Arab Spring: Blood and Destruction by Image Manipulation

The wars of the future will be (and already are) Long Psywars and Infowars, using the same techniques as traditional advertising, marketing and applied psychology. And in psychology as in war, those who strike first, strike twice

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The author is an Italian industrialist and honorary member of the Academy of Science of the Institut de France

As Aeschylus said: “In war, truth is the first casualty”. But according to Nietzsche, every civilization has its own truth, or rather its "myth of truth”, so how can we apply our non-empirical concept of truth to the war in Syria, which is basically the battle for hegemony in the Middle East?

First, by studying social media. Obfuscating both "concealment", and “disclosure", Information Operations’ (IO) is a peer-to-peer process, and in contemporary warfare, the Web is its true agent, downplaying facts and their relevance. A piece of information on the Web generates a recall effect that intimidates opponents better than the old media.

The face of a beautiful Afghan girl made the US intervention psychologically possible, and recently, we learned that one operator can simultaneously manipulate a dozen trolls.  Social media’s peer-to-peer process conceals truth, or mixes truth and falsehood.

The spread of undesired news is prevented through a distributed denial of service (DDoS) or hacking. Data can also be slowed down, and a state can spread irrelevant but not false signals, similar to "noise" in traditional networks. It can denigrate an adversary’s sites, threaten Facebook accounts, use filters, manage search engines, manipulate Wikipedia and spread political, strategic and military lies. Governments and terrorist or Mafia organizations can also prioritize messages, since readers attach more importance to the first than the last post.

Other manipulations are blaming, falsification, labelling, stoking fear, the “opinion" of the Author, the Authority or the Experts, relativization, demonization, manipulated videos and ad hoc images. The first pictures of the “riots” against President Assad in Syria were actually regime rallies from which violence had been removed.

Web war is a great strategic equalizer, a mass mobilizer and finally an extraordinary element of pressure on military and economic decision-makers sensitive to public opinion.

ISIS uses Twitter because it best conceals the identity of "texters", while Friendica, Quitter and Diaspora quickly closed the Caliphate’s accounts. Through a Google Play website called "Dawn of Glad Tidings," the Caliphate reaches the Android platform, which it also uses for internal communications and propaganda toward young Islamists in the West. these latter functions almost overlap, while videos of beheadings convey the message that the Caliphate fears no adversary and will destroy the West."Quotations” are signals for unforeseeable actions equal to those in videos.

The Assad regime fell as the other Arab countries’ were involved in the "Arab spring". In Libya, relatives of detainees gathered in front of the Benghazi prison to protest the treatment of their loved ones. When activists of the "Libyan League for Human Rights” demonstrated against Gaddafi, the police reacted immediately, filming everything, while the French government dispatched a submarine carrying a DGSE contingent to the coast of Cyrenaica to support the insurgency.

In Tunisia, the rebellion erupted in various cities via the Web, amplifying the belated reaction of the Ben Ali regime. In Egypt, it was thanks to social media that the ranks of Tahrir Square insurgents swelled after the first demonstration against Mubarak’s government.

In Syria, the first activists against Bashar al-Assad’s  regime were organized through videos on YouTube and via the hashtag (MAR15) with the image of a small, non-violent protest. When the Syrian  government arrested a few young people in Deraa for tagging President Assad, web messages were amplified by references and comments. Al Jazeera used videos posted by insurgents on YouTube, while the only two Western journalists operating in Syria remained far from the action. 

Videos on social networks showed groups competing to recruit new militants, and the most disturbing showed a rebel commander eating an enemy’s lung or the corpses of children supposedly killed by Assad's gas, evoking the 1982 Hama massacre when his father quashed a revolt of the Muslim Brotherhood with nerve gas.

This storytelling portrayed a non-violent, pro-Western revolution, while Assad reacted by accurately reporting that the Syrian Spring was funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The main impact on both the old and new media was the children supposedly killed by Bashar’s gas, while his rational political message could not have the same effect.

When the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in London, and funded by Saudi Arabia, was alerted, the Sham News Network was created to distribute manipulated official videos, news and data, the only source of information for Western newspapers and networks.The Syrian Electronic Army intervened on the government’s side, launching DDoS attacks and hacking opposition and social networks, but too late. The opposition’s storytelling had already gained the upper hand in the minds of the Western media and public.

Before the first Western journalists arrived in Syria, a network “authenticating" the insurgents’ messages was created by well-known Arab journalists who vouchsafed the videos shot and manipulated by the Syrian rebels. The English-speaking Twitter-sphere quotes President Obama or NATO, while its Arabic-speaking counterpart magnifies insurgent operations on the ground.

The wars of the future will be Long Psywars and Infowars, using the same techniques as traditional advertising, marketing and applied psychology, and in psychology as in war, those who strike first, strike twice.


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