from both sides becoming marginally more polarized.

I think the moral of the story is that you might be able to get more mileage out of the smear campaign (Swift Boat Veterans, anyone?), even if you expect to get caught. If this was deliberate on Fox’‘s/O’‘Reilly’s part, they didn’‘t expect nobody to notice…

—cp

By reppep


umm, and manipulating the media to think you have a hack on the native airport drivers is any different ... ;-)


The issue is one of virtual reality colliding with our shared reality.  People who watch Fox live in a virtual world.  At some point they will start to see some data that suggests their virtual worldview is flawed.  Then they will find another news source.

However, I don’‘t this incident will do it. Too easy to claim a an honests mistake. The claim of the IMs being "a prank" is more likely to have some traction with Fox viewers and cause them to disbeleive Fox a bit more.

http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/jbalkin/articles/media01.htm’,

By bkwatch


Rich - I am glad you blogged this. I saw this on boing boing as well, but generally try to stay out of politics. If CNN had done this, mislabeling a dem as a republican they would be screaming bloody murder. I really think it only confirms that Fox and their cronies use least common denominator type of tricks like this and prey on the less sophisticated to steal the vote and their hearts and minds.

By ashimmy


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