The Importance of New Media in Conflict


This article by Matt Armstrong (aka MountainRunner), published by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, was recommended by IRG member Tim Stevens.

Echoing many of the arguments put forward at the recent IRG conference on post-Maoist insurgency, it claims that information operations (IO) increasingly represent the vital ground in contemporary conflict. This is presented as a consequence of the fact that modern technology has collapsed traditional concepts of time and space, allowing insurgents to “leverage New Media to shape perceptions around the globe” in real time.

In response,

The U.S. military is actively and aggressively revising its role in shaping its own narrative in cyberspace, but this is falling short. While the U.S. is finally coming to grips with the centrality of information and perceptions, it remains confused as to how to use information effectively.

The ability of the US military to overcome this confusion and frame a coherent IO strategy is essential, however, since “capacity problems” at the State Department, and the disappearance of the United States Information Agency, have by default made the US military the “reluctant heir to the information throne in an online world.” Yet the military faces a number of “inherent challenges” in fulfilling the role it has inherited:

First, operating in the environment of New Media requires awareness and agility inconsistent with the current organizational culture of the military. For example, in Iraq the military broke through the bureaucratic red-tape and started posting videos on YouTube. However, this small “victory” was incomplete: the group that uploaded to YouTube was still not permitted to view YouTube. In effect, they were posting information they were not authorized to see.

These passive publications were without any or very little context and did not readily fit into larger and active narratives. On occasion these videos, such as those of Al-Qaeda recruiting child soldiers or using the mentally handicapped as human bombs, are released through sterile public affairs briefings because active management of information is considered “influence” and a violation of the “statutory responsibility to factually and accurately inform various publics without intent to propagandize or manipulate public opinion.” But not giving information the necessary context and inserting it into a synchronized narrative is self-muting in the New Media environment.

The U.S. might not be able to prevent our enemies from disseminating information, but we could and must engage them in the information sphere. Without engagement “actions are often abandoned to interpretation” and are left “hanging outside the narrative to be picked up.” Too often they are placed within a context of the listener’s choosing or risk cooption by a third-party to reinforce an alternative narrative.

Read the full article here.



One Response to “The Importance of New Media in Conflict”

  1. Reading: Synchronizing Information, New Media in Conflict « KuiperCliff Says:

    […] in Conflict Posted on March 19, 2008 by kuipercliff I’ve already posted this to the new Insurgency Research Group blog, but I wanted it here too. Matt Armstrong (MountainRunner) wrote a good piece, Synchronizing […]

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