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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. Until recently, I was a contributing editor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Friday, January 27, 2017


Lately, there appears to be an increase in using the media as a medium through which to generate and distribute so-called ‘fake news’ to drive specific agendas. One must therefore investigate the origin or source of the 'fake news' as that will determine the agenda(s).

The ability to sell a lie and deceive people through ‘controlled media’ is nothing new. By trying to force the people to believe and think only what the media wants them believe and think, has long been the hallmark of the mainstream media. But, people are beginning to question the validity of the ‘news’ as opposed to suffering from media hypnosis.

The media needs to question why it has willingly allowed itself to be used as a conduit for the dissemination of disinformation and propaganda. But, strengthened with the advent of social media networks, both disinformation and propaganda have received new impetus. Indeed, social media is currently being used to provide credibility to numerous disinformation and propaganda messages that appear in the mainstream media and visa versa.

Both techniques are used to alter, shape and manipulate perceptions, promote sectarian and political interests, and entrench and exploit attitudes and further conflict, divisive politics, and war between opposing groups. They differ in the manner in which they are developed and applied. However, both techniques are used to influence people, and the side that dominates the informational environment is the side most likely to achieve the best end result.

As an influence technique, disinformation is a planned and purposeful act of deception. It is essentially a lie that is intentionally injected into the daily lives of people. Its aim is to mislead and alter attitudes and perceptions, evoke anger, create fear, encourage resistance and violence, and vilify an enemy or threat sufficiently to justify action.  Extensive use is made of all controlled mainstream and social media assets and platforms. Paid social media platforms are increasingly harnessed to further disseminate false and misleading information or give it credibility. 

Disinformation uses a variety of methods to achieve its aim. One of them is dress up a lie so it appears as the truth. Another method to intertwine valid information with false information but in such a manner that it is not obvious. Covert influence campaigns utilising well-developed disinformation can result in acceptance as opposed to doubt. The end-product is then be disseminated via real and false news media outlets, and fake documents, books, photographs, posters, and malicious and dangerous rumours and innuendo. Its ability to become believable lays in continually repeating the lie to make it become the reality of people.

To disguise its origins and intentions, it is often attributed to ‘sensitive’ or ‘unnamed’ sources or even the names of non-existent people.

Political disinformation is aimed at provoking scaremongering, discrediting political opponents, distorting the messages of political opponents, exploiting divisive politics, and influencing opposition voter support. Used extensively during political speeches and rallies, where it is intertwined with propaganda, it has the potential to generate immense anger, fear, hatred, and uncertainty. It is often reinforced with flags, marches, songs, T-shirts and food to distract and confuse voters.

Propaganda is the deliberate propagation of messages, information, ideas, concepts, rumours, and thoughts to influence, strengthen and support a specific cause, and to unify people. It is also applied to counter opposing information and thoughts where elements of disinformation are used. It is used primarily to reinforce a cause or damage an opposing cause. It is sometimes based on twisting the message of an opponent and using it to appeal to people’s fears, and self-interest and evoke emotions. It hopes to subtly force people to think and act in a manner they would not generally have considered.

Like disinformation, propaganda makes use of media platforms, marches, flags, posters, songs and so forth to entrench the message.

To underpin these deceptive messages, words such as ‘deterrence’, ‘threat to our values’, ‘foreign aggression’, ‘our stability’, ‘creators of poverty’, ‘inequality’, and so forth are used.

Polluted information presented as ‘fact’ can result in misguided strategies, and distrust, increased antagonism, diplomatic, political and economic sanction, marginalisation, increased racial, tribal, and ethnic disdain, an increase in political tensions, and criminal actions.

An unintended (or possibly intended) consequence can result in mass demonstrations, civil war or indeed even a regional conflict or war. Indeed, the Cold War was a perfect example of both sides using both disinformation and propaganda to unify their citizens whilst vilifying those of the opposing side.

Disinformation and propaganda are entrenched via repetition of the messages. It is, however, the first communicated message that carries the most weight, especially if it is continually disseminated via the mainstream and social media. To rectify the damage is often impossible.

Disinformation and propaganda can destroy national unity, create regional tensions, and cause irreparable damage a country and its citizens. These messages become increasingly dangerous when military force is threatened, projected, or used. 

