US military seeks to "defuse stories used as weapons"

US military seeks to "defuse stories used as weapons"

Summary: The US Navy is funding a project that focuses on damaging rumors in war zones...

TOPICS: CXO, IT Employment

Daniel Bernardi, a professor at San Francisco's State University and three researchers in Arizona, will receive $1.6 million for a four-year project that seeks to discover and reduce the damage caused by rumors in war zones.

Nanette Asimov, writing on, reports:

In 2005, two years into the Iraq war, American soldiers began vaccinating cows across that nation not only to improve their health but also to garner goodwill among Iraqi farmers.

But instead of appreciating the help, the farmers stepped up support for the insurgents and even joined the violence.

Why? Because of a single, well-placed rumor that the Americans were actually poisoning livestock to starve the Iraqis. A rumor, it turns out, can be as deadly as an IED, the improvised explosive devices favored by insurgents.

The scenario is a little reminiscent of "Snow Crash" the 1992 science fiction novel by Neal Stephenson, a future where a media mogul searches for a way to easily transmit ideas from person to person.

Some of the Navy's money will be spent on a smart phone app.

"By uploading rumors as they are encountered on the battlefield, operational and strategic commanders will be able to track their spread," the professor told the Navy in his grant application.

The team will focus on rumors in Afghanistan and will assess a response based on the context of the incident, the culture, history, and religion of the people.

Ultimately, he envisions a website for anyone, anywhere, to check in on threatening rumors as they check on threatening weather.

Researchers help U.S. military track, defuse rumors

It's an interesting approach but it's difficult to see how this remote team will be able to effectively understand and offer advice on how to respond to rumors in such an alien culture to that of the team's.

Responses to inaccurate information are one thing, but there are lots of other rumors that that will undoubtably contain subtle details and code words that could slide easily unnoticed by US researchers. Responding quickly is key to defusing damaging rumors, how will such a remote team manage such a vital task?

There is also another aspect to this project: it could be used to track the effectiveness of rumors placed deliberately by the US military; and to track, identify and intercept rumor mongers. I wonder if the US academics understand that their work could potentially target people for actions that would be protected in the US under free speech laws.

Topics: CXO, IT Employment

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  • RE: US military seeks to

    I hope that companies other than Apple don't do the same thing, or ZDNet is gonna be in troubles. . .
  • RE: US military seeks to

    The world???s deadliest weapon is one we carry with us every day. It is with us when we wake up in the morning; it is with us throughout the day. It is even with us while we sleep. This is a device that is continually at our disposal. In fact, looking at mankind???s history, this weapon has ultimately been responsible for the deaths of multiple millions of people.-<a href="">Unilife Alan Shortall</a>
  • No Amount Of &quot;Defusion&quot; Will Get Around The Basic Fact ...

    ... that in Iraq, the US and its CotW allies are the enemy. They invaded the country under the pretext of ousting a "brutal dictator" who had been their own ally not much earlier, and then tried to set up a "democratic" regime that would not give too much weight to the Iran-friendly Shia majority. They suppressed news networks (like Al Jazeera) that would not submit to reporting their doctored version of events. Of course the Iraqis are going to find any claim that the invaders are up to more bad stuff hardly incredible at all.
  • Rumors

    This fits the saying "A lie can be miles ahead while truth is still putting on its shoes." Rumors are problems everywhere and not just the battle field; one reason is that people like to gossip and another is that some outrageous claims have more authority when delivered by someone you trust.

    After all these years, it would be nice to know why we attacked Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction and the other reasons did not hold up.
  • RE: US military seeks to

    we act upon decisions, and decisions are based on information. False information has been around for ever, and not just in military operations: the battlefield is our mind. Look at false claims in health, beauty, fashion, politics, religion... Everyone wants a piece of our mind. Beware the civilian applications of military research.
  • RE: US military seeks to

    I recall someone spreading a rumor that Iraq had WMDs.