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"Rule 1: Truth and Falsity Do Not Matter"
April 4, 2013 6:48 AM   Subscribe

Frequently dismissed as trivial or unimportant because untrue, rumors are a potent in the information war that characterizes contemporary conflicts, and they participate in significant ways in the struggle for the consent of the governed. As narrative forms, rumors are suitable to a wide range of political expression, from citizens, insurgents, and governments alike. The authors make a compelling argument for understanding rumors in these contexts as "narrative IEDs," low-cost, low-tech weapons that can successfully counter elaborate and expansive government initiatives of outreach campaigns or strategic communication efforts.
Narrative Landmines - The Explosive Effects of Rumors in Syria and Insurgencies Around the World

Narrative Landmines And America Abroad
The authors suggest that the most powerful rumors fit into “rumor mosaics,” collections of stories that together suggest a narrative. When a narrative and its mosaic connect well with the people’s experiences, hopes and fears, they are more likely to be believed. (In the case of the cattle inoculation program, Iraqis had seen more cattle dying than usual, and also saw their history as full of foreign depredation; these fed the poisoning rumor.) The people respond accordingly—“Rumors are the reality of the citizens who believe them.”
Emile Simpson: This is the strategic narrative we need in Afghanistan now - "(By ‘strategic narrative' I mean the explanation of actions: the lens that we propose to people through which to view the conflict.)" Tom Ricks: What a strategic narrative is -- and how to use it.
"Another soft aspect of information warfare is rumor war."The British WWII Rumor Campaign
Narrative Landmines on Project Muse.
A National Strategic Narrative, previously
posted by the man of twists and turns (18 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Narrative IEDs

Words are not weapons. That choice of metaphor is worse than unfortunate in the context of talking about a war. It's a deliberate attempt to conflate communication with armed rebellion, with the goal of legitimizing violence against people who do nothing more than speak out against an occupation or dictatorship.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:02 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Words are not weapons.
"Exterminate the cockroaches."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:05 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Words are not weapons.

Words, like any other tools, most certainly can be used as weapons. Deadly ones, in the wrong hands, as the man of twists and turns link illustrates.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:15 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I had a lot of trouble getting into that article, what with the horrible writing and heavy burden of jargon. I mean, five people wrote it, and none of them noticed that there's no object to go with the adjective 'potent' in the first sentence of the abstract? Rumors are a potent what?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:43 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow:
Words are not weapons. That choice of metaphor is worse than unfortunate in the context of talking about a war. It's a deliberate attempt to conflate communication with armed rebellion, with the goal of legitimizing violence against people who do nothing more than speak out against an occupation or dictatorship.
Words are not weapons. Agreed.

That choice of metaphor is worse than unfortunate. Agreed.

Assigning motive to someone else for their metaphors: you aren't capable of that level of omniscience, and I think there's little to no evidence for that level of malevolent intent, anyway.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:50 AM on April 4, 2013


Words can inspire people to use weapons, but there is a moral and legal difference between a journalist filing a story and an insurgent planting a bomb.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:51 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Words are not weapons. Agreed.

If you've ever been the victim of playground taunts, or seen someone be completely socially isolated on the basis of a rumor campaign, you know this is not just a metaphor. Words can and definitely are used as weapons. I really don't see how that's controversial.

Agreed, though, about the quality of the writing in the main article.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:55 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: Words can inspire people to use weapons, but there is a moral and legal difference between a journalist filing a story and an insurgent planting a bomb.
A difference, yet yelling "FIRE" in a crowded theatre can still get you incarcerated. Words can cause physical damage, morally and legally.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:56 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, seems like much ado about propaganda campaigns. Though it's curious that the author from one article states:
Taken together, it appears that a significant portion of the people of the greater Middle East (and some parts of the rest of the Islamic world) do not need much inducement to believe that the West is doing dastardly deeds against them.
And no one seems to remember the Red Scares and ensuing dozen or so military interventions in Central America and Southeast Asia, or the "smoking gun" evidence against Saddam Hussein. Any sufficiently ignorant population can be assaulted with information and led to believe anything. It's not just a problem we find in our ungrateful colonies.

There is one difference: the West does regularly plot to undermine democracy in the Middle East. I think if there was a serious concern about Western credibility for democracy and sovereignty in the Middle East, it would probably be wise to stop propping up dictatorships and invading countries that are in that general area.
posted by tripping daisy at 8:02 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


No question, genocide promoters like Georges Ruggiu deserve to be put on trial as genocidaires. He was rightly convicted and imprisoned. Key word: trial.

"Rapid Transmediation Signals an Imminent Threat"

The current policy of the American government is to launch drone strikes against people who pose "immanent threats." I have difficulty believing this rhetoric is unintentional. It could only be unintentional if the authors were profoundly unaware of the language of war used by Americans in recent years. Sufficiently advanced negligence is indistinguishable from malice. This article is an argument for extrajudicial assassination.

If words are weapons then this article is a flask of nitroglycerin.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:13 AM on April 4, 2013


The phrase "narrative IEDs" is grotesque, confusing, and way too sloppy for the type of precision that is required in a good academic article. The authors should be embarrassed by using that type of metaphor.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:14 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Words are words and bullets are bullets... it is important to keep this straight. For you do not have to be Kant to see what comes after ‘offensive words are bullets’: if you hurt me with words, I reply with bullets, and the exchange is even”

-Jonathan Rauch, Kindly Inquisitors
posted by Rangeboy at 8:20 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


This article is an argument for extrajudicial assassination.
Could you clarify what you mean by this?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:34 AM on April 4, 2013


Words are not weapons. That choice of metaphor is worse than unfortunate in the context of talking about a war. It's a deliberate attempt to conflate communication with armed rebellion, with the goal of legitimizing violence against people who do nothing more than speak out against an occupation or dictatorship.

Wait. You're saying that it's ridiculous to suggest that words are weapons: and then your objection to those words is that they "legitimate violence"?
posted by yoink at 8:57 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the context of an insurgency, rumors are narrative IEDs. Like their kinetic cousins, they are the preferred communication weapon of the insurgent because they can be constructed of locally available stories and hidden in the landscape until detonation.
I find this passage reads better with a thick German accent.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:06 AM on April 4, 2013


I read the article. It made a lot of sense, especially this:

Media environments in places such as pre-conflict Syria tend to foster skepticism since their citizens are seldom exposed to news critical of the government. This skepticism facilitates an information vacuum in which rumors fester and spread through underground channels. Rumors then explode in chaotic environments like war-torn Syria, becoming important sources of news for the population, and can cause civilians to support or reject an existing regime, an insurgency, or even an outside actor. Indeed, despite the fact that rumors are often (though not always) comprised of lies and half-truths, if the stories seem credible or “ring true” they can seriously impact political, economic and governmental action.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:35 AM on April 4, 2013


Words are not weapons.
I get it, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me", a childhood refrain that took me until my adult years to BEGIN to accept. Now, in my middle-ages, I've gotten very good at remaining unharmed (which may frustrate all those who think me trollish), but still, sometimes something slips through the emotional armor, causing a pain in my heart that makes me wonder if I should consult my doctor...

Of course, there are also words like...
"FIRE!" in a crowded theater
"Fire!" to a firing squad
or even "You're fired!"

As for the original post, now we know why "7% of voters think the moon landing was faked".
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:34 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The West’s dilemma: Who is the official opposition in Syria?
posted by homunculus at 11:57 AM on April 10, 2013


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