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Archive for February, 2018

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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