Myriad actors attempt to shape the information environment for specific aims. The capabilities enabled through information communication technologies to those aiming to shape the information environment have far outstripped the general understanding of what can and is done through such pursuits. The gap between what is possible and what is generally understood about such techniques is exacerbated by a lack of terminology flexible enough to accurately describe how the information environment is shaped – a challenge particularly experienced by policymakers attempting to address threats associated with the shaping of the information environment.

Many terms are used to attempt to explain how the information environment is being shaped for specific outcomes. Terms like information operations, reflexive control, propaganda, mis- and dis-information, and fake news abound, but there is little consistency in usage, particularly in media coverage of the topic, and many of these words are also poorly defined or understood. Far from helping to foster a deeper understanding for how the information environment is shaped, such inconsistent usage leads to more confusion. At the same time, as more details come to light on how actors attempt to deliberately shape the information environment, pressure on governments and industry to do something about undesirable practices grows. Existing terms often lack the flexibility to create policy capable of tackling such threats, particularly at scale.

While increasing media coverage is dedicated to how information is used to influence target audiences, a common terminology for describing these activities is lacking. This paper offers a literature review of terms currently used by industry, government and media related to influence operations, analysing the challenges posed by many of these definitions for use in practical policy development, ultimately arguing for a broader definition of such.

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Source Publication

Wanless, Alicia and James Pamment. “How Do You Define a Problem Like Influence?” In Journal of Information Warfare, Special Edition, (Eds). James Pamment and Alicia Wanless, (2019).

Cover Image: Cover of the Soviet Radio Journal August 1961

About Author

La Generalista is the online identity of Alicia Wanless – a researcher and practitioner of strategic communications for social change in a Digital Age. Alicia is the director of the Partnership for Countering Influence Operations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. With a growing international multi-stakeholder community, the Partnership aims to foster evidence-based policymaking to counter threats within the information environment. Wanless is currently a PhD Researcher at King’s College London exploring how the information environment can be studied in similar ways to the physical environment. She is also a pre-doctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, and was a tech advisor to Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder. Her work has been featured in Lawfare, The National Interest, Foreign Policy, and CBC.

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