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Russia has been engaging in information warfare for a very long time. The recent U.S. Justice Department indictment of three Russian organizations and 13 Russian agents for meddling in the 2016 presidential election is a clear explanation of the destructive intentions of fake news.

Russia’s goals: Hurt the Clinton campaign; promote the Trump campaign ; divide and inflame voters on issues such as race, healthcare, police, climate change, etc.; and undermine general voter confidence in American democracy.

Let me first unpack what this indictment is and is not. It is only about social media attacks. It is not about the impact of computer hacking and WikiLeaks on the election. It does not address the potential “obstruction of justice’ issue. And it does not address “witting” campaign”collusion” with Russians, or potential blackmail situations. Each of these are separate investigations, and will be addressed by special counsel later.

The thirty-seven page indictment does, however, describe how “fake news” is generated and where it is placed in social media platforms:

  • Positive and negative advertising, as well as divisive messages (often made-up lies), were placed inside Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and other social media platforms. Some platforms have added news features which have been compromised.
  • “Theme pages” were created to distribute misinformation to special interest groups, i.e. Islam, Healthcare, Pro-life, etc.
  • Individual U.S. citizen identities were stolen with thousands of divisive and anger-producing messages sent from them, using an automated feature called “bots.” Fictitious identities were also created and used in the same way.
  • Russians also collaborated on campaign initiatives with “unwitting” Trump campaign people, who were apparently unaware they were working with Russians.
  • Russian agents also came to the U.S. and staged separate campaigns, heckled rallies, and sought out unknowing but sympathetic American collaborators.
  • And of course many of these ads, messages and staged events were picked up and reported as real news by the mainstream and 24/7 cable media.
  • It is reported that Russian information warfare in ongoing, and following the recent school shooting is now focused on support for gun rights.

This indictment provides solid information to help us understand social media warfare no matter what country it emanates from. Russia has been perfecting their techniques for years in Europe, and is highly experienced at infiltrating political systems long before political campaigns begin. They offer politicians and government officials  real estate deals in Russia, buy property in their target countries, and watch for opportunities to set up individual blackmail traps.

A report titled “The Kremlin Playbook” is available at The Center for Strategic and International Studies (csis.org) in Washington. It is an eye-opening read and provides more details on how Russians wage information warfare.

When nations, institutions, and their leaders use social media platforms such as twitter to spread disinformation, and then spread more confusion by attacking otherwise trustworthy journalists as fake news, civil society will simply cease to exist.

 

 

 

 

 

In our 24/7 emotionally charged media intensive and divisive society, can an increase in violent citizen behavior become encouraged by the tone and style of top leadership?

Here are a few leadership communication dynamics lessons:

Anger begets anger… My rocket is bigger than yours. My military parade is more intimidating than yours. My language is crude and belligerent and you can talk that way too. I can bully people, and watch me to see how to do it. Or, I can threaten violence, and you might be able to justify it sometimes too.

Give yourself some politically neutral space and it becomes pretty clear that mean-spirited behavior can multiply many times over in followers. Call someone an enemy and they will likely become dangerous. Lead with an intolerant personality and you will likely increase intolerance overall.

Lies beget more lies. Cheating begets more cheating. An extravagant leader in lifestyle spending models and encourages that in others. Make promises you can’t deliver on, and your colleagues will too. And all this encourages a preferred social class that squeezes the sense of well-being out of others.

What’s most dangerous is that an arrogant air of superiority in a leader can produce a fantasy movie-like image of an “outlaw (reality show) celebrity.” Those who are moved to model that behavior might seek that same kind of celebrity by attacking violently, or shooting up a school.

More and more and bigger and bigger guns become a part of the culture in a nation growing in intolerant extremes. And that is where outlawing military style automatic weapons in the hands of citizens in no way harms hunting or personal protection, and is therefore not a violation of the second amendment. It is only devastating to the profits of their manufacturers.

On the other hand, tolerance, empathy, and fairness are also contagious qualities of leadership. Why, you ask, would anyone think Oprah would make a good president?  In this climate that’s simple. They think she would be fair, bring people together, surround herself with real professionals, and quickly learn what she does not know about the job. Right now that “trumps” what we have.

The simple laptop accelerated the development of global markets and enabled those who knew how to use technology to become competitive from any place in the world. As a result, globalization has become an established fact, and political ideologues have had little to do with it. It’s mostly about technology and economics.