It is increasingly evident that both disinformation and propaganda are being used on a massive scale, and on a daily basis by politicians and political organisations and supporters alike.

Misleading people with false news or disinformation and then reinforcing it with propaganda (and visa versa) can have very serious implications—implications that can last for generations.

It is of great importance that we start looking more closely at what is published and said—and why—and start connecting the dots. If not, we will continue to be manipulated and exploited to act in a manner we never considered.


Pieter Croukamp said...

Once again, excellent article Eeben! There is a saying 'one can only tell the fake if you know the authentic' comes to mind. The dilemma is that very few people have the discernment to distinguish the one from the other. It has literally become a matter of "I can't believe my eyes" ... And so you shouldn't !

Unknown said...

Thanks Eeben !An absolute stunning article,describing the evils and subsequent consequences of "Valse /Bogus" news in great detail . I am of opinion, that the political and religious
mess the entire mankind nowadays needs to cope with,just creates an even more fertile scenario for these false and dis-informative "news and propaganda" to be spread amongst the already totally confused and disillusioned world citizens.There is a current tendency,most definitely created by these very same authors and creators of these evil methods,just adding more to man-kind predicament,concerning this,either by causing unjustified paranoia or on the other hand stupid naivety. What is really scary and worrying,is that these "methods",could never be regulated,legislated or be abolished by governments of any legal ways....as those are the actual "Cre
ators of these Lies"

Julz said...

Nice post - thank you.

In my mind, the volume of gullible/uneducated people greatly outnumbers the volume of rational, critical-thinking individuals. In addition, Social media connects the gullible/uneducated on a global level, provides a degree of 'perceived' safety and anonymity to them, whilst making it far too easy to expedite the flow of nonsense, disinformation or propaganda. I suspect that people who try to handle information with a touch of cynicism realize that it's wasted effort to educate others, given the fact they are gullible in the first place and probably not receptive to correction or an alternative view. There's also the concept of each individuals "world view", based on background, upbringing, culture, etc. All of this thrown into the pot makes this a difficult issues to combat. For me, I try stay off the news websites and less time on social media. That time could be better spent raising my kid and making sure he doesn't become gullible and easy to manipulate one day...

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks Piet. A great comment you make and so relevant today!

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A true response Unknown. One cannot regulate the truth but I think irresponsible and blatant disinformation should be exposed and those responsible traced and held accountable. The world in in a mess as you rightly point out and disinformation and propaganda are fueling the flames of conflict.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks Unknown.
I agree that all news platforms target the uneducated and gullible. As soon as something resonates with a person's perceived world view, it becomes a 'fact' regardless of its intentions or origin.
Education and critical thinking is the responsibility of every parent - so the time spent chasing your kid and reducing his gullibility as a great start to his education.

Herbert said...


Your article is most apropos. Here in the USA we have a virtual war between media and the presidential administration. It's a slugfest. The media has come to be known as the opposition party. In this morning's Washington Post the first 13 complete pages and all the later "editorial" pieces were attacks on the current administration. In the remainder of the newspaper, only about 75% of the articles were attack pieces. All the articles freely mixed facts, lies, ignorance, unvarnished aggression, and bitterness.

Regardless of one's political beliefs or side you are on, the danger of such behavior sailing under the flag of journalism is obvious. Having noted that the credibility of the media is at an all-time low, I have taken the approach of hoping that they keep it up. If they destroy themselves, perhaps a better replacement will emerge. I am probably allowing myself to engage in wishful thinking.

The comment by Pieter Croukamp "'I can't believe my eyes'...So you shouldn't"! is spot on. Reminds me of the old comedian Groucho Marx who, on being caught by his wife having dinner with another woman, stood up and exclaimed, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes"? It actually worked. This approach seems to keep on working with far too many people.

Your next-to-last paragraph re employing disinformation and then reinforcing it with propaganda succinctly and accurately describes the technique in wide use today. Well said and valuable warning for all of us as we read.


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thank you for your comment Herbert.
I note the uproar in the US. Although I cannot comment on the politics in the US, I find it surprising that those who proclaim to 'democratