Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Blogosphere at War

I wrote this paper as an attempt to describe how the blogosphere works; to situate it vis-a-vis the mainstream media and to indicate some of the ways it can be used as a weapon of information warfare. The reader may find many of the ideas half-baked, and the reader would be right. But perhaps this flawed little monograph can contribute in some small way to a discussion of what the blogosphere is and what it's future might be. I truly believe that "it is possible that in the long run the global public will come to rely on fellow Internet users to learn about the world more than it will from professional journalists."


The Blogosphere At War

Background

There is considerable interest in the idea that "blogs" are somehow able to offset the mainstream media's (MSM) ability to sell a given narrative to the public, a power which is of considerable interest in peace and even more so in war. It is widely recognized that molding public perceptions through narratives is nearly as important in war as the outcomes on the actual battlefield. Palestinian Media Watch convincingly demonstrates that Arab and Muslim organizations have long made influencing international publics through print and broadcast media a strategic goal, especially in any confrontation with Israel. This effort has historically followed two tracks: the establishment of technically sophisticated media outlets like al-Jazeera to sell messages directly to audiences; and mounting information operations aimed at shaping the way in which Western Media outlets cover any issue of interest.

Although these efforts have long been in train, it was Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah that fully demonstrated how far the the virtual "power of the airwaves" could neutralize physical "airpower", in the striking analogy used by Michael Widlanski. Hezbollah's skillful use of the media during that war, especially in playing up and inflating casualties from an Israeli airstrike at Qana in Southern Lebanon, succeed in generating enough diplomatic pressure to ground the Israeli Airforce -- the strongest airforce in the Middle East -- while permitting Hezbollah to rain rockets down upon Israel. It was a tremendous achievement. Although the IDF dominated the kinetic war against Hezbollah, on the information battlefield things were often the reverse. One IDF spokesmen stationed on the Northern Front recently told an audience how he was haplessly herding literally one thousand journalists, many of whom were besieging him with questions fueled by rumor, innuendo and sometimes outright lie delivered over their Blackberries, radios and cellular phones.  The middle-aged spokesman realized how drastically the game had changed from the public relations wars of his youth. Looking out on the hordes of journalists wired to their comms the spokesman realized how out of date he had become. "We were immigrants to a new world in which both the media reporters and the enemy were native".    

For most of the Israel-Lebanon War of 2006 Hezbollah repeatedly accused Israel of atrocity and wanton aggression as a way of neutralizing its superior firepower; and little of this cant was rebutted in timely fashion. When on December 4, 2006 an Israeli think-tank release released a study, supported by imagery, showing that Hezbollah had fired its rockets from civilian localities all over southern Lebanon at civilian targets in Israel , the war had already been over for five months and Hezbollah had long achieved its public relations objectives. In pointed contrast to this ponderous performance, private individuals --  bloggers -- had managed to explode many Hezbollah atrocity accusations against Israel carried by the MSM in very rapid fashion. These blogger accomplishments included demonstrating that a wire service photograph of a bomb-damaged Beirut had been digitally altered to enhance both the smoke and the damage; that photographs of supposedly dead civilians posed artfully in the rubble were faked; and last but not least, the unmasking of an often photographed Lebanese humanitarian worker (The Green Helmet Man) as a brutal Hezbollah public relations agent callously arranging children's corpses for maximum effect. While the actual effect of these exposes on the international diplomatic climate may have been slight, observers of the 2006 war in Lebanon had found their white knight. The rapid and often effective response of the blogosphere raised hopes that the Internet might provide a way to neutralize the massive Islamic investment in media outlets and information warfare cells. What is the truth?.

The Blogosphere and the Mainstream Media

The blogosphere is defined by Wikipedia as the collection of Internet weblogs and all the conversations they have with each other. It is:

the collective term encompassing all blogs as a community or social network. Many weblogs are densely interconnected; bloggers read others' blogs, link to them, reference them in their own writing, and post comments on each others' blogs. Because of this, the interconnected blogs have grown their own culture.

In raw numeric terms the blogosphere is almost inconceivably large and still growing. The Blog Herald thought there were about 100 million weblogs in October 2005, an estimate that is as much guess as survey.. The blog indexer Technorati is more modest, saying "there are 55 million blogs on the Internet; and some of them have to be good". Fifty five or a hundred million. Whatever the actual figure it is certain that there are a large number of blogs in existence and that the count is rising. These blogs are focused upon a wide variety of human activity, of which politics and the War on Terror constitute but a small part. What does the blogosphere talk about? A search in Technorati for references to the following key words in blogs (of any size, in any language) yields the following counts. The results suggest that people are as interested in talking about everything: of Britney Spears or digital cameras as they are about Hezbollah. In fact, Hezbollah appears far less interesting to bloggers than Britney Speaker or digital cameras.

Subject Count
Hezbollah 281,853
Britney Spears 461,063
digital camera 805,645
breast cancer 295,539

 

But that picture is misleading. The blogosphere has an internal structure which is revealed once we run the Technorati searches again, using the same key words but this time against blogs with large readerships ("a lot of authority") in any language. This time Hezbollah commands more attention than Britney Spears. This suggest the subject matter focus of weblogs varies as they increase in size and "seriousness". For the larger and presumably "more serious" blogs, at least, Hassan Nasrallah may be a more fit subject for discussion than Britney Spears. This indicates that the blogosphere is not one undifferentiated soup. It is implicitly self-organized and performs certain functions.

Subject Count
Hezbollah 40,824
Britney Spears 12,756
digital camera 17,698
breast cancer 5,634

 

The state of the blogosphere -- what it talks about at any given moment -- is extremely sensitive to external events. The focus of the Internet reflects the concerns of Internet users and often their direct experience. Posts in 2006 about Hezbollah, for example, peaks markedly around the dates of the War in Lebanon then tapers off but features a slight rebound later in the year possibly in response to rumors that Hassan Nasrallah was ready to restart hostilities. The blogosphere is like a weathersystem. It aborbs the energy from its ambient surroundings and processes it according to its internal workings.

 

 

It is possible that the blogosphere, in common with the Internet -- has no inherent content, only a structure that can be filled by those who provide the most content. But it is a most peculiar structure, one that is more congenial to gathering and projecting  information that the mainstream media often chooses to ignore, because MSM storylines, timing and content are often driven by artificial editorial decisions unrelated to actual events in the wider world. The blogosphere, on the other hand, is a far more "open" system, responsive to external events in ways that the inbred MSM sometimes cannot match. But like the mainstream media the blogosphere is also an information processing engine which collects, analyzes and disseminates facts. This is its fundamental function. Information is collected by bloggers from their own investigations, sources, contacts or by scanning the news wires. The more interesting reports are picked up by other bloggers who may recognize a significant fact or trend in them, or perhaps detect an implausbility in a story. The is the 'analysis' step. Finally, the most notable stories, ideas or reports are picked up by progressively larger sites until any story recognized to possess significance rises to the very biggest sites on the blogosphere -- the very top of its information food chain. In the act of disseminating a story, the blogosphere amplifies or tones down such stories it collectively finds the most or least worthy of attention. When a  blogospheric story is amplified to its maximum extent it sometimes attracts the attention of news agencies or politicians who "pick it up"; then it jumps the boundaries and spreads through the mainstream media like any other news item.

One of the most interesting properties of the blogosphere is that its information collectors -- the bloggers -- are sometimes significantly better at gathering certain signals than professional reporters with the mainstream media. This is often the result of the Day Job Effect. A blogger, by definition a part time writer, can sometimes more accurately recognizes the significance of an event because his professional training prepares him to notice something that would be ignored by the generalist reporter. Bloggers who are lawyers, doctors, engineers or soldiers, for example, are sensitive to issues in their area of expertise in ways a layman could not match. Also working in the blogosphere's favor is the sheer number of bloggers -- 55 or 100 million, whichever number one prefers -- which statistically ensures that a blogger will often be present when a professional reporter may be absent. The potential for signal reception -- the crucial first moment at which new information becomes visible to the rest of the information processing system is inherently high in the blogosphere. It defines the Event Horizon of the system, a boundary traditionally marked by the first wire service report that carries the first news to the world. In the blogosphere the Event Horizon is marked by the first post that recounts an event.

 

The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 illustrates how a physical event breaks into the worldwide public information system. On December 26, 2004 after a huge earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra was detected, some seismologists realized it could generate a tsunami that could ravage vast coastal areas. But this suspicion remained in an informational limbo. The Sumatran earthquake released more energy than hundreds of nuclear bombs, but this physical fact would not register on the world's consciousness until it could be reported as a story.

The total energy released by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake has been estimated as 3.35 exajoules (3.35×1018 joules). This is equivalent to over 930 terawatt hours, 0.8 gigatons of TNT, or about as much energy as is used in the United States in 11 days. However, the most reliable seismic energy release estimate, as of September 30, 2005, is 1.1×1018 joules. This corresponds to about 0.25 gigatons of TNT. ...

