US Special Operations messaging campaigns in the past have dropped leaflets and used loudspeakers to influence people. This "20th century approach" to messaging must change to incorporate "influence" operations "as an integral aspect of modern irregular warfare," says Andrew Knaggs, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Special Operations and Combating Terrorism.
The initiative to improve its public outreach efforts will require new partnerships "beyond traditional actors, throughout the world, through efforts to amplify voices of [non-governmental organizations]" and individuals who "bring transparency to malign activities of our competitors," Knaggs said at a defense industry conference, Military Times reports. Civilians who are rarely approached by US Special Operations Command will be required.
While 20th century messaging and influencing efforts used television and radio as mediums, SOCOM today is increasingly moving toward analyzing social media comments rapidly and translating comments from disparate languages on social media.
Rather than dropping "bombs" filled with leaflets over messaging target areas, the new focus for SOCOM is to develop and exploit technologies "that enable us to do more locally, rather than having an extended, highly robust logistical tale," the official noted.
Knaggs said that Washington's adversaries "can weaponize disinformation and propagate it to their advantage, undermining the democratic processes and deflecting blame for their malign activities… Rather than hiding from the transparency afforded by the 24-hour news cycle and pervasive social media, our adversaries embrace that cycle and use it to their advantage."
According to the report by Military Times, Knaggs did not elaborate what the vision was for SOCOM in the information war, but indicated that the process of modernizing the military's influence operations entailed scaling SOCOM's existing operations across other services.
Special operators have trained on trend analysis in social media domains and how to exert influence in those digital spaces, Federal News Network reported in April 2018.