Propaganda 2.0: Analysis of Iraqi Insurgent Media

Last week, analysts at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty released a 70 page analysis of the strategies, tactics, and messages of the Sunni insurgent propaganda campaign. It's the most interesting thing I've read in some time. Check out the full report, summary below, and listen above to an interview with one of the authors on NPR's On the Media.

The book-length report, "Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War Of Images And Ideas" by RFE/RL regional analysts Daniel Kimmage and Kathleen Ridolfo, provides an in-depth analysis of the media efforts of Sunni insurgents, who are responsible for the majority of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq. The popularity of online Iraqi Sunni insurgent media, the authors contend, reflects a genuine demand for their message in the Arab world. Kimmage and Ridolfo argue that the loss of coordination and message control that results from decentralization has revealed fundamental disagreements about Iraq's present and future between nationalist and global jihadist groups in Iraq and that these disagreements are ripe for exploitation by those interested in a liberal and democratic Iraq.

The report also finds that anti-Shi'ite hate speech is an increasingly prominent part of the insurgent message. With sectarian killings on the rise in Iraq, the tenor of invective points to the possibility of even greater bloodshed. A wealth of evidence shows that hate speech paved the way for genocide in Rwanda in 1994, for example.

Iraq's Sunni insurgency has developed a sophisticated media campaign to deliver its message over the Internet through daily press releases, weekly and monthly magazines, books, video clips, full-length films, countless websites, and even television stations. Part of the target audience for insurgent media projects are mainstream Arabic-language media, which often amplify the insurgent message to a mass audience.

The popularity of online Iraqi Sunni insurgent media, the authors contend, reflects a genuine demand for their message in the Arab world. A response, no matter how lavishly funded and cleverly produced, will not eliminate this demand. The authors argue that efforts to counter insurgent media should not focus on producing better propaganda than the insurgents, or trying to eliminate the demand for the insurgent message, but rather on exploiting the vulnerabilities of the insurgent media network.

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...exploiting the vulnerabilities of the insurgent media network.

Matt, could you please explain what these vulnerabilities are and how they could be exploited? Do they mean blowing up tv stations and hacking web sites?

The report concludes that no American backed communication campaign in Iraq or the Arab world will be able to counter the success of the insurgency's propaganda campaign. Instead of fighting messages with messages, they recommend trying to eliminate the actual communication platforms that the insurgents use, such as their Internet and telecommunications access etc.

they recommend trying to eliminate the actual communication platforms that the insurgents use, such as their Internet and telecommunications access etc.

Sounds like a reasonable plan of action to shut down their internet. This must be where the plural form comes in, because I often get confused when people speak of Teh Internets.

If somebody is preaching on a soapbox in your local park and you don't like his message, you sneak up behind him, kick out his soapbox, and punch his fuggin lights out.
You can learn more about framing and framing science at American University in Washington D.C.

By gerald spezio (not verified) on 20 Jul 2007 #permalink

Is this the same thing?

Pentagon tries to learn from Madison Avenue

The key to boosting the image and effectiveness of U.S. military operations around the world involves "shaping" both the product and the marketplace, and then establishing a new identity that places what you are selling in a positive light, said clinical psychologist Todd C. Helmus, the author of "Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation." The 211-page study, for which the U.S. Joint Forces Command paid the Rand Corp. $400,000, was released this week.

Helmus and his co-authors concluded that the "force" brand, which the United States peddled for the first few years of the occupation, was doomed from the start and has lost ground to enemies' competing brands. While not abandoning the more aggressive elements of warfare, the report suggested, a more attractive brand for the Iraqi people might have been "We will help you." That is what President Bush's new Iraq strategy is striving for as it focuses on establishing a protective U.S. troop presence in Baghdad neighborhoods, training Iraq's security forces, and encouraging the central and local governments to take the lead in making things better.
Wal-Mart's desired identity as a friendly shop where working-class customers can feel comfortable and find good value, for example, would be undercut if telephone operators and sales personnel had rude attitudes, or if the stores offered too much high-end merchandise. For the U.S. military and U.S. officials, understanding the target customer culture is equally critical.

Helmus recommends expanding military training to include shaping and branding concepts such as cultural awareness, and they underscore the perils of failing to understand your consumer.

Yeah, that. And letting the death squad dogs loose.

Might as well throw your hands up into the air, and fall back on that which works. Sort of half-assedly.