Despite the fact this huge planetary force was on the loose, the tsunami would remain invisible until it encountered the first human being who would report -- or post -- on it. Science magazine reported:

At the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) in the south Indian city of Hyderabad, for example, seismologists knew of the earthquake within minutes after it struck but didn't consider the possibility of a tsunami until it was too late. In fact, at about 8 a.m., an hour after the tsunami had already begun its assault on Indian territory by pummeling the islands of Andaman and Nicobar some 200 km northwest of the epicenter, institute officials were reassuring the media that the Sumatran event posed no threat to the Indian subcontinent. ... The international scientific community fared somewhat better at reacting to the quake, but not enough to make a difference. An hour after the quake, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) in Ewa Beach, Hawaii--which serves a network of 26 countries in the Pacific basin, including Indonesia and Thailand--issued a bulletin identifying the possibility of a tsunami near the epicenter. But in the absence of real-time data from the Indian Ocean, which lacks the deep-sea pressure sensors and tide gauges that can spot tsunami waves at sea, PTWC officials "could not confirm that a tsunami had been generated," says Laura Kong, director of the International Tsunami Information Center in Honolulu, which works with PTWC to help countries in the Pacific deal with tsunami threats.

When the tsunami crashed ashore there were no press photographers waiting for it. It was the ordinary tourist with a digital cameras and an Internet connection -- the blogger -- who brought the first accounts of the monster to the world. Sheer weight of numbers ensured that the Internet-connected citizen was in the position to witness one of the most awesome natural events of the early 21st century. Within hours their digital pictures and video, sometimes shot over the shoulder as they were on the run, and first-person narratives had percolated upward through the larger Internet sites to the mainstream media. The tsunami story had gone through the stages of collection, analysis and dissemination within hours. But above all the Indian Ocean tsunami illustrates the process by which the first signals of an event are picked up, analyzed and amplified by the blogosphere. The gigantic wave crossed the Event Horizon into the world consciousness, first as news and later, as history.

 

 

Observers have long noticed that blog sites tended to fall into one of three categories: the Finders, Thinkers and Linkers, and these correspond to the structure of the blogosphere. Finders are sites dedicated to capturing direct experiences. Food bloggers, reporters embedded with military units, the journals of expeditions, institutions which monitor foreign language publications -- the tourist who posts pictures of a tsunami which has just wrecked his hotel -- are all examples of Finders. During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, one Israeli schoolboy described how he sheltered from rockets in a bunker on his personal weblog. Others captured video of rockets striking their neighborhoods. These are all Finders. They perform one simple function: to lift an event above the Horizon and make it visible to the Internet for the first time. The importance of this act cannot be oversated. Glenn Reynolds, in a private conversation, referred to this original reportage, the discovery of the primary fact, as "the Killer App".

Once an event has been blogged, however obscurely, it becomes potentially accessible to one of the countless eyes, both human and robotic, which pore over the Internet in search of facts to bolster or demolish an argument. Monitoring websites is a task made easier by the widespread adoption of a protocols like RSS which belong to class of formats which alert watchers to updated content, often with a summary of the content itself. Programs which continuously monitor a number of websites for content changes are called aggregators. Amateur and professional specialists use these and a variety of other tools to scour the web looking for new trends and facts to bolster their models. Some are industry analysts; others are academics; still others are open-source intelligence gatherers. Some are amateurs. Collectively they may be called the Thinkers. They are the people who find the stories in the raw data.

One classic example of a blogger acting as a Thinker was how Flopping Aces tracked down and finally debunked the existence of AP source "Captain Jamil Hussein", who was widely quoted by the wire service as an expert on the atrocities in the Baghdad area. Using Internet search tools and email, Flopping Aces gathered enough detail to make him suspect that that "Captain Jamil Hussein" was an all too conveniently present and quotable to be plausible. Following his hunch, Flopping Aces soon discovered that American officials in Baghdad had never heard of this widely quoted AP source. He wrote up his findings and preciptated a storm. Eventually, Hussein's existence was categorically denied by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, leading to demands that the AP retract stories based upon the phantom Captain. To this day the Associated Press has not produced the person or even the photograph of their star source, and a search for him finally involving CNN has not turned him up either.

According to AP, Jamil Gholaiem Hussein is a police captain with an office at the Yarmouk police station in western Baghdad, and more recently in the al-Khadra district. He has been cited as a police source in 61 AP stories from April 24, 2006 to November 25, 2006, and was said to have been "a regular source of police information for two years", however an Iraqi official stated he is not on their list of Interior Ministry employees. Besides Jamil Hussein, another source used in many AP articles is police Lt. Maithem Abdul Razzaq, who is not authorized to speak for the Iraqi Police. A warrant has been issued for his questioning by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. A partial list of other suspicious police sources under investigation has been issued.

Former CNN news division chief Eason Jordan announced that his "IraqSlogger" staff in Baghdad is trying to find Jamil Hussein. He has offered to pay for Michelle Malkin to go to Baghdad to join the search along with him. On December 14. 2006, Malkin accepted, and convinced Jordan to extend the invitation to "Curt", the Flopping Aces blogger.

On December 17, 2006, it was reported that a Jamail Hussein may have been located in the Yarmouk police station, as originally claimed by AP, but later the same sources said that the individual in question was Sergeant Jamil Hussein, not the captain mentioned in the news stories. According to Michelle Malkin, two Civilian Police Advisory Training Team (CPATT) officials told her that there is a Captain Jamil Ghdaab Gulaim (or Ghulaim) who is currently working at the Khadra police station, and who previously worked at the Yarmouk police station, as AP claimed with regard to Jamil Hussein. She notes the similarity between the name Gulaim and Jamil Hussein's middle name Gholaiem. Jamil Gulaim denies having contact with AP or any other media.

Associated Press maintains that after questions about the accuracy of events were raised, they returned and found 'more witnesses who described the attack in particular detail'; these new witnesses are all anonymous, AP stating that they fear persecution if identified. AP also maintains that Capt. Jamil Hussein is a genuine police contact and argue that the Interior Ministry's files are new and not accurate. A public affairs officer from the MNC-I Joint Operations Center has requested a retraction, or at least a correction, of the story by AP, claiming that it is false and that the AP's source does not exist.

Given the widespread use of AP reports, Mark Tapscott, editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner, has suggested that "AP should ask the American Society of Newspaper Editors to oversee the appointment and conduct of an independent panel of respected journalists and outside evidentiary experts to determine the truth behind Captain Jamil Hussein and all other sources similarly in doubt."

Now we come to the Linkers. Although Flopping Aces was a widely read blogsite, its traffic alone was incapable of generating the attention to necessary to challenge the mighty Associated Press. But the impact of the Flopping Aces analysis was soon magnified by the hierarchical structure of the blogosphere, a structure we glimpsed by running queries in Technorati. Following Flopping Ace's trailblazing efforts, posts casting doubt on the existence of "Captain Jamil Hussein" began to appear at even larger sites like Instapundit and Michelle Malkin's, sites which specialize in spotting trending stories and spreading them around. These bloggers are often called the Linkers. Blogsite after blogsite, following the lead of the Linkers, began to pile on to the case of "Captain Jamil Hussein", and added their traffic to the growing chorus. Finally the signal jumped across the gap into the mainstream media and the political world. One blogger -- one Thinker -- had forced the mighty Associated Press to respond to the question of whether it was making its sources up.

The entire process can be summarized in the flowchart shown below. First a veritable army of collectors (the Finders) report events on their weblogs. This pushes events above the Horizon. These events in turn become visible to the Thinkers, who are often specialist analysts in particular beats. The Thinkers are often the first to detect a significant trend; trends that are sometimes ignored or overlooked by the mainstream media which is busy with its own editorial priorities. Sometimes the Thinkers find a glaring flaw in an existing news story which resets the narrative. In a variety of ways, the Thinkers weave facts into a story, and particularly striking memes are amplified by the Linkers until it engages the public consciousness.

 

 

How to Optimize the Blogosphere for Information Warfare

It is possible in principle to tune parts of the blogosphere to better serve the needs of information warfare. For example, certain types of blogs are sensitive to picking up particular signals at levels which the general press would be pressed to match. Blogs which monitor and transcribe Arabic language media broadcasts, for example, report on what would be regarded as arcana by many major news outlets. Many MSM organizations simply leave foreign language broadcasts beneath the media Event Horizon because they are too expensive to access. But blogosphere, with its potentially unlimited number of Finders can simply post away, leaving it to the Thinkers and Linkers to separate the signal from the noise and to amplify significant of interest. The blogs can even be tuned to pick up human atmospherics. Lisa Goldman of On the Face and Charles Chuman of the Lebanese Political Journal maintained an Israeli-Lebanese blogospheric dialogue even while both countries were at war.  It was a dramatic human interest story that had the mainstream media riveted; but it was also an amazing demonstration of how even in wartime memes flow between sites on the Internet.

