US Military Fighting Insurgents on Social Media

A USA Today article (reprinted at Stars and Stripes) takes an interesting look at the US military’s war “front” on social media.  The topic is obviously how it deals with the enemy who attempts to use social media to its advantage; the application to the military’s “domestic” issues, however, is intriguing [emphasis added]:

Websites associated with militant groups typically take responsibility for attacks whether or not they had anything to do with them.

But most of the information they provide is either exaggerated or false

“Insurgents have always wanted to make themselves look like winners,” [RAND analyst Christopher] Paul said. “The Internet makes it a whole lot easier.”

Winning the information war is particularly important in insurgencies, where shaping public opinion can count as much as what happens on the battlefield.

The Taliban and other militant groups issue statements and video to create a perception of chaos in the country and to undermine the legitimacy of the Afghan government.

The more aggressive approach seems to be working. Increasingly, local media are seeking out the coalition for its side of the story and eying Taliban claims more skeptically than in the past, the military said.

Unlike efforts by some critics, there will be no attempt here to morally equate the Taliban or al Qaeda with American citizens.  However, the US military’s treatment of their public relations campaigns bears comparison.

For example, Michael Weinstein — who describes himself as “militant” — has been known to take credit for “huge victories” of religious issues in the US military — when in fact he had nothing to do with it.  His claims are frequently exaggerated and arguably false.  He has repeatedly painted himself as a winner on the internet — despite losing all five of his lawsuits in court.  (He simultaneously paints himself as a persecuted victim, apparently ignoring the cognitive dissonance to bring in more donations.)

As Weinstein knows, public opinion can be more important than what actually happens, which is why he has been smarting from the recent criticisms by Congress, and is (again) happily taking credit for single-handedly influencing US Air Force policy (while, again, simultaneously claiming he is but a lowly, underfunded martyr for freedom).

Weinstein “issues statements and videos to create a perception” of a problem of religion in the US military — even intentionally misrepresenting the facts to do so, as he did when he presented a Chaplain’s chapel sermon as illegal or impermissible.

Finally, a “more aggressive approach” by the US military has largely worked in Weinstein’s self-declared “war” on the American military institution.  The US Air Force Academy stands as the best example so far, as when Superintendent LtGen Mike Gould took an offensive stance with Weinstein — refusing to grant his accusations validity, and defending the virtues of the military environment — which essentially shut Weinstein down.  Even the local press has viewed Weinstein now more as a “miffed critic” with an axe to grind rather than the advocate of a legitimate cause.

Weinstein declared “war” — his words — several years ago.  It should be no surprise his social media and public relations techniques should be similar to other aggressors.  It should also be no surprise that a similar military response would be effective.