While I was perusing the blogosphere about a week ago, I came across a post on Opinio Juris that caught my attention entitled, US Military Thought About Recruiting-- or Hiring-- Bloggers, which discusses a 2006 report for the Joint Special Operations University that suggests using bloggers to verbally attack a specific person or promote a specific message. The Opinio Juris post cited an article from the Wired Blog's Danger Room entitled, Military Report: Secretly 'Recruit or Hire Bloggers', that republished the following paragraph from the report:
Information strategists can consider clandestinely recruiting or hiring prominent bloggers or other persons of prominence... to pass the U.S. message. In this way, the U.S. can overleap the entrenched inequalities and make use of preexisting intellectual and social capital. Sometimes numbers can be effective; hiring a block of bloggers to verbally attack a specific person or promote a specific message may be worth considering. On the other hand, such operations can have a blowback effect, as witnessed by the public reaction following revelations that the U.S. military had paid journalists to publish stories in the Iraqi press under their own names. People do not like to be deceived, and the price of being exposed is lost credibility and trust.
Other than an interesting story about Big Brother, I didn't think much of the two posts until I got an email from the Washington Post asking me to check out their new national security blog called Intel Dump. The author of the Opinio Juris post, Kevin Jon Heller, made a point of saying, "I hereby pledge that, as a blogger, I have not been recruited, purchased, or 'made' by the US military (or the mafia, for that matter)." I wonder if the author of Intel Dump, Phillip Carter, can make the same claim? Carter is an attorney in NY, working for McKenna, Long, and Aldridge, and he served on active and reserve duty for nine years in the U.S. Army as a military police and civil affairs officer. I am not saying there is any connection between Carter and the military report, but he does seem like the perfect candidate to accomplish the military's objectives as outlined in the report.
Frankly, I don't have a problem with the military recruiting or hiring or simply using bloggers to disseminate their message or attack someone in the blogosphere, and I don't care if they do it openly or in secret. The military doesn't quite understand the blogosphere. The report asks more than once, "How could (to paraphrase CBS’ Klein) 'some guys in pajamas writing at home' succeed in influencing not just the careers of prominent journalists, producers and media executives, but also potentially the course of an entire election or public opinion about a war?" What is unique about the blogosphere is not the infinite amount of information but the dialogue that occurs between different blogs and between bloggers and their readers. The military report argues that if the blogger and his blog were prominent enough, then the information posted on it would influence the rest of the blogosphere.
As previously observed, blog influence can be affected by the structure of the blogosphere, in particular, the network of hyperlinks connecting one blog to another. To illustrate, imagine starting at any random blog. By following a series of links from one blog to another, one is likely to hit one of the top blogs within a few hops. Moreover, information on that top blog may have propagated out to some of the blogs that linked to it, and so on from there, perhaps even reaching the blog from whence one started. Thus, even if one is not initially aware of a particular blog, one may end up there or being exposed to information posted on it. Overall, one is more likely to encounter a well-connected blog, or information posted on it, than one that is not.
Just because a blog links to a post does not necessarily mean that the blogger agrees with it. The writer of a blog (speaking from experience) links to posts he has an opinion about and he links to it because he wants to share his opinion about it. Often times, the opinion shared is contrary to the opinion in the original post. Plus, the readers of blogs does not take what they read at face value, and they generally formulate their own opinions by comparing the different opinions of several bloggers.
The users of blogs are not stuck with the editorial agenda of their local newspaper's publisher. Unlike the paper version of the Washington Post, a reader of blogs can freely move from one source of information to the next, comparing the information and filtering out absurdities. The information can be tested by reading other blogs or by questioning the blogger. This is the real threat to any sort of hegemonic information system. Even if the military inserted clandestine bloggers to disseminate their "message", it would not automatically be accepted as truth because it would be subject to the criticism and judgment of the entire blogosphere. This is why I invite the military to join in the discussion! The more people involved, the better the discussion is going to be-- even if someone is just trying to add misinformation.
It should also be noted that the report doesn't really state whether the military plans to hire bloggers to disseminate their message in the USA or in other countries. However, after a closer read, it appears the military is considering using bloggers in other countries.
Just as during World War II, the military recruited the top Hollywood directors and studios to produce films about the war (in effect conducting domestic influence campaigns in the name of maintaining the national morale and support for the war effort), waging the war against terrorism and its underlying causes, as spelled out in the National Security Strategy, may require recruiting the prominent among the digirati (probably those native to the target region) to help in any Web-based campaign. The importance of credibility and reputation to blog influence must be taken into account when considering using a blog as a vehicle for information operations. This is especially critical given the apparent poor image and reputation of the U.S. government in countries we want to influence.
But what is said by a blogger in one country, can quickly become the subject matter of a blog in another country. The media has been relying on bloggers in Tibet to get information about the unrest there, and a blogger secretly working for the US government could potentially provide false data that would then be disseminated throughout the blogosphere here in the US. However, I still believe the blogosphere and the average blog reader would be able to deal with that kind of information and weigh its legitimacy by comparing it to other sources of information.
The study also had a very interesting analysis of the blogosphere and bloggers, which is worth a read. I particularly liked the section summarizing who most bloggers are:
Nearly 75 percent of Americans use the Internet regularly, and those who use it most regularly tend to be young, male, have some degree of college education and generally are in or from the middle to upper-middle income brackets. These are the people who tend to be the most politically active, as well. Blog creators follow this trend, being generally young, affluent, educated males with broadband access and at least six years’ experience online.
Wow! That pretty much sums me up!