A number of Internet institutions have consciously attempted to improve the receptivity of their networks to certain signals. YouTube has made it far easier for the blogosphere to pick up video content and Flickr has performed the same service for still photographs. Today the blogosphere not only sucks up words, it sucks up images and sounds as well. Harvard Law School's Global Voices project has encouraged the formation of blogs in Third World countries in order to float up stories that would otherwise go unreported. All these efforts are functionally Web 2.0 efforts to encourage publics to add content to the Internet. Collectively they have pushed an huge amount of data above the Event Horizon which would have gone unreported; and in volumes that may eventually dwarf that generated by the MSM. It is possible that in the long run the global public will come to rely on fellow Internet users to learn about the world more than it will from professional journalists. The blogospheric revolution may be just beginning.

Although the number of Thinkers as well of the number of Finders is bound to grow organically, it is in the obvious interest of information warriors to encourage more Thinkers -- the equivalent of analysis cells -- to follow issues of interest. First-class Think sites can dramatically improve the ability of the blogosphere to respond quickly and accurately to information that breaks across the Event Horizon. Blogs which follow particular countries or track certain issues, such as Regime Change Iran, begin to ascend a learning curve and progressively improve their ability to identify important issues and gauge the reliability of various sources from experience. The speed at which Thinkers can work enabled the blogosphere to respond within the "Golden Hour" of public discourse during the 2006 war with Hezbollah; and it responded with a velocity that at occasionally confounded the calculations of disinformation professionals who never dreamed that such an avalanche of scrutiny was possible.

But Finders and Thinkers could not effectively function without Linkers. Information warriors would do well to track the propagation of a meme from first detection up through their Linkers to see whether the appropriate subsection of the blogosphere "works" for the issues they are interested in. During a public diplomacy crisis it is important for a critical detail to rise quickly to the top of the Internet hierarchy within the "Golden Hour". And this can only happen if the subject area is thoroughly and assiduously trawled through by Linkers. Where a natural escalation ladder does not exist, it may be advantageous to encourage the formation of blog alliances, especially among sites dedicated to relative arcana, like foreign language transcriptions. Blog alliances serve as artificial amplifers which small bloggers can use to create a path up through to the higher reaches of the Internet. Anyone who wants to know whether the blogosphere can help outflank the MSM during a public diplomacy crisis can do a systems check to observe how it works in normal times. As a rule of thumb, something that doesn't effectively perform an information war function in peacetime is unlikely to work in wartime.

But the reverse is not necessarily true. Systems which work in peacetime do not necessarily work under stress. During the 2006 war in Lebanon the editorial staff of Pajamas Media discovered that tracking developments on a 24x7 basis, required a network of editors "handing off" to each other across time zones for an extended period of time. Failure to do so would result in gaps in the coverage. Additional manpower, a robust organization and effective messaging between bloggers is absolutely vital to tracking events in a crisis.

Finally, the dissemination function of the blogosphere can be enhanced by creating bridge institutions which help narratives in the blogosphere jump the "spark gap" into the mainstream media. Dr. Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor noted how "activist" NGOs hostile to Israel were able to generate front-page headlines on specious reports by the simple tactic of getting a respectable institutions to repeat their allegatons. While blogospheric stories normally gain currency and credibility by passing the scrutiny of ever larger sites, "activist" memes are passed up a prepapred ladder of legitimacy until the doubtful and sometimes the false can be passed off as fact. 

The blogosphere needs to develop similar connections in order to help its memes jump the "spark gap". But it can be done in an honest manner. For example, Mark Tapscott, the editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner, has suggested that "AP should ask the American Society of Newspaper Editors to oversee the appointment and conduct of an independent panel of respected journalists and outside evidentiary experts to determine the truth behind Captain Jamil Hussein and all other sources similarly in doubt." Institutions like a voluntary MSM ombudsman described by Tapscott can perform an important function in "legitimizing" serious questions which are raised in good faith.

 

The "Legitimizer"

 

The blogosphere will turn its energies with equal ferocity to every side. Populated as it is by people from all walks of the ideological spectrum, the blogosphere itself has no inherent political bias. Bloggers with Left wing, Right Wing, Arab, Israeli, European and American, religious and atheistic viewpoints will be simultaneously scrutinizing every scrap of information that raises its head above the Event Horizon. The blogosphere is no one's friend. But it will be unkindest to the side which relies the most on cant and propaganda to spread its message. And to the extent that one political side is the target of a deliberate campaign of disinformation and deceit, the blogosphere will tend to favor that side. The ultimate irony is that disinformation tactics designed to blind, then shape the reportage of the mainstream media by controlling their access to the field, and making them reliant upon stringers -- the so-called "access journalism" -- may in the end make journalists more dependent on the blogosphere as an alternative source of information. The blogosphere, by opening up wholly new sources of alternative bandwidth, may yet make "access journalism" counterproductive. If a sufficiently dense blogospheric network can be emplaced, the large-scale lying will be increasingly difficult to pull off.

Conclusion

The Internet revolution has created new structures of knowing, thinking and communicating. Those features are only now being exploited. They are destined to complement many aspects of the public intelligence system known as journalism over the next decade. The blogosphere contains potentially a very large number of information collectors, which raise events which occur in the physical world above a Horizon at which they become detectable on the Internet. It has also evolved a sophisticated network of watchers and analysts whose professional competence has no preset limits; analysts who are able to separate the signal from the noise. Finally, the blogosphere has a sophisticated and evolutionary system of grading the reliability and relevance of stories; it promotes stories of interest upward until they reaches the top of the Internet hierarchy within hours. From that apex, blogospheric memes can make the jump into the mainstream media and into the legal arenas of society.

Understanding and exploiting the characteristics of blogosphere will become a key skill in any information warrior's manual of arms. Information warriors can improve the blogosphere's receptivity and performance in key areas by proactive preparation. But they should be advised. The blogosphere does not contain any preordained political or cultural bias. Structurally, however, it is extremely hostile to cant and disinformation. The political side which tells the most lies and falsehoods is likely to suffer more at its hands than one which hews more closely to the observable truth.

66 Comments:

Blogger Anointiata Delenda Est said...

Excellent post, W.

Just one thing on the Thinkers. They come in two flavours - Analysts and Synthesists.

One needs both, but I hold that the latter are more important, one who can make sense of it all, can join various pieces of the puzzle together.

You, W, are one of the best.

It is at the moment of synthesis that the danger occurs, where one's world view enters. This is why it is so difficult to overcome the MSM - its world view is largely uniform and anti West.

The blogosphere allows other explanations for the same events to be generated and spread.

As an instrument in our fight against the home enemies, it is probably our only one.

ADE

12/28/2006 03:57:00 AM  
Blogger TigerHawk said...

Outstanding.

A couple of incremental thoughts.

Your idea that the blogosphere has no natural political leaning, but that it will tend to oppose strategic disinformation campaigns is a useful one. In effect, the blogosphere functions much more effectively for the "defense" than for the "offense" in such a struggle.

In this regard, the blogosphere is perhaps a bit surprising. In the early days of Internet journalism, I would guess that the dominant view was that the Internet would be fertile soil for disseminating lies, or slander, or other forms of misinformation. There is something in the structure of blogs that makes them much more suited to the "defense." Perhaps their sheer numbers.

In this regard, blogs are like machine guns: Both were originally thought to be offensive weapons, but in actual combat we learned that they were much more powerful on the defense.

The other observation I would make is that the ultimate effectiveness of the blogosphere turns on the size of its primary audience, the people who have blogs bookmarked and read them daily. Yes, bloggers detected, analyzed, and amplified Hezbollah's disinformation during the summer's war, but they failed in the information war, insofar as political opposition grew until Israel decided it had to stand down. Why? I think because the readership of the blogosphere is still too low, at least with regard to any given story. Look at the total traffic of the big Linkers at the time that Green Helmet Guy was exposed. If you add together all the traffic of Reynolds, Johnson, Malkin and Power Line and assume that (i) there was no duplication (an absurdly conservative assumption, I'm sure) and (ii) people averaged one visit every two days, you probably had around 1,000,000 people who knew about that story. At most. Now, that readership is undoubtedly very influential, and it ultimately drove the story into the more serious newspapers and even television, but it did not do it quickly enough to destroy Hezbollah's credibility with the great masses of, well, European voters. All of this leads me to wonder whether the blogosphere can truly be useful as a tool of information war until the primary audience for "general readership" political blogs is substantially higher than it is today. When Glenn Reynolds has a million readers a day or five, then -- I speculate -- the speed of the transmission from the top of the blogosphere's food chain into other media will accelerate dramatically. The question is, how to get there? I'm sure Glenn is wondering the same thing.

12/28/2006 04:09:00 AM  
Blogger 2164th said...

A damn fine piece of work.

Your article makes one realize the sheer magnitude involved in running a blog. It is a blob of work and can smother creativity with chores.

No wonder we have not heard more voices from the choir other than "Jews against Jesus" and pagan bashing.

The internet has several major deficiencies, cultural relevance, weight of importance, and just plain chaff. Type in "Hilton" and you get 100,000,000 pages. So much for importance.

If you are German, interested in German history and type in "Kaiser" you see nothing of relevance to your search.

