Anti-Social Media: When a Nuisance Turns Into a Threat

Tuesday, June 30th 2015

The lid has been lifted on at least part of Russia’s “Internet Research Agency” in St. Petersburg as disaffected Internet trolls have been revealing to reporters how the covert corps of cyber-provocateurs working there has been spreading propaganda in favor of President Vladimir Putin and attacking his perceived enemies on international blogs and news and opinion websites.

Most of us have seen evidence of that online. But other information is also starting to emerge, this time of operations that raise disturbing new questions about whether Russia’s online agitators have graduated from creating minor nuisances to becoming serious national security threats to the U.S. and other countries.

Three disturbing incidents were described by Adrian Chen in a June 2 article in The New York Times Magazine. The first occurred on the Louisiana coast last Sept. 11, when social media suddenly erupted with hundreds of reports, some with photos and video, warning of a toxic leak in a nearby chemical plant. Reporters, TV stations and politicians from Louisiana to New York were besieged with Twitter, Facebook and email accounts of a disaster. A page describing the leak appeared on Wikipedia, and messages linked to stories about it on CNN, local news websites, and YouTube, which showed a video of Isis terrorists claiming credit.

The only trouble was, none of it was true. The emails, texts, Twitter and Facebook posts were all sent from phony accounts. The CNN and other news media web pages had been faked, and so had the YouTube video and Wikipedia page.

No chemical leak had occurred. There was no danger. And fortunately, no one panicked. But someone – or, more accurately, a group of people – had gone to a lot of effort to try to create a panic.

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David S. Jackson

David Jackson is a veteran journalist and former U.S. government official with extensive multimedia communications experience in domestic and international markets.

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Author: David S Jackson

Quotable: Kim Andrew Elliott on a strategy for international broadcasting

Saturday, May 16th 2015

Writing in the University of Southern California Center for Public Diplomacy’s CPD Blog on April 24, Kim Andrew Elliott, an audience research analyst at the International Broadcasting Bureau, outlined “A Market-Based Strategy of International Broadcasting.”


A market-based international broadcasting strategy, informed by a uses-and-gratifications perspective, centered on the audience’s own strategy of seeking information from abroad, does not require so many pages of detail. It can be sketched out on the back of an envelope: (1) Find out what audiences are seeking information from foreign sources, because of government control or other deficiencies of their domestic journalism. (2) Determine which media both the audience and broadcaster have access to, keeping in mind that, in many countries, the most popular media are not available to foreign entities. (3) Give the audience the content they want.

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A Minister-Counselor in the State Department's Senior Foreign Service when he finished his federal career, Donald M. Bishop is a trainer, speaker, and mentor in Public Diplomacy and Communication. He also speaks on history and leadership. After serving as President of the Public Diplomacy Council, he now is a member of the Board of Directors.

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Author: Donald M. Bishop

Why the Brian Williams Story is a Teachable Moment

Wednesday, February 11th 2015

A small brushfire of criticism erupted recently over the Voice of America’s initial failure to report the story of NBC anchor Brian Williams’ admittedly false claims to have been in a helicopter that came under enemy fire in Iraq. (Williams’ disputed claims about his experiences covering Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans quickly added to the controversy.)

The Williams story broke on Feb. 4. VOA’s first report on it came four days later, on Feb. 8 (a day after BBGWatch.com, a watchdog site, chided VOA for not covering it).

Although some VOA insiders reportedly defended the agency by saying the story was a “domestic” one or that the journalist was “unknown” to foreign audiences, that defense is neither accurate nor, in fact, relevant. On the contrary, the Williams story is a perfect example of what VOA should recognize as a teachable moment.

Like our national elections every two years, some stories offer great opportunities for VOA to fulfill the most important requirements of its charter: to cover the news comprehensively; to show who Americans are and what we believe in; and to show how a democratic society based on rights such as freedom of the press is supposed to work. 

For example, mid-term and presidential elections give VOA a chance to report numerous news stories that show how our system works, how politicians must face voters and the consequences of their policies, and how a democracy responds peacefully to the will of the electorate. It’s clearly news, but it’s also instructive, and many international audiences follow the coverage for both reasons, because they can compare it to their own experiences at home.

The Williams story (and frankly, this could be said even if he was an unknown reporter in a small local market) is important because his false claims about events he witnessed as a reporter obviously conflicted with his responsibility to be truthful and credible as a journalist, which are essential requirements for maintaining trust in a free press. 

And that’s why it was a teachable moment for VOA.

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David S. Jackson

David Jackson is a veteran journalist and former U.S. government official with extensive multimedia communications experience in domestic and international markets.

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Author: David S Jackson

Dark continent? How Africa's communications revolution is eroding bad press

Sunday, July 27th 2014

By Joan Mower, Head of Development, Voice of America. John Hopkins University adjunct lecturer in Public Diplomacy. Ms. Mower will be a guest speaker at the First Monday Lunch Forum on August 4th. 

Is the news media killing American investment in Africa?

Perhaps — but the tide is turning. Africans have long complained about the media’s negative bias towards their continent, and a quick Google search of top stories out of Africa lately confirms the thesis that “if it bleeds, it leads.” Ebola, Boko Haram and ethnic violence in South Sudan and Central African Republic dominate current international coverage of the continent.

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Please contact PDC Graduate Fellow Tara Schoenborn at taraschoenborn@gmail.com to inquire about contributing to the Public Diplomacy Council website. 

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Author: Guest Contributor

Fighting Back Against The Big Lie

Tuesday, June 3rd 2014

There is so much going on in the news these days that stories about the crisis in Ukraine are often hard to find in the U.S. media. But for some people, Ukraine is the top story every day.

And according to them, the news is not good.

Nenad Pejic, Interim Manager of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Myroslava Gongadze, a reporter and television anchor for Voice of America’s (VOA) Ukrainian Service, and Will Stevens, director of the State Department’s Ukraine Communications Task Force, said this week that blatant propaganda has played a powerful role in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to boost his popularity at home, discredit Ukraine’s government, and justify Russia’s aggressions in the region.

Pejic, who appeared with the others in a Washington, D.C. panel discussion sponsored by the Public Diplomacy Council and the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, said Russia’s disinformation efforts have included not only a media campaign but also “a political campaign, a cultural campaign, an energy campaign (and) a military campaign….”

The result has been a flood of anti-Ukraine propaganda on television, radio, and especially in social media. Stevens said the Russians have become skilled at exploiting the computer code algorithms that online search engines use so that their propaganda can be easily seen, read, and spread.

Because of that, he warned, people who watch or read Russia’s English-language RT (formerly Russia Today) television, which can be found online worldwide as well as on cable networks in the U.S. and elsewhere, and Ruptly, an RT-related “video news agency” based in Berlin, should know that they are “100 per cent government-run (and) operated” and “totally integrated with” Russia’s propaganda operations.

And the propaganda operations are “massive,” he added.

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David S. Jackson

David Jackson is a veteran journalist and former U.S. government official with extensive multimedia communications experience in domestic and international markets.

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Author: David S Jackson

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