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U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis waits for Chinese Minister of Defense Gen. Wei Fenghe before an arrival ceremony at the Pentagon, Nov. 9, 2018 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

Social Media Has Democratized Psychological Warfare. Can the U.S. Military Adapt?

Friday, Nov. 16, 2018

Warfare has always been both physical and psychological. As combatants attempt to injure, incapacitate or kill enemy fighters, they also try to weaken the will of their adversaries and anyone who might support them. Throughout history, warriors relied on ferociousness for that, intimidating their enemies by the way they looked or the horrible actions they took. In the modern era, militaries turned to communication technology and psychology. Soldiers were trained to craft and transmit messages and propaganda, while psychological operations became a particular military specialization.

Over time, the U.S. military got quite good at this. Psychological operators dealt with adversaries and their supporters—spreading information and misinformation—and public affairs officers used “strategic communications” to shape broader perceptions of what the U.S. military was doing and how a conflict was unfolding. Like combat tactics and strategy, psychological operations and psychological warfare were centrally controlled and carefully coordinated. ...

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