The primary source of most of the information provided on the internet are still the major news agencies. The bloggers get to chew around the edges and throw confetti.

12/28/2006 05:24:00 AM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

Excellent article.

However, I have a comment on this:

> Structurally, however, it is extremely hostile to cant and disinformation. The political side which tells the most lies and falsehoods is likely to suffer more at its hands than one which hews more closely to the observable truth.

Like the war in Iraq? It seems to me that the media and liberals are telling a lie about Iraq, but are "winning" the information war.

This blog is outstanding because it is open. However, many blogs are tightly controlled by their owners so they become propaganda megaphones for the owners, not seekers of truth. Anyone who says anything the owner disagrees with is censored out, so the blog owner ends up with dozens of people who support him.

A large percentage of information posted on the web is BS, often deliberately posted as misinformation for the exact purpose of fooling people. (Often as "humor", like trolling.)

I do agree that the blogosphere overall may reflect the truth. Taking all the blog sites together, it has the advantage of not being censored tightly like the MSM. One ends up however with a needle in a haystack problem where there are so many alleged truths around that the problem becomes deciding which is the real truth.

12/28/2006 05:58:00 AM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

> I truly believe that "it is possible that in the long run the global public will come to rely on fellow Internet users to learn about the world more than it will from professional journalists."

This is probably true, and even though it is a credit to people on blogs, it is sad that the professional media are so bad.

The media are relentless is their bias and pushing their agenda. For example the headline of today's Washington Post web is "Ford Disagreed with Iraq Policy". They continue their vehement campaign to surrender in Iraq by revealing that President Ford agreed that after he died, the Post could release an interview in which he supposedly disagreed with Bush about Iraq. An evil but clever way to leverage the death of former President Ford to keep the anti-war pressure on. The Post knows that every day is a battle in the media wars, for and against the war, and whoever wins the headlines has taken a step towards getting the troops to withdraw or stay.

The blogosphere could theoretically help this, but as the diagram in the article shows, someone in the media needs to reflect the blog information to the public. We need a president, congress, and media who wake up every morning trying to find a way to put the good news about Iraq in the headlines, just like the liberal media wake up every day thinking, "How can we turn people against the Iraq war?"

12/28/2006 06:18:00 AM  
Blogger Jamie Irons said...

Wretchard,

Superb analysis.

To me the most interesting hypothesis (it still seems to have the epistemological status of an hypothesis) is that the blogosphere tends to favor those parties with more "truth" on its side.

You would think that would tend to extinguish the readership of the hard left blogs, like Kos and Huffpo.

But don't the statistics assert that these still get the most traffic?

Jamie Irons

12/28/2006 06:20:00 AM  
Blogger Jamie Irons said...

Sorry, should have been

...that the blogosphere tends to favor those parties with more "truth" on their side...


Jamie Irons

12/28/2006 06:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tigerhawk said:
All of this leads me to wonder whether the blogosphere can truly be useful as a tool of information war until the primary audience for "general readership" political blogs is substantially higher than it is today. . . The question is, how to get there?

My father doesn't read blogs - not even mine - but you betcha he knows all about Rathergate, and it has ended his trust in CBS news, the network he grew up with. His mode of news-gathering now is to watch both CNN and Fox News and discern truth from the interference pattern.

My aunt regards everything she reads on Democratic Underground and MoveOn as gospel rote, because she detects a strong right-wing bias in mainstream news (which makes me guffaw, but that's another story).

In both cases, an individual's natural BS detector has driven them to alternate news sources, or alternate methods of gathering news. Note that my father is almost twenty years older than my aunt - were it not for that generation gap, I imagine he would have abandoned broadcast news entirely.

Growing the blogosphere's readership is an organic process which follows an inverse relationship with the decrease in trust of mainstream news sources. Each time the MSM gets caught out in a lie our collective readership and credibility increase.

12/28/2006 07:34:00 AM  
Blogger allen said...

What difference a blog makes?

How different the world would be had there been blogs in 1973?

COLD RIVER: A CASE STUDY



US State Dept. Admits Long-Held Secret: Arafat Directly Responsible For 1973 Murders of US Diplomats

12/28/2006 07:34:00 AM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

Here is a great, great article from a Marine Major about the information war and how to win it.

Link

President Bush should contact this guy, who is retired, and get him to help get the White House message out.

12/28/2006 08:01:00 AM  
Blogger Jrod said...

There seems to be a lack of "synthesis" among the members of this list:

18 Blogs Responsible for the 100 Most Popular Posts Of 2006
Thursday, December 28, 2006 8:26:09 AM (GMT-08:00)
Provided by: MarketWire
NEW YORK, NY, Dec 28 (MARKET WIRE) --

A small cluster of power bloggers -- focused on politics, blogging and humor -- were responsible for the top 100 blog posts for 2006, according to word-of-mouth measurement firm Nielsen BuzzMetrics. The top blog -- based on the number of inbound links from other blogs between January 1 and November 30, 2006 -- was mother.livejournal.com's petition against changes in the livejournal interface. The single post was linked to in 801 posts by 786 other blogs.


"A minority of highly influential blogs continues to influence the broader conversation on the web," said Jonathan Carson, CEO, Nielsen BuzzMetrics. "However, unique circumstances and events, such as the LiveJournal protest against proposed interface changes, can resonate with passionate stakeholders and catapult lesser-known blogs to the top."

Crooks and Liars' posts on Stephen Colbert's monologue at the White House, and Keith Olbermann commentary on Rumsfeld, were the number 2 and 3 posts, respectively. The Colbert post was linked to in 622 posts on 603 blogs, and the Olbermann was linked to in 359 posts on 340 blogs.


David Sifry, founder and CEO of blog-search engine Technorati, had the fourth most popular post, with his latest state-of-the-blogosphere report. The post was linked to in 339 posts on 298 blogs.

Nielsen BuzzMetrics
Top Blog Posts of 2006 Ranked by Number of Messages/Blogs That Link To Entry

January 1-November 30, 2006


1 2006 PETITION AGAINST
CHANGES IN THE LIVEJOURNAL INTERFACE
2 Colbert Does the White
House Correspondents'
dinner
3 Keith Olbermann
Delivers One Hell Of a
Commentary on Rumsfeld
4 State of the
Blogosphere, August
2006
5 Keith Olbermann's
Special Comment on
Bush: Who has left
this hole in the
ground? We have not
forgotten, Mr.
President. You have. May this country forgive you
6 SUPPORT DENMARK: WHY
THE FORBIDDEN CARTOONS
MATTER
7 SNL: If Al Gore were
President
8 Milking it?

9 State of the
Blogosphere, February
2006 Part 1: On
Blogosphere Growth
10 State of the
Blogosphere, April
2006 Part 1: On
Blogosphere Growth

12/28/2006 08:41:00 AM  
Blogger Dymphna said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12/28/2006 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger Dymphna said...

This is Wretchard at his finest: the gathering and synthesis of material. I remember well the effect you had on us "back when" -- the result was so mind-changing that we had to start our own blog in order to quit taking up so much room in the comment section.

One of the major effects you had was to make us see the situation in Iraq thru a different telescope and begin to search out counter-evidence for the MSM blather.

Anointiata says it best in that first comment...synthesis is when one's world view enters. Since yours is basically a benign world view -- whatever evil lurks at the edges of grim reality -- you have the ability to engender hope and belief that truth will triumph. Actually, your own "day job" -- or at least your education of applied mathematics -- leaves you in a perfect position to analyze *and* synthesize. Combined with your basic benignity, it makes you a powerful writer.

Unfortunately, 2164th was right when he said:

Your article makes one realize the sheer magnitude involved in running a blog. It is a blob of work and can smother creativity with chores.

Sometimes this aspect gets me down.

And, as usual, Wu Wei captures the problem/solution of information dissemination perfectly. He's a gem, and a good example of the caliber of Belmont commenter. I highly recommend his link.

Jamie Irons asks a question that I hope you'll answer:

You would think that would tend to extinguish the readership of the hard left blogs, like Kos and Huffpo.

But don't the statistics assert that these still get the most traffic?

My only response is that Kos is heavily referenced by the MSM, which finds it in its self-interest to promote such a pov, and Huffpo is full of Fluffpo
"personalities." We all know the attraction that "personalities" can have in a bread and circuses environment. But I'd rather see your take on his question.

Thank you for a finely wrought post. I am sure it will be linked. Starting with me.

Of course, it kind of puts to shame my original thought for a post today, which was going to be on what to say to telemarketers when they interrupt dinner...

...well, maybe I can do both.

Cheers for the New Year, Wretch.

And one more thing: remember your prescient attempt a few years ago to start a community of blogs? It would be a few years before PJM came into being, but the idea blossomed with you (as it did with many others).

Here's to Gates of Vienna's blog father...

BTW, I notice I have violated Nanhcee's dictum that a good comment should not exceed 3 paragraphs. Ah, well...she also chided me for prosletyzing the frequent use of your tip jar...
...hint, hint, readers and commenters. Remember the wolf at the door during the coming year.

