Using Information Operations to Our Advantage

Our adversaries use social media as a force multiplier—it's time we retook the high ground.

The changing nature of the internet makes for a terrain that is different from what military organizations are used to, with the measure of success quickly turning out to be how well we use information operations (IO).

IO is the integrated employment of information-related capabilities and other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp the decision-making capabilities of adversaries while defending one’s own. Through a combination of the network effect—which occurs when a message reaches many touch points—and the phenomenon of “viral” content—a message that spreads as quickly as a contagion—cyber-adversaries find social media to be an adept platform for advancing their operations.

But despite the fact that technology has changed, leadership philosophies have not. Military leaders have long found success following the “observe, orient, decide, act” (OODA) model, a decision science method that allows those in the field to get their bearings and, if enacted sufficiently, maintain an advantage over their adversary.

In order for an OODA loop to be effective, it needs to have the right information, fast enough and at the right time. When it comes to most areas of information gathering, commanders in the U.S. military have historically opted for taking the high ground—observation balloons and surveillance technology allow them to gain a better understanding of the battlefield’s topography.

Social media is different. Developing an analysis of the ever-changing social world presents new challenges, namely the variety of data types, the volume of data, the velocity at which it moves from point A to point B and the increasingly faulty veracity that comes with accessibility.

When we’re still catching up to our enemies’ capabilities on something as crucial as social media, they have the opportunity to enter our OODA loop and disrupt our preparedness.

The solution? We must better integrate social media understanding into our broader IO approach to give commanders more control.

In a new thought piece, Booz Allen Hamilton Senior Vice President Dennis Gibson and Vice President Stephen Moore explain that the key to doing so is altering the way we look at our communication strategies. We must start to think of social media tactics not as campaigns but as conversations, in which there is always an engaged and variable target audience.

If we can sustain conversations, we too can employ the communication and information phenomena behind social media to our advantage, getting our own messages out to the right people and doing so fast. Furthermore, with the power of data science and advanced analytics on our side, problems of variety, volume, velocity and veracity seem to fade into the background, allowing us to dig our feet into the high ground.

Read the thought piece to learn more about this topic.

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