This is a great article on propaganda but, as it comes from pro-Trump Russia Today, its is published on the worst of the worst propaganda platforms that has become COVID denialist and anti-science.
By Dr Piers Robinson, who researches and writes about propaganda and communications. He is the author of The CNN Effect: The Myth of News, Foreign Policy and Intervention and Pockets of resistance: British news media, war and theory in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Follow him on Twitter @PiersRobinson1
One of the problems with researching and writing about propaganda is that so many people believe it is something alien to democratic states.
What Edward Bernays, considered by many to be a key figure in the development of 20th-century propaganda techniques, said was that “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.”
Question for @marksedwill, UK Cabinet Secretary, has 77 brigade been tasked with identifying domestic social media content on #COVID-19 and targeting for manipulation and censorship? pic.twitter.com/zdkIWTZtbZ
— Piers Robinson (@PiersRobinson1) May 24, 2020
Although we usually refer to these techniques by different names today, employing such euphemisms as ‘public relations’ or ‘strategic communication’, it is a fact that techniques of manipulation are part and parcel of contemporary liberal democracies.
Although such persuasion activities can involve consensual techniques, they also frequently include less consensual techniques, involving forms of deception, incentivization and coercion. To what extent have such non-consensual methods of persuasion – that is to say, propaganda – been used with respect to Covid-19?
It has recently come to light that ‘behavioural scientists’ have been providing advice to the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). UK Column reports that this group, named the ‘Scientific Pandemic Influenza group on Behaviour (SPI-B)’, was (re)convened on February 13, 2020.
One document produced by this group identifies “options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures,” which include persuasion, incentivization and coercion. In the section on persuasion it states that the “perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.” The document also mentions using “media to increase sense of personal threat.”
And it has also become public knowledge that the 77th Brigade, part of the British military, has been part of the Covid-19 communication strategy. 77th Brigade activities include information warfare and “supporting counter-adversarial information activity,” which includes “creating and disseminating digital and wider media content in support of designated tasks.”
Tobias Ellwood, who is both a member of parliament and chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, is, remarkably, a reservist with the 77th Brigade. In an answer to a written question in parliament it was confirmed that “members of the Army’s 77th Brigade” are “currently supporting the UK government’s Rapid Response Unit in the Cabinet Office and are working to counter dis/information about Covid-19.” The Rapid Response Unit itself was established in 2018 in order to, according to its head Fiona Bartosch, counter “misinformation” and “disinformation,” and “reclaim a fact-based public debate.”