IN A SINK OR SWIM ENVIRONMENT WHERE DISINFORMATION RULES, TEACH YOUR TEAM TO SWIM!
By Robert Grupp
In a world where disinformation runs rampant, strategic communicators need powerful tools to battle against propaganda.
At the 2019 annual strategic communications summit in Washington, D.C., Dr. Chrisopher Paul, senior social scientist at the RAND Corporation and professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School, shared insights about the power of disinformation and provided tools for battling against the “firehose” of disinformation.
In his plenary session, Dr. Paul explained the Russian “firehose of falsehood” propaganda model. He explained that with disinformation actors, the quantity of production clearly is more important than the factual quality of the material published. By creating a first impression with information that seems plausible or matches the audience’s worldview, propagandists have the advantage of influencing an audience. Once a first impression is made, it’s very difficult to convince the person that they’re incorrect or misinformed because the new information challenges his or her existing worldview.
To fight against the onslaught of false and misleading information, Dr. Paul suggested several strategies for professional communicators to employ to make a meaningful difference.
To compete with the sheer volume of disinformation out there, communicators need to be ready to battle with their own rapidly produced content shared at a high volume. They must be willing to produce more content instead of using a “squirt gun” against a firehose of falsehoods.
His next suggestion was to put on a “raincoat” to prepare for the disinformation storm. Instead of just standing behind a podium and refuting falsehoods, take that opportunity to share information about the source of the disinformation using historical examples. Communicators can shine a spotlight on previous examples when the disinformation actor spread falsehoods about other companies or events. This approach allows the communicator to warn the audience and prepare them for any future false or misleading information from the source.
Though it may be tempting, Dr. Paul cautioned against “swimming upstream” or launching into a counter–propaganda campaign without first conducting research. Instead of immediately launching an attack, he reminded communicators to think about how their audiences are being impacted by the messages and determine what messaging is needed to convince the audience of your truth. By focusing on something concrete and important to the audience, the communicators can craft a more well-defined message that has a better chance of influencing the audience.
Another option to combat the “fire hose” is to put a “kink” in the hose by notifying social media platforms or web service providers that their terms of service have been violated by disinformation-based propagandists. There might also be opportunities to involve a regulatory board like the FCC if there are rule violations.
Most important is to teach communicators to swim. Members of the communication teams must be taught how to think critically, recognize examples of disinformation, and verify sources.
“It requires rigorous education and training to make people more aware of what sources are persistently credible and what sources aren’t, ” he said. “It requires disciplines to conduct a good media evaluation to engage your higher function and make good choices.”
If audiences and strategic communicators are more informed and prepared, they will be able to better identify disinformation and propaganda.
The battle against disinformation starts with education.
Dr. Christopher Paul spoke in April 2019 in a plenary session at the annual strategic communications summit in Washington, D.C. See the speakers featured at StratCommWorld 2020 on June 1-2 at the National Press Club. Visit www.stratcomm.world for details about this unique global event that identifies strategies to enhance engagement and share methods to improve communications in corporations, the military, government agencies and nonprofits.
ABOUT THE summit speaker
DR. Christopher paul
Dr. Christopher Paul is a senior social scientist at the RAND Corporation and professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Grupp is Director of StratCommWorld, and Adjunct Instructor and Director of a Global Strategic Communication Master’s Degree Program in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.