Special Report

Integrating Information Activities into Training

This report draws from a talk prepared and delivered by Alicia Wanless at the 40th Multi National Information Operations Experiment Workshop in Germany on 7 April 2018. The aim of this paper is to help militaries integrating information activities into training exercises, recommending nine key points for enhancement. The recommendations put forward are based, in part, on several consecutive research projects related to propaganda and the information environment (and outlined here insomuch as they directly contribute), as well as the authors' experience applying that knowledge to training exercises and in strategic communications campaigns.


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Key Points

  1. Understand – don't denigrate – your target audience. Understanding an audience is crucial for achieving a communicator's objective. A lack of understanding about what drives an audience makes replicating realistic behavior difficult in a training exercise. Likewise, poor understanding decreases capabilities for winning hearts and minds. A greater integration of socio-cultural and linguistic specialists representing all 'target audiences' in training exercises will help better prepare the training audience.
  2. It's not just about you. A tendency to focus only on the mission reduces contextualized awareness for the greater strategic operating environment that ultimately affects mission success. Training for an information age must consider the wider context, domestic, international and in theatre of operations, to better prepare and look beyond just the military and its strictly defined role.
  3. It's personal – don't be so nice. The training audience must be prepared for everything that will be thrown at them in an information conflict, including personal attacks. Avoiding such activities for fear of failure or hurt feelings does a disservice in preparing training audiences for real events.
  4. You can't control the message.Every message and action will be distorted by an adversary to their benefit, to not just win hearts and minds within the conflict region, but also to disrupt decision-making and support for campaigns at home. Outgoing, as well as incoming, communications must be an aspect of integrated information activities in exercises.
  5. The public has a role. In a liberal democracy public perception shapes political decision-making – and, in turn, the range of options open to military. This dynamic power relationship must be incorporated into training to better prepare militaries to cope with the new information environment.
  6. Consistency is key – but so is community. Cutting through the noise of the information environment requires supporters. The democratic alternative to deceptive tactics, such as botnets and astroturfing, is community-building that fosters a genuine chorus of supporters, by being supportive of them first. Testing training audiences on such tactics is required.
  7. Information underlies every action. In societies where information communication technologies underpin everything that is done, information is an aspect of every action taken. When a mission is underway, adversarial propaganda will push information to domestic audiences aiming to erode support for it. Allied activities such as exercises, troop movements, or surveillance will be interpreted as aggressive, questioning the nature of the mission. Accidents, loss of life, terrorist attacks, economic considerations or else – all will be spun to cause doubt and erode support. Essentially, every step or event of every exercise has an informational layer – and this needs to be reflect in training scenarios at the planning phase.
  8. There are no clean slates.The information environment is primed and dynamic – it does not refresh with the start of a mission. Interconnected networks of websites, communities and influencers are continuously active and ready to respond to the next issue that arises. Training needs to reflect this existing and changing information environment.
  9. It's not about the platforms – it's about resilience. Fake tanks aren't brought into a table top training exercise, so why are pale copies of social network platforms? Focus on specific social network or other online platforms in solutions in exercises is misleading. Ultimately, the best defense in information warfare is resilience — the ability of operators to critically assess a dynamic information environment where everything is not always what it seems and manage the identified risks to ensure mission success. Technology can be used to automate the process of training, using a decision-tree approach to testing a training audience's response to information activities, but this should not aim to replicate the information environment, but streamline information activities within the exercise itself.

Cover Image: British propaganda poster entitled “Syphilis. All of these men have it. Women: Stay away from dance halls”, 1944

About Author

Alicia Wanless

La Generalista is the online identity of Alicia Wanless – a researcher and practitioner of strategic communications for social change in a Digital Age. Alicia researches how we shape — and are shaped — by a changing information space. As the Director of Strategic Communications at The SecDev Foundation, Alicia develops campaigns and strategies for engaging beneficiaries in outreach and behavioural change. Her work includes developing a training program that deals with verifying information and the spread of content online, and has supported projects in the Middle East, Vietnam and the post-Soviet space.

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