CounterPropaganda · Cybersecurity · cyberwar · Information operations · Information Warfare · Propaganda

The Use And Abuse Of Information Terms – Solution?


I attended a conference this past week and I realized that the terminology of IO/IW/Propaganda/SC/PD and every other ‘information term’ is being abused. Seriously abused.

Some of the terms receiving serious abuse:

  • Information Operations
  • Information Warfare
  • Propaganda
  • Cyberwar/Cyberwarfare
  • Strategic Communications
  • Public Diplomacy
  • Disinformation
  • Misinformation
  • Malinformation

It was seriously disconcerting to hear cyber experts stating they were in an information war when they were referring to a cyber or cyber-enabled incident.

It hurt my brain when the term information operations was used interchangeably with cyberwar.

It caused me cognitive dissonance when participants used the term propaganda willy-nilly, for anything said or written with the intent of informing or changing an opinion or a behavior.

Someone asked me what the difference is between propaganda and advertising. I thought for a second and said “nothing”. Two hands instantly shot up to disagree/argue/discuss, both had good points. The difference, I admitted, is the target audience, and the intent.

My presentation ran WAY over my allotted time, the questions kept coming, nonstop. The questions were insightful, showed a deep interest in the subject, and highlighted that very intelligent people with multiple backgrounds were just as confused about these terms as I am. The difference is that I normally shake my head in disgust or in dismay, or groan in agony. My frustration is palpable.

The world’s foremost expert in propaganda, in my opinion, is Dr. Emma Briant, who spoke the day before I did and profusely apologized to me that she had to leave early and attend to another matter. In some ways that was a blessing, as she and I have had several discussions about the definition of propaganda, who does it, and why. We both lose, every time we discuss the issue. Okay, okay, perhaps I win, at least in my mind.

At least two pro-Russian writers have accused me of being a prolific propagandist. Both have reached into my ancient writings, presented them way out of context, and lied about my intentions, my work, and even my background. Whether their actions could be propaganda versus disinformation is a separate matter, but I cited their work during my discussion.

I actually began a feeding frenzy in a ‘Cyberwar vs. Information Warfare’ panel discussion. I asked one panelist “why” and then “how” when he suggested a discussion needs to be held about definitions, terms, lanes of the road, and recommended actions. I continued feeding the feeding frenzy, on purpose, because I strongly feel the discussion needs to be held at the national level. In this regard the EU is way ahead of the United States, they just commit and hold those discussions.

The question is how do “we the people” establish official definitions, terms, and establish actions which need to be taken?  The official answer is to contact our elected officials. The problem is ‘we the people’ do not have a voter’s bloc, nor do not have tons of sponsorship/election money, nor can we wait two years. We do, however, represent the key to solving a national security dilemma, which the government seems incapable of solving, nor does the government appear to be drawn to finding a solution.

We know the cyber community coalesced behind a NIST-sponsored series of discussions.

How might the larger information community come together to discuss, define, and solve our information related problems?

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