12/28/2006 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

The nation's first Muslim Congressperson was elected in November, Keith Ellison in Minnesota. PowerLine, a fairly famous and well-known blog, wrote extensively about Mr. Ellison for months prior to the election.

The local newspaper, on the other hand, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, had a news blackout on the fact that Mr. Ellison is a Muslim with ties not only to CAIR but to other terrorist organizations.

Two months later, the Strib had just been sold for $530 million, after having been worth over $1 billion some years ago. It's readership has declined to the point where it's becoming worthless as well as redundant.

However, this is not helpful AFTER Mr. Ellison has been elected to the Congress of the United States of America, and is now demanding that he be sworn in to his new office using a Koran. In other words, his fealty will be to Islam rather than to the US Constitution.

It seems to me that that citizens of Minnesota have an excellent case for bringing a lawsuit for malfeasance against the Star Tribune for *not* adequately informing them of who and what they were voting for. Ignorance is not accepted as a plea for wrong-doing in a court of law, but surely normal people living their lives outside the internet should be able to expect to be warned about waves of other evil things approaching them besides tsunami's.

12/28/2006 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger Andre_Szara said...

Dear 2164th (above at 5:24 am),

May a mere Jew (not "against Jesus" variety, just not "for" him in the sense that I see him as necessary to maintain our covenant with the Lord) offer you some aid in your distress at the apparent lack of internet information on the glorious German Kaiser?

Type in the search term "german kaiser" and you'll get 1,730,000 (+) responses.

I hope you feel better.

P.S. My grandfather was decorated for infantry service in the army of Kaiser Franz Josef (Austro-Hungarian Empire, not those German upstarts) in the Great War of 1914 to 1918.

12/28/2006 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger 2164th said...

Andre_Szara said...
Dear 2164th (above at 5:24 am),

"May a mere Jew (not "against Jesus" variety, just not "for" him in the sense that I see him as necessary to maintain our covenant with the Lord) offer you some aid in your distress at the apparent lack of internet information on the glorious German Kaiser?"

You may have missed my point or I was lax in making it. It was not in a burst of tutonic ardor that I was needing information on the Kaiser. The topic was about the use of the internet to disseminate information for good or evil. One word can have a different meaning to different cultures. To me, Hilton means somewhere to sleep, to others in means someone to sleep with. Kaiser to a German has connotations to Germany's militaristic past. To an American it could mean an insurance investment.

I am sorry to have confused. I am pleased you are not against Jesus, but that was a comment referring to the previous post that was about Church services in the Philipines that somehow degenerated into a sharp discussion over religious differences. The post was up by itself for some time and Wretchard was absent. It was obvious to me that this present post took some time. I was alluding to this present impressive post and was jesting about his absence and maintaing order. I find the term, "Jews for Jesus" amusing. My writing, "Jews against Jesus" was sarcasm. I thought I hinted at the sarcasm when I mentioned "pagan bashers."

Thank your grandfather for his service.

12/28/2006 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

One element that does need to be discussed in any infowar that uses the Internet to rapidly link Finders who provide the direct reporting even up to live video feed to Users they have preidentified, or which MSM is fed the right infowar fodder - is that Hez and other radical groups are now far ahead of Western-style governments because they employ Strategy.

Long before any exercise that shows the effectiveness of Islamist infowar, men park their AK-47s against a wall, sip mint tea, and discuss who does what to win the information battle if fighting breaks out, who must be on the same page, how to enforce consensus (as they eye the AKs).

Inside the activist NGOs run by secular progressive Jews or EuroLeft, the info and PR strategy of who gets influenced and when in the next crisis the NGOs see can be opportunistically exploited is gone over, again and again, in meetings where the heads of these Fronts, their PR staff, and reps of media outlets assemble.
Thus we now see the near instant mobilization of "protest" as events like Katrina ignite organized firestorms of Bush hatred or the Leb War produces near-instant "standing in solidarity with our murdered Lebanese brothers" across continents and on every radicalized US campus.

Unfortunately, Western governments have followed an old, now apparantly outmoded construct that has been surpassed by technology and it's many foe's tactics. That democracy is somehow best served by government and media being independent and by media being "adversarial" by nature to democratic government.

It is a luxury that we may not be able to afford.

Realizing that the infowar of enemy Islamists and the radical agenda of the EuroLeft and secular Jewish progressives has surpassed the West because they are on the same page and constantly strategize on best use of media to advance war objectives or destruction of Western institutions - should lead the West to significantly reconsider the present government-media system.

In the past, even America has suborned the press "freedoms" as secondary to winning the war. We didn't in Vietnam and lost because the Communists had a better media campaign than we did. Now the Islamists are cleaning clock on disorganized, even confrontational efforts in the West as governments seek to get a message out and are unable to get a herd of disorganized, independent-actor press to help. Or fail in the face of institutional hostility to the West the press feels it must display while it laps up whatever Hez, Iraqi insurgents, "confidential police informants" dish out from fear of losing access.

The Israelis were once master media manipulators, making the West believe some rather dubious myths and claims early on. Then they entered a period of total confidence that the USA backed them automatically - plus technological arrogance - so it didn't matter what the rest of the world thought. So they quit the PR effort outside the USA, and saw their circle of friends slowly dwindle to one nation.

That the Israelis still don't "get it" is evident from the dismal performance the Zionists displayed in the Hez battle. They lost because they had not really thought out how to deal with media events, had no real plan to deal with emerging media firestorms, and struggled with a deeply suspicious internal Israeli and foreign press corps. This caused hesitation in kinetic warfare, their offensive ground down, and their large store of "precision high tech super toys" orginally meant for "one-bomb one kill" of high value enemy targets had to be used up. The reality of the precision weapons has been extremely destructive to the West in deterring war - perversely - because the media and shops and housing blocks full of enemy now demand that the All-Important morality of Zero needless enemy civilian deaths thanks to expensive precision weapons be enforced. Thus enemy populations and the media demand that they should have no fear of being harmed in war - that maybe the Hez launching missiles at Israeli cities be legitimately hit, but certainly not the crowd at the cafe watching it (cheering and making video for Internet use as well) from 200 yards away. (including those Hez fighters breaking for lunch there).

In America, the hostile media and the NGOs have systematically collaborated to undermine war support. Outright enemy supporters are free to operate in the West and conduct information warfare unless they cross very, very extreme lines.

We know the effectiveness of enemy Islamist Internet warfare, use of the media is greatly enhanced by requiring they all be on the same page. Otherwise, THEIR bloggers, reporters, NGO members get warned once if they are lucky...to a dirtnap if not.

While nothing is being advocated now about the need to put a hole in the head of a NYTimes reporter, ACLU lawyer, a Soros-like head of NGOs determined to tear down the West...we...IMO, are entering a time where we have to rethink the "total freedom of the press, even to destroy us" premise.

NO liberty is absolute.

Perhaps our answer to the deficiencies Wretchard mentioned will be in sequences. We identify what areas we are losing the infowar in. We ask the media to help us win. If they refuse, we create government substitutes and laws that force media to give the representatives of The People a fair hearing and info dissemination. That doesn't work, we create state substitutes for private media. That doesn't work, we create broader laws regarding what constitutes "aid and comfort to the enemy" - with progressively harshening penalties.

In the "Long War" against radical Islam, along with the decay of the West and America as economically and culturally competitive forces - we cannot tolerate a media and assembly of activist NGOs that see our elected governments as their #1 enemy, and active overseas hostile forces as their "allies" against the Western leaders and institutions they hate.

12/28/2006 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

Speaking of propaganda, Senator Arlen Specter went to Syria recently and now wants to meet with Iran! The interesting propaganda aspect of it is how US liberals such as Specter call the communication with Syria "Dialog", but Syria calls it by its real name:

Specter reiterated what he said in Damascus earlier this week, that the Syrians were interested in entering into negotiations with Israel without preconditions, and that Syrian President Bashar Assad had told him that in return Syria could be helpful in dealing both with Hamas and Hizbullah.

Link

This is a critical difference that Bush needs to pick up on. The Democrats, the Iraq Study Group, makes it sound like Bush refuses to talk to Syria & Iran, but really what they want is negotiations. That would mean rewarding them for terrorism. It reminds me of the Godfather telling someone that if they cooperated that various problems they were having (which the Godfather ordered) would go away. Syria likewise is trying to use Hamas and Hizbullah to extort.

12/28/2006 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger allen said...

“Big Media” focuses. Every evening at 6:00 PM the network news producers miraculously carry the same major ledes.

There are days in the blogosphere when the major conservative/libertarian blog-meisters will be singing from the same page. Generally, however, it is everyman for himself, with the proprietors working from the adage of “publish or perish”.

How does the blogosphere handle a really big story? Sometimes, not so well, if today’s apathy to the Arafat story is indicative. The question that should, in my opinion, have the blogs humming is, “Who or what did Arafat know that made his life worth the deaths of tens of thousands of other human beings, including major members of the US
diplomatic corps”?

The answer to that question, forcibly extracted from the powers-that-be by the blogs, might go far to explain the sorry state of American foreign policy. While the question is not sexy, titillating, and partisan, it could be profound.

12/28/2006 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger 2164th said...

Allen, coincidences?

12/28/2006 11:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wretchard,

Outstanding post! Excellent analysis of the blogosphere, its capabilities, limitations, and how it is changing the way information is produced and disseminated across the globe.

I will be a linker with this post, and be a thinker at some later point on a different topic!

12/28/2006 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

Arafat is dead, Nixon is dead, the story took place over 30 years ago, so this seems to be yesterday's news, and not helpful for solving today's problems. Also, the current President Bush, after seeing with his own eyes what a terrorist Arafat is, became the first president to totally refuse to negotiate with him.

As for how the US reacted back then, that would depend on the President, not the State Department.

Quite often the US is forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. In Palestine this often meant sticking with Arafat / Fatah instead of allowing even worse groups to take over. Indeed, the same thing is happening now as the US is giving military training to Fatah in order to prevent the Islamic terrorist group Hamas from taking over Palestine by assassination.

The same thing, where "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", happened when we supported bin Laden during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and when we supported Saddam Hussein in the Iran / Iraq war.

12/28/2006 11:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As to Jeremy Irons question about why the HuffPo/Kos sites attract huge readership, I would suggest that they fall outside of Wretchard's classification system.

They are much more along the lines of propaganda blogs whose primary purpose seems to be to reinforce all of the collective untruths/rumors/neuroses of the left side of the blogosphere. Just look at the guy on HuffPo announcing that blacks were cannibalizing each other in the SuperDome a few days after Katrina or the hilarious demonstration linked on Kos of some guy burning a wire cage with kerosene purporting to prove that the WTC could not have been destroyed by jet liner hits compounded with the high heat of the burning jet fuel. No self-respecting blogger (in Wretchard's sense of the term in the article above) would allow such absurdities to appear on their blogs as they would immediately lose all credibility within the blogospehere itself. As these 2 famous examples show, these blogs are in no way, shape or form attempting to get at the truth. They are simply venting their BDS in a giant echo chamber and are immune to any sort of Finding, Thinking and Linking.

Keep in mind, I am only using HuffPo and Kos because they were mentioned earlier. This type of thing happens across the idealogical spectrum. I don't think any propaganda blog falls within Wretchard's classification system. File them with the Paris Hilton fan clubs.

12/28/2006 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12/28/2006 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

We aren't the only ones who sometimes allow terrorist leaders to remain alive. Fatah has much, much more Israeli blood on their hands than US blood, yet Israel just allowed weapons to be sent to them.


Israel OKs Egyptian arms for Fatah
Dec. 28, 2006 at 10:31AM
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has approved Egypt providing 2,000 rifles and ammunition to the Palestinian Fatah movement to keep Hamas in check.
The move, which includes 20,000 magazines of bullets, was made as there is rising concern in Israel that Hamas is building its military strength by smuggling in explosives and weaponry from Egypt into Gaza using underground tunnels, YNetNews reported Thursday.

Link

12/28/2006 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done.

In the aggregate Wretchard is correct: adversarial clusters tend to error-correct for each other, which creates a blogospheric hostility to strategic disinformation and false data. If the data is incontrovertible, however, vulnerabilities remain.

Propaganda-by-deed remains the primary way by which to manipulate the blogosphere (and media in general) to one's advantage. Unfortunately, this vulnerability will increase in proportion to the propagandist's sophistication, and the propagandist's sophistication will inevitably increase.

Interpretation and reaction are not boundless, nor are they unpredictable. If the datum is real, we can still be manipulated.

12/28/2006 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger dla said...

A structure that works somewhat like the human brain....hmmm

Forming a quantity of connections based on the magnitude of the event and reinforced by an infinite capacity to remember...

Analyzed 24x7 by a cumulative IQ greater than all the think tanks in the world....

However awe-inspiring this may be, it still requires people to pay attention and think. Given the popularity of shows like The View, I'm not very hopefull that people will take advantage of this new power.

12/28/2006 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here are some excerpts from Robert Steele's official strategy paper for the U.S. military on Information Operations, for those who are interested.

12/28/2006 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger dla said...

"Elvis back from the dead with amazing new UFO sex diet" - by Dave Barry. Dave was poking fun at the checkout stand tabloids about 15 years ago. But those tabloids are still in business, assumably because people are still tossing them into the shopping cart.

My point is that there is something about some people that causes them to gravitate to the stupidest sources of information, whether it be the Star or Katie Couric.

Some folks will take advantage of the informational power made available by the blogospere (like Al Qaeda swinging the US elections). But there will always be a segment of the population that will knowingly seek out and embrace falsehood. And there just isn't much the bloggers can do about that.

12/28/2006 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

Link

In a speech today President Bush said:
It's important for the American people to understand success in Iraq is vital for our own security. If we were to not succeed in Iraq, the enemy -- the extremists, the radicals -- would have safe haven from which to launch further attacks, they would be emboldened; they would be in a position to threaten the United States of America.

I think he's got it, the way to win the information war. Say that this is self defense, direct prevention of another 9/11.

It's not enough anymore to just say this is part of the "global war on terror". But in this case Bush can show that Al Qaeda is trying to set up training camps in Iraq like Afghanistan, to launch 9/11 attacks.

The Democrats will win if they can argue about the "old" Iraq War. Bush needs to say that it's not about whether people like him, or what happened in the past, but where we are now. He should take responsibility for all mistakes in the past, without saying what they were, then lead us forward.

12/28/2006 12:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fun post. It and many of the comments illicit the major weakness in the blogosphere to date; the linkers (newspaper editors in MSM).

The blogosphere's challenge is with the millions of finders and thinkers, what should attract our attention? Social bookmark websites, RSS feeds, and sites like Instapundit all play the same role.

I would suggest none of them have it quite right yet. Some of the software seems to be more attuned for research for the thinkers than as linkers. We'll probably eventually see a separation there.

The automated solution that gets it right (and may require a full time 'editor') will be the next killer app (That is Glenn Reynold's long term exposure). And yes, I believe it will look like a newspaper (with comments) with the heavier hand of editors at the helm. American Thinker has it more right than Pajamas Media, which still remains more unfocused conglomeration than multi-purposed spotlight, if that makes any sense.

There's another point: this is all quite new yet. Give it time to evolve, grow and most of all, attract more attention.

In the meantime, even well read sites struggle to get above the frayed din. W, I can think of less than 10 sites that for politics and culture I consider thinkers. Yours is definitely one of them. "Just keep thinkin' Butch. That's what you're good at."

12/28/2006 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Huffington Post sends out a daily email with highlighted stories, a "Daily Brief". I don't know how effective this is for them.

Great study and insightful comments.

12/28/2006 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger Andre_Szara said...

2164th,

It seems that I did miss your point. Thank you for explaining the connection to content in other posts. I apologize for coming to an unfair conclusion about you based on that one post.

My grandfather has passed to his reward and his world is gone, but Kaiser Franz Josef's medal is still a treasured family heirloom.

12/28/2006 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger Brent Buckner said...

Close parallels to Gladwell's _The Tipping Point_; shouldn't surprise me, as you are both highlighting human information cascades. Your "thinkers" are much like his "mavens" and your "linkers" are much like his "connectors". Your "legitimizers" would be much like his "salesmen".

12/28/2006 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

wu wei,

re: Hamas v. Fatah

Is it your opinion that Hamas is a greater terrorist organization than Fatah? Have you compared the numbers killed and maimed by both?

The Muslims running both Fatah and Hamas are the god-children of Arafat. If an unrepentant Arafat (who lived and murdered until 2004, by the way) had a deal with the US, do his god-children? That is why Arafat is pertinent, despite the murder of diplomats having occurred some thirty years ago.

Classified deals with leaders of either Fatah and Hamas are also important because, among other things, every major player in the region and the ISG have tied peace in Iraq to an Israeli-Palestinian-Syrian peace. The players and the deals made are important.

12/28/2006 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

wu wei,

re: arms to Fatah

Like, Olmert is going to say "No" to Dr. Rice. Other tried and true canards: "But Israel supplies the PA with utilities." and "Israel collects taxes for the PA."

Something one never hears: "Most Israeli governments have been willing to kiss the Palestinian backside to keep those cards and letters coming from the US."

12/28/2006 02:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post Wretchard,

I'm always amazed at the energy and thought you put into this site.

12/28/2006 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger Syd And Vaughn said...

Wretchard,

Outstanding post. The analysis you put into this tops anything that I've read before. And it constantly amazes me the speed and strength of the blogosphere in general. Like one giant machine with all the cogs working in unison.

You ought to pass this onto Joseph Rago, the 23 year old snot-nosed know-it-all from the WSJ who penned a piece slamming bloggers as "idiots writing for imbeciles." Hugh Hewitt ripped him apart in an interview recently, and your post right here would serve as a good education for the little twerp.