  1. The digital technology revolution changed the speed and direction of the international economy which rapidly changed the dynamics, relationships and opportunities of businesses, institutions and nations.
  2. Even the smallest businesses and institutions now could easily find foreign customers and clients… and thereby become global enterprises that are not limited by borders.
  3. Admittedly many companies that move operations and plants to other countries are seeking cheaper labor. But many are also becoming global businesses, ones that operate beyond the boundaries of their countries.
  4. As a consequence most of these companies will not return. And those that do will automate rather than replace lost jobs.
  5. Like it or not, governments and institutions are already operating in a global economy. Their futures will be shaped more by unavoidable economic forces than by the whims of individual autocrats. Professional diplomacy between governments and public diplomacy between citizens and organizations are absolutely essential in such a world.
  6. It is true that President Trump’s base has not benefited enough from this global economy, and this has been ignored by the majority of a polarized and politicized Washington.
  7. But more focus on community college education and better training programs for a technology driven world are the only viable solutions. Therefore, supporting training and education budgets with adequate resources is the most productive thing Washington can do now.
  8. As higher education becomes a global industry, international leadership development, better cross-cultural understanding, and the soft-power of citizen diplomacy will gradually produce a wiser world. Many institutions will also find themselves focusing more of their research and consulting talent on solving global problems… big problems such as poverty, disease, climate change, clean energy, water shortage, space exploration, nation rebuilding, and many more.

Reopening old coal mines, bringing back assembly lines, expanding offshore oil and gas exploration, eliminating clean air and water regulations, closing borders, selling off national parks, and restricting trade… none of these are viable solutions in a technology driven world. Rather the future will be in preparing, educating, and training American citizens for a completely new and digitally transforming world economy.

Strategic use of media provides effective tools for finding and communicating an authentic brand identity and clarifying competitive advantage for both institutions and nations. But media tools can also turn rogue and be used to literally destroy the credibility of an opponent. Such unbridled nastiness is currently infecting our political parties, where winning at all cost has become the dominating purpose.

Attacking opponents begins with cherry picking bits and pieces of information specifically to raise questions about an adversary’s integrity. Then endlessly repeating those bits and pieces creates an overall conspiracy aura that begins to sound true… much the same as outright lies begin to sound true in today’s confused world. What’s tragic is that the truly transparent institutions are the ones that make themselves most vulnerable to this kind of cherry picking.

Right now in Washington a group of mean-spirited legislators, obviously concerned about the eventual outcome of an investigation of the president, have constructed a document specifically designed to destroy the credibility of the investigators. Whether or not this is a clever military-style initiative or a totally immoral act depends on where you stand on the issue of “ends justifying means.”

Making matters more dangerous, the most nasty of strategic attackers will poison the situation by adding conspiracy-reinforcing terminology. For example, hearing that a few investigative staffers were meeting after work one current legislative attacker used the term “secret society.” Use of misleading and inflammatory language such as this is the height of strategic “dirty tricks,” and is deceitful and dangerous.

Sadly, average citizens are likely to be seduced by the daily news media input they have chosen. And there are hundreds media platforms today that are not fact checked and have consistent biases. A few may even join in generating fake news because doing so advances their own political agenda or commercial goals.

Finding reliable information in today’s clutter and confusion is all but impossible. It takes time and persistence. Maybe widespread media literacy and civics education in schools and community organizations is necessary to help news consumers read, listen, watch, and form opinions more skillfully. One thing is certain: There is much more clutter and confusion to come.

A colleague once pointed out to me that the state of the presidency is the state of the union. If true, what kind of presidency do we have after year one?

A noted history scholar recently wrote to me that many conservative thinkers over the years actually had no problem with autocrats. They believed that firm control was required to implement needed change, and that democratic processes often lead to endless discussions and too much uncertainty. So do we have a collaborative and inclusive president or one headed toward the firm control of an autocracy?

I remember reading about business people who were interviewed after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Many noted that as long as they did not challenge him they were free to operate their businesses as they wished, and prospered. They actually preferred that to the chaos after the war. But others disagreed, noting that Hussein’s dictatorship lacked basic human justice and was well on its way to self-destruction.

Another colleague compared what we have now in the US to what happened in Germany in the 1930’s. Hitler recognized that the needs of a substantial number of Germans were not being addressed. His promise to address those needs had strong appeal. And while hints of racism were noticeable, it seemed far-fetched to think he would or could ever act on them. But he did.

It’s always likely that many conservative thinkers and politicians will prefer strong leadership control to bring about needed change. It’s also always true that many others will think that social collaboration and teamwork are necessary to advance American constitutional values and meet the needs of society as a whole. And, of course, there always is the simple matter of personal character, behavior, and stability vs. the end justifies the means.

So, if how goes the presidency is how goes the union: After year one, what kind of presidency do we have?

This is a good time to scroll down and read (or reread) Lesson 413:  Ten Steps To An Autocracy. And Lesson 404: Daily Attacks On Institutions Weakens Nations.

 

Republicans and Democrats are talking mostly to themselves. Issues debates are about one party appearing to win out over the other. And in such situations the best interest of the country becomes secondary. Ideology trumps rationality.

The current shutdown debate contains too many different issues. The outcome is a mess which no outside observer can understand. Each of these issues should have been addressed earlier, separately, and rationally. But we are learning that rational problem-solving is virtually impossible in a one party dominated congress, even though conventional wisdom might suggest otherwise. And we also have a president who makes the situation worse by choosing disruption and chaos over unifying leadership.

More statesman-like progress was possible back in the day when both parties were more evenly represented and presidents were more rational. Granted, sometimes shutdowns occurred. But back then elected officials moved their whole families to Washington. Spouses and children got to know each other in schools and grocery stores. And people from both parties got to know and like each other at weekend social events. The result was that cross-party friendships developed into more bipartisan cooperation. And in such a setting the reason for any shutdown was more clear, and what could stop it was as well.

Most legislators now spend no more than 4 days each week in Washington. Much of that time is spent on the phone raising money. Then, it’s off to home over the weekend to schmooze with big donors. This pattern has grown into a meanness of spirit and polarization that has overtaken Washington. The outcome is that these people simply don’t like each other very much. Debates are brutal, and win-win outcomes are all but impossible.

Most of us know that in the real world complex problem-solving is a grey area endeavor. The best solutions are always the result of bringing the most informed and talented experts together in a give-and-take process. And while initial solutions are rarely final, fixes can always be found later. After all, what organization or business could function very long if extreme ideology disputes constantly paralyzed rational decision-making rendering incremental progress impossible?

Revolutions in media have changed how basic communication works. They have also changed the fundamental dynamics of leadership. I spent most of 50 years working for or with leaders of institutions. Many were presidents, chancellors, and CEO’s of major universities. And for a good portion of that time I also worked with legislative and government leaders to influence their policy decisions. Here are the basic lessons I learned:

  1. True leaders talk about immediate problems within a larger framework of shared values and service to humanity. In politics, they know that it’s only when governing that successful ways forward can be found on such issues as infrastructure, healthcare, global warming, energy, trade, and immigration.
  2. Effective campaigning and governing are two separate endeavors. Political campaigns are about party ideology. Governing is about statesmanship and a determination to find win-win solutions. True leadership is the ability to define a higher road for both. This means incorporating ideas about human values, freedom, justice, and the higher calling of public service.
  3. True leadership is also about possessing empathy and the ability to express it. This demonstrates a deeper understanding of people’s needs and how to use that understanding to unify an institution or country.
  4. Even in business true leaders will usually have strong character traits linked to a passion for making a significant difference for the society as a whole. And they will use this link to attract equally passionate supporters.
  5. In addition, true leaders know that their enterprises must become “learning organizations.” A learning organization is one that provides courses, seminars, and group experiences so that people at all levels can stay on the cutting edge of their professions. The organization that learns the most succeeds the most.
  6. True leaders do NOT engage in fear-mongering. Playing to fears divides people and encourages anger and violence. This kind of negative environment will often lead to bold promises that never see the light of day.
  7. And true leaders will NOT base their leadership style on degrading past decisions and people. Constantly pointing out what’s wrong with the news media, government, other institutions, or predecessors is simply counterproductive. Attacking predecessors not only divides… it makes permanent enemies. Attacking journalism has always been ineffective… consider the Pentagon Papers and Richard Nixon. And attacking government in general makes it all but impossible to improve the services that everyone knows to be essential.

Social media and 24/7 cable news have created a whole new communication landscape. And it’s not about whether or not to tweet. Rather it’s about the quality of the message and person behind it. It’s about cutting through lies, clutter, and confusion with messages that enlighten, unify, and inspire. And finally, it’s about separating the true leaders from the would-be autocrats. One can only imagine how Martin Luther King, Jr. would deal with the disruptions of the digital world… and the president who claims to be making America great again with his tweets.