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Definitions of terms and scope (Assadists Reference – By Kester Radcliff).

[Posted by Lara Keller 17/9/18 Updated 16/4/19] anchorTableSmall - Copy Blog Table Of Contents

[From web page by Kester Ratcliff, Original Source = https://archive.fo/VQXiq]

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‘International’ — I’m categorising the propaganda circulating among Syrian, Lebanese, Iraqi, Iranian and Russian direct participants, political or armed, in the war in Syria as ‘domestic’ propaganda, mainly to limit the scope because otherwise I would never finish this, but also because I lack the linguistic skills to research those directly myself. I hope some colleagues may join me to work more on that later. I have done a little bit of comparing and contrasting ‘domestic’ and ‘international’ sides of Assadist propaganda narratives here.

‘Assadist’ — I chose primarily this term rather than the narrower term ‘pro-Assad’, because some of the public figures in this list explicitly deny being pro-Assad but still persistently repeat core lines of regime propaganda narratives. I have used both terms, as distinct but overlapping categories—all pro-Assad people are Assadists (they repeat Assadist propaganda claims), but not all Assadists are in their own view pro-Assad; e.g. Joshua Landis denies being ‘pro-Assad’, however he persists in repeating some core elements of the regime’s propaganda narratives and in associating himself with Assadists.

‘Propagandist’=a source or a major repeater of propaganda claims. I include both sources and major repeaters as ‘propagandists’, because a) separating them would require an arbitrary definition of the boundary which would probably tend to let a lot of ‘sources’ perceived as sources by their followers off the hook, because they are really mostly just repeaters; and b) I believe that the habit of careless speech, including repeating propaganda, even if the person lacks a conscious intention to lie or cause harm, is morally culpable, because it is neglectful of moral duties to others in speaking about them.

Limitation: In this references directory I focused mainly on individual public figures who create or repeat propaganda, not corporate entities or media sites, mainly because others (1,2,3,4,5) have already worked more on network analysis of media sites already, as there are fewer of them and it is somewhat easier to collect the data, and because otherwise I would never finish.

Corporate Assadist propaganda example (3):

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Propaganda and disinformation I think can be defined as distinct phenomena, but with a large overlap. Disinformation is one way of doing propaganda, but not the only way. I think of disinformation as concealing false fact claims in a complex layered mixture of truths and falsities. Propaganda usually includes disinformation but also uses other unreasonable means of persuasion, coercion, and erosion of the public goods necessary to resist totalitarianism.

‘Propaganda’ in this context I think means mainly unreasonable persuasion tactics, but I consider the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency’s DIDI definition of ‘information influence activities’ (p.9) also highly reasonable.

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Reasonable means and attempts to persuade people are not propaganda.

Strategic communications can include propaganda, but strategic communications can also be entirely reasonable and ethical in its means as well as its objects. Strategically selecting which news to report can also be reasonable persuasion when the purposes of selectively reporting, the intention to persuade and the limited scope are fairly clear and upfront.

‘Reasonable’ in this context I think means acting with a basic minimum standard of respect for the people represented in news or opinion and for the audience, not objectifying and instrumentalising the subjects, and not trying to persuade the audience of points which they would probably not accept if they were presented with the same factual, causal or moral claims explicitly and with at least some evidence or proper reasoning. Propaganda, I would say, by definition, attempts to persuade people by hiding the most relevant and important factual, causal and moral claims among true but not logically relevant facts or with irrelevant but emotionally stimulating verbal padding.

It is true that the UK FCO has funded some Syrian civilian opposition media organisations, and that is strategic communications, but in general I don’t think media funded by a State or regime, even if it has broad strategic purposes, is necessarily ‘propaganda’ — e.g. cases where State funding of public broadcasting would not be propaganda — a) a functioning democracy requires at least a minimum degree of commonality of the public sphere, I think that is a valid fundamental reason for publicly funded broadcasting, and if, or to the extent that, it does not practice unreasonable, dishonest or coercive means of persuasion, it is not propaganda; b) post-conflict transition from a society subjected to totalitarianism for 40+ years, as in Syria or Libya, requires growing civil society institutions, including developing a genuinely free democratic media, and in that sense it is strategic to fund civil media in transitional societies trying to emerge from conflict, without the funders necessarily even aiming to persuade people of anything in particular.

‘Disinformation’ means a complex strategic combination of truth and lies, designed to seem more credible than simple misinformation. Disinformation always starts with an element of truth that is used as an anchor to make the lies mixed in seem more credible. ‘Disinformation’ is not the same thing as ‘misinformation’, which is rather simply false. Disinformation is always a layered mixture of truth and lies, so it is to be expected to find some truth in it. The difficult problem with disinformation is that readers need to be more knowledgeable about the specific subject than what they’re presented with in order to be able to pick apart the truths and lies as they’re woven together. Many people imagine they know enough to be able to filter disinformation programming for real news, but that is mostly a Dunning-Kruger effect. [LK: ie “usually we do not know enough to know we do not know enough”]

Examples may make it clearer than further abstract definition at this point —

Disinformation, e.g. — Da’aesh obtained about 12% of its military equipment when they captured Mosul and obtained weapons that had been supplied by the USA to the Iraqi army —this part is true (Conflict Armament Research report, Weapons of the Islamic State, 2017; and a brief summary of that report, by Joanne Stocker in The Defense Post), but quickly layered up with — ‘America (and regional allies) secretly instigated, supports and controls Da’esh’ — this part is false (references);

Propaganda, e.g. — “NATO’s Islamist jihadis” — this is concealing a moral judgement into the terminology describing people, rather than justifying that judgement reasonably. There is a grain of truth in each of the three terms used but overall the description is very misleading. To dissect exactly how much of this description is true and how much is factually false or an unjust judgement on the people it refers to requires a long, complicated discussion with another reference list(s), [LK: author’s links here all appear to be informed arguments against given propaganda example] but ‘a lie can be halfway around the world while the truth is still getting its boots on’, so simple propaganda repeated often has a competitive advantage in the consumerist ‘marketplace of ideas’, which is also a competition for the commodity of attention, since information now is only valued inasmuch as it agrees with consumers’ subjective preferences, or if it is entertaining, without any sense of duty to be fairly objective about the Other. [LK: author elsewhere points to lack of interest in ordinary Syrians among consumers of pro-Assad propaganda, and so lack of interest in researching issue]

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