Thomas

12/28/2006 02:57:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

We identify what areas we are losing the infowar in. We ask the media to help us win. If they refuse, we create government substitutes and laws that force media to give the representatives of The People a fair hearing and info dissemination. That doesn't work, we create state substitutes for private media. That doesn't work, we create broader laws regarding what constitutes "aid and comfort to the enemy" - with progressively harshening penalties.

State substitutes for private media -- like National Public Radio, for example...?

Seriously, while there is clearly Jewish participation in the left-wing secularist movement, Jews are hardly alone. Ever heard of Unitarians? In any case, if the Voice of America could broadcast an interview with Mullah Omar a few years back, what assurance do we have that the very "progressives" who are undermining the war effort won't be the ones to interpret your recommendations to put you into prison?

Information warfare is important, but I think it is more important to keep the government from interfering with what we do than it is to use the government to close down defeatist media organs. I am quite concerned that the defeatists would be quite eager to stifle the freedom of speech of those who disagree with them.

12/28/2006 03:27:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The Daily Kos reflects the fact that there are a very large number of Leftists in Western society. But it's also interesting to observe there are sections of the Left which are disgusted with Kos because they cannot intellectually abide them, in a way not unlike the devout Christian who likewise can't stand the huckerster TV evangelist. TalkLeft, for example, has been against the Duke Lacrosse lynch mob for some time. And to be fair, many Lefty sites were carrying really pertinent criticisms of the conduct of the war in Iraq which, for psychological reasons, the conservatives may not have looked at too carefully. Discounting the obvious head cases and filtering out the noise, the blogosphere has been putting out a remarkably faithful signal. That's not to say it is perfect, but only relatively better than the old agenda and access journalism with which we have lived so long.

12/28/2006 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

brent buckner,

That's an amazing comparison between the Blogospheric model and the "Tipping Point"; and a comforting one because if we are describing the same phenomena, that of information being processed by large numbers of people, then the characterizations of the systems should be equivalent.

Because I was focused on the info warfare aspects of the blogosphere it became clear that you could enhance the system by Johnny Appleseeding certain blogs. I was told that the Global Voices people had come through Asia organizing conferences among bloggers. This is a tremendous strategic investment, especially when one realizes that much of the political opposition in certain countries like Singapore is actually a virtual opposition. The political party headquarters is online. I think the authoritarian governments in the region understand this too, which is why they are investing in large firewalls. Iran too is moving to restrict the Internet. Europe, in its own politically correct way has similar tendencies.

People who live in a First Amendment atmosphere may not understand just why Global Voices is soliciting blogs, nor why China is trying to get them under control. But there is a method to their madness.

12/28/2006 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

I hope that future discussions take into considerations the use of violence to advance the infowar.

The terrorists are using violence against news gatherers to shape the battlefield in thier favor. This is apparent from foriegn journalists being more sympathetic to terrorists' point of view, for no other reason than to remain safe and on the scene. Also foreign news gathering agencies use terrorist friendly stringers because of the danger of using non terrorist friendly stringers.

This use of violence even goes so far as to affect what is shown to end users, as retail outlets avoid any topic which may give an excuse for violence on thier establishments or employees.

So the pervading effects of violence have shaped the infowar battlefield in the terrorists'favor, the only defense currently being bloggers who are effectively "sniping from the weeds".

12/28/2006 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Here is a question for you - or all of y'all:

Currently when virtually anyone does a "starter post" on a blog they advance an idea and toss it out there. They get responses back from people with expertise in rocket science, animal husbandry, fire hydrant design, or what have you. Then the ideas get affirmed, modified, transformed - or perhaps killed entirely.

But would it be better for bloggers to have a list of e-mail addresses for people with certain expertise? Or for that matter does that process already take place in the formation os a Starter Blog?

In some ways Blogs are similar to a form of analysis called Delphi - in which answers to questions are collected, the "bell curve answer" in the middle noted, and then only the responses that are on the outer ends - beyond most of the bell curve - are investigated. The idea is that people responding outside the great mass of answers in the center are either totally clueless or very knowledgeable. That more or less takes place in blogs, but perhaps it could be speeded up or refined by design.

12/28/2006 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

You can lead a Thinker to Truth, but you can't make them Think.

Wretchard's tremendous analysis reminds me of Gregory Bateson's "Steps to an Ecology of Mind" - especially the part where the dolphins break through to the fourth level of learning, where the dolphins understand they are not just getting paid for learning tricks, they are getting paid for inventing NEW TRICKS!

Ahhh yes, let's celebrate that before bemoaning our exposure. Consider that all readers who come to the Belmont Club come here on purpose, where television watchers of networks shows are more like cavemen huddling around the warmth of the fire. Metaphorically speaking of course, not that there's anything wrong with cavemen.

Comparing Instapundit's "viewers" to the New York Times, well, that's getting ahead of ourselves. Those guys own factories and will pump our pulp advertising vehicles forever, or at least a couple more years.

It all goes back to whether you are making billboards for inchoate mass consumption, or you are helping spread the Truth.

Truth Sells

12/28/2006 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Sissy Willis said...

Superb post. I couldn't seem to link. Here's my related post:

Fooling most of the people most of the time

12/28/2006 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger Kev said...

Great post, Wretchard. I do need to point out one quick thing, though: You've got an unneeded "e" in your above link to Flickr. (That's part of the beauty of the blogosphere as well--mistakes can be edited rather quickly compared to a newspaper or magazine.)

12/28/2006 05:48:00 PM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

> we...IMO, are entering a time where we have to rethink the "total freedom of the press, even to destroy us" premise.

I don't buy it. We don't need censorship to protect ourselves.

It's common for someone who loses a sporting event to blame the referee, and to say that the rules were unfair. But the reality is that players win or lose the game.

The media is evil, but it is just one player on the field. If someone has the truth on their side, and if they fight like hell to spread it, then they will win the information war.

In this case the professional gladiators we pay to fight the information war were asleep on the field, so their opponents cleaned their clocks. We don't need censorship because a few politicians were lazy and arrogant.

President Reagan didn't need censorship to win the Cold War. He knew how to use the camera and make the media cover what he wanted them to. This was in spite of a hostile environment which we now know included paid Soviet agents & demonstrations, like against short range nuclear missiles in Europe.

12/28/2006 06:10:00 PM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

> many Lefty sites were carrying really pertinent criticisms of the conduct of the war in Iraq which, for psychological reasons, the conservatives may not have looked at too carefully

I think this was often the needle in the haystack situation I mentioned earlier. Those left wing sites generated so many wacky conspiracy theories about Haliburton and 9/11 being staged, that it was almost impossible to see the valid complaints, if there were any.

It is also the boy who cried wolf. Most of those leftists are pacifists who have said the same thing about every war fought in the past 30 years. They said each one was another Vietnam, a quagmire, an unlawful war, ...

12/28/2006 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

"There's nothing like stopping the weapons flow to Israel to show the Saudis that the United States means business,"

Between Wars, U.S. Toughening Up on Israel

12/28/2006 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger Papa Ray said...

Wretchard said: "Discounting the obvious head cases and filtering out the noise, the blogosphere has been putting out a remarkably faithful signal. That's not to say it is perfect, but only relatively better than the old agenda and access journalism with which we have lived so long."

True statement, but as it applies today, lets first look at something that happened not too long ago.

TV

Back in the day, only the rich had a tv, and of course it's content was dismal, its applications almost nonexistant.

Then the prices came down, the ownership went up and guess what most people watched. They watched other people acting like their family did, only funnier.

News was watched religiously, it was only the Dad mostly but he read his newpaper and watched the nightly news.

There wasn't a lot of difference in any of it.

Then came cable, and all kinds of silly shows and much more news. People started to understand that the way the news was presented, formed opinions in the watching population.

Now, we have the "blogs". What to do with them, since only a very small percentage of people read them.

And I mean very small percentage.

Well, first lets make sure there is a computer in every home. Then an internet connection that is faster than the average 56k hookup. That is a tall order and would take years to accomplish.

Then how to get the new computer owners to use them for surfing more than porn, recipes and movie information. Teach them how to search for information, how to find what they want. How long before these new users start reading blogs?

Will we have Fox tell them? Scroll blog addresses across the screen?

Maybe when all that is accomplished, blogs and such will have the desired effect on the opinions of the majority in America.

But only if they recieve that "faithful signal".

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA

12/28/2006 09:05:00 PM  
Blogger Anointiata Delenda Est said...

dla said...

Analyzed 24x7 by a cumulative IQ greater than all the think tanks in the world....

However awe-inspiring this may be, it still requires people to pay attention and think. Given the popularity of shows like The View, I'm not very hopefull that people will take advantage of this new power.


dla, you've obviously missed my 1% theory from way back on this blog: in any human activity, only 1% of the participants matter.

And that's all you need.

And I matter in none.

ADE

12/29/2006 02:58:00 AM  
Blogger tomax7 said...

...short of being labeled an alarmist, one has to keep their wits about them when dealing with sensitive topics as legal beagles, corporations and governments are starting to take notice of blogs.

Case in point China with Google and Microsoft bending over to the whims of big money.

One has to wonder how much longer we will have this freedom and not take this medium for granted.

12/29/2006 07:50:00 AM  
Blogger Jose said...

"Like the war in Iraq? It seems to me that the media and liberals are telling a lie about Iraq, but are "winning" the information war."

It's not an "information war" (why is everything categorized as a war nowadays?) it's a debate and we're arguing the stronger position in my opinion.

I enjoyed reading your piece but your bias is a bit nauseating. Why assume that only people on the "other" side are biased in their reportage. Assuming that there are no outright lies, bias or misrepresentation on your side of the argument is a passport to stupidland.

12/29/2006 09:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tomax,

I've often wondered about that too. But you have to consider that the gig is up for those corporations in a big way, insofar as wireless technology is getting cheaper, and access to connectivity and communication will be increasingly difficult to control. The only foreseeable bottleneck is powering a seperate grid and with solar cells increasing in performance, among other things, an amazing genie is out of the bag. Its all within the grasp of hobbyists too. Of course the "dark internet" can use these things too. But the good guys are helped by these technologies as well. Hold on to your hats...

12/29/2006 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger dla said...

tomax7: We're really only in the first generation of "internet" information sharing. When the need arises, because of cost, government, etc., we'll start to mesh. We've known how to do it for the last 15 years and now that WiFi is common place, we can do it. It won't be too long before the Toll collectors (TelCos) won't be able to add value.

Imagine a world-wide mesh...

12/29/2006 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger dla said...

Regarding the information "war": I was bored last night and was looking for something to cheer me up so I went to YouTube to watch some videos of US snipers blowing away insurgents. What I discovered was that Islamo-nutball propagandists had 10x more videos of Insurgent "victories", than the guys in white hats had of their accomplishments. On top of that, there were numerous leftist-rubbish-feel-good British news clips. Sad.

12/29/2006 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Eggplant said...

Where the MSM has a clear advantage is in the propaganda method of "endless repetition".

Wretchard showed the plot of "Posts by about Hesbollah" versus Time that appears to be a decaying exponential function. The plot decayed from its intial peak value of around 7800 down to a background noise of 500 in about 2 1/2 months. I infer from this that the effective "memory" of the Internet is about 2 1/2 months. When pursuing a coordinated political agenda, the MSM can maintain focus on a particular story for year(s), e.g. Abu Ghraib, hurricane Katrina, etc. Also the MSM can time release news for specific political impact, e.g. the selective leaks of the NIE report about Iraq and the Mark Foley. scandal, etc. Obviously information can be timed released on the Internet but there is no assurance that the blogs will pick up the story at the appropriate time or sustain it long enough to have political impact.

12/29/2006 04:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wretchard, you inspired me, and I worked this afternoon on a post entiteled the U.S. Military and the Blogosphere"; please check it out, esteemed commenters, thinkers, and linkers, over at wilsonizer.blogspot.com. I appreciate any criticism or discussion, as always.

12/29/2006 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger Holy Roman Umpire said...

Re dla's last post, an observation:

I live in the South (USA), tho not native here, where bass fishing is popular. A friend of mine who spends much time and money conducting anti-bass warfare, told me the secret of catching the critters: go where the fish are. And knowing where the fish are requires knowledge of where the fish like to go.

Why does YouTube have Islamic/anti-US stuff on it? Because someone put it there. Why did these people put it there? Because that is where people (fish) like to go.

Are the Linkers trying to catch their fish by possessing the finest gear and assuming that it will catch something regardless of how it is used just because it so good? Or are they learning where the fish like to go and putting down a hook at those places? With the latter approach, stuff you buy at a WalMart clearance sale would do nicely.

Maybe we need to be more pro-active here. Instead of waiting for someone else to link to the Linker, the Linker himself should make a link to someone else.

Or should I start fishing with my friend?

12/29/2006 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger charlotte said...

Has anyone considered how the very word "blog" sounds like a blobby, neutered member of borg? Terms are message and perception too much these days, or always have been, maybe.

And, why aren't websites advertising on other media, to include tellyvision, bumper stickers and billboards? Message has to be SOLD, not offered in discreet places.

12/29/2006 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

Wretchard's key insight, one left unstated, is that the center of gravity for the world-wide Counterjihad is within the minds of Americans. It is not in the minds of Europe, or Iraq, or the middle east. America is the world's sole Superpower, and if America decides to do something then nothing can or will stop it. The necessary and sufficient requirement for the Global Counterjihad to happen and to win is for Americans to decide it will win no matter what. As the center of gravity is within the minds of Americans, the American media has a crucial role to play. So far, the American media's role has been to trivialize and vacillate at best, and to betray operational secrets and provide aid and comfort to the enemy at worst.

I've written more about it at my new site, in The Counterjihad Infowar, Part I.

12/30/2006 02:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

C4,
The only "Strategy" jihadists employ successfully is that of spreading bakshish money and spreading it thick. When CNBC produces a weekly program that focuses on the arab bursa markets, you know the bakshish money has been spread, and spread thick.


W,
You're wrong in your diagram. The old media (ie MSM) is a counter indicator. eg. In my years of trading, I learned to use CNBC's stock ticker as a counter indicator. It tells me what stocks NOT to touch. Same applies to MSM's political stories. Whatever it is about, I just don't believe the spin. That's if I even bother to tune on their propaganda.

12/30/2006 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger Chap said...

Couple of points:

--The link between email and blogs is very useful. Instapundit gets many emails attempting to draw his linking attention somewhere; thus he gets better information in a virtuous circle.
--It would be useful to make your graphic model more complex in showing how things fail to get amplified. For instance, my little blog will get missed in terms of analysis outside of my normal sphere of attention, but if I post the only video of an event I'd get big traffic. The friction and noise in the system is worth an analysis.
--A previous commenter's point about the limits of blogospheric influence is worth taking on board. There is an effective size of response for a blog post, particularly if that post is countered effectively.
--Milan Vego's work on displaying social networks is still useful here. I, for instance, am less likely to pick up something at Democratic Underground unless someone links it, which limits the influence a DU post has on me.

1/01/2007 12:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MSM vs. Blogs

Blogs vs. et al

The stray dog concept
(Originating from:"On the internet, no-one knows if you are a dog.")

Beyond "Yellow-Journalism and, Red-Herrings", this is our strenth and weakness.
Blogs are "Stray-Dogs" on the internet, who finds them,
might not want them, and who is looking
for them may not find them.

Think of the late 90's buzzword for
the merger/melding of internet and tradional media? Well?
What happened? Not much, because,
what TV and radio do nation wide and world wide, the net can do too.
However locally is where it become tougher for the net to deal with this. Why? local net providers vs.
local media and it's uni-network.

When it becomes easier to "target" a
group of people in a specific reigon on any net, then blogs can become more mainstream.

Buzzword of 2007: STRAYDOG
Usage: "Dude, your blog rocks!, but your still a "Stray-Dog".

1/01/2007 08:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Nahncee:

“However, this is not helpful AFTER Mr. Ellison has been elected to the Congress of the United States of America, and is now demanding that he be sworn in to his new office using a Koran. In other words, his fealty will be to Islam rather than to the US Constitution.”

*

Of course this is also true for a Christian who is sworn into office using a Bible. Like Ellison, a Christian office holder’s primary fealty is to his God far and above his fealty to the state.

Complaining about some public office holder owing his first allegiances to the God of his faith over and above his allegiances to the state is wrong headed.

It is enough to be asking if Islam is compatible with the Constitution and Laws of our land. A plain reading of the Qur’an does raise the question of whether or not a faithful Muslim can fulfill his oath of office as taken or if his faith necessarily puts him at war with our nations founding principles and laws.

Ellison offers all of us the opportunity to examine and test Islam’s compatibility with the constitution and laws of this land by comparing his actions in office with the very book he has bound himself to uphold his oath of office with.

If Ellison asks for his Qur’an, we should be answering with “Bring it on!”

1/02/2007 09:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aristides said:

Interpretation and reaction are not boundless, nor are they unpredictable. If the datum is real, we can still be manipulated.

I would submit that blogospheric analysis is even more circumscribed than that.

We have all seen the power of bloggers to deal with points of fact - as with Jamail Hussien (perhaps), the TANG memo, the Duke rape case, etc. This type of analysis is limited only by disseminattion - e.g. Wretchard's "legitimizers."

But for the type of problem that Malcolm Gladwell called a "mystery" (not a "puzzle") or that Armed Liberal (after Ritter and Weber) calls "wicked," blogospheric analysis breaks down in some ways.

In other words, when there is no cut-and-dried answer, concensus follows the side that is faster, louder, bigger, more passionate, and more authoritative.

For example: the blogosphere could figure out pretty quickly what happened in a densely plotted film like The Sting. But no amount of analysis will produce a definitive account of the film Rashomon. The big problems we grapple with are more like Rashomon.

1/06/2007 11:03:00 AM  

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