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Disinformation: Working to Control the Narrative

April 22, 2020

Disinformation is not a new adversary tactic. With roots in the Cold War and an active role in modern information warfare, disinformation has increasingly become a trending topic among national security experts and public affairs officers alike. In light of COVID-19, adversaries are employing this new generation of warfare to shift pandemic blame and increase public distress. By examining the United States military’s doctrine on information, public affairs practitioners may better adapt their strategies to dismantle these rumor mills and take back control of the narrative.


US Joint Doctrine on Information

Joint Doctrine sheds light on the United States military’s strategies for modernizing communications to ultimately take control of the public narrative. Employing transparency and a whole-of-government approach to counter disinformation exemplifies the Joint Public 1 Doctrine and opens discussion for groundbreaking shifts in communications strategy.

Joint Public 1, Doctrine of the Armed Forces of the United States, was changed out-of-cycle to introduce “Information” as the seventh Joint Function. Independent of new generation warfare, the Joint Concept for Operating in the Information Environment (JCOIE) addresses the role of information and how it drives behavior. Described as an operational art, JCOIE breaks down three core information activities that must be considered from the outset in order to achieve enduring outcomes: (1) Understand information, the informational aspects of military activities, and informational power; (2) Institutionalize the integration of physical and informational power; and, (3) operationalize the integration of physical and informational power.


Public Affairs’ Role in Dispelling Disinformation

While military leadership was quick to note the failure to control the narrative in the age of modern information warfare, federal agencies must institutionalize a mindset that considers information from the outset and continuously evolve their communication strategies. The technological mediums that adversaries can leverage to wage information warfare far surpass the tactics conceived during the Cold War. Disinformation tools and channels now include cyber security hacks, social media, and the evolving landscape of professional and amateur journalism. 

Introducing the JCOIE concept, Vice Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul J. Selva wrote, “To achieve enduring strategic success, our Joint Force must develop the necessary mindset—individually, as a whole, and as part of the inter-agency—to leverage information and the inherent informational aspects of military activities to gain and maintain an information advantage. We will develop the necessary mindset through the institutionalizing and operationalizing the application of integrated physical and informational power.”

Communicators must deploy this same individual and inter-agency approach to their communication strategies in order to dispel misleading information and dismantle rumor mills.


Controlling the Narrative Today

Throughout the Department of Defense, the basic construct of communicating a narrative is behind industry standards. It comes as no surprise that the US began to focus on aligning the narrative to goals and desired end states. The layers of bureaucracy and red tape to release information prevented information on how the DOD was making game-changing international contributions to global stability from being released in a timely manner. Our team’s career public affairs officers have personally navigated the ‘permission approval’ game to release information about the positive things we were doing throughout the world. Informing the public about military operations at times seemed prioritized dead last. Public affairs is often the last unit to find out about an operation that would have been a fantastic story to tell.

Streamlining the release approval process and understating the strategic intent of releasing information will fundamentally change the way the DOD vets information for approval. This paradigm shift is described by General Dunford, CJCS as information being a must for Joint Force thinking.

Combating disinformation is part of the COVID-19 battle and Joint Doctrine is a first step in understanding how to control that narrative. Please check out our service page to learn more about Washington Business Dynamics’ communications practice.

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