RAND Corporation has released a new report on the psychology and tactics of Russia’s information war strategy. Unlike the old Soviet days when a lie was repeated constantly as a way of making propaganda effective, today the propaganda can be contradicted constantly, so long as it shifts the views of audiences in a desired direction.
The RAND report, by Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews, is worth reading in full. One point that it makes, which I support strongly, is that Russian propaganda today is not simply Soviet-era ideas blended with the internet. Rather, [much of it]”is completely new and driven by the characteristics of the contemporary information environment.”
“Russia has taken advantage of technology and available media in ways that would have been inconceivable during the Cold War. Its tools and channels now include the Internet, social media, and the evolving landscape of professional and amateur journalism and media outlets,” the report states. [emphasis mine].
As I said before, Russia’s use of social media is a classic case of a second generation seeing a new use for an existing technology. In this case, the West invented social media, but Russia has employed it in a novel way. There is an analogy for Russia’s use of social media in the way early rappers repurposed vinyl records to “scratch” them and achieve entirely new musical possibilities. Or, going back further, how jazz musicians played instruments created for traditional genres of music in a new way, forming a new type of musical expression.
Russia’s social media-enhanced propaganda takes existing technology to a new place in the world of international politics. It gives Moscow a potent, powerful and extremely subtle tool to advance its goals in the domestic politics of other countries. This is no small thing.
There will be more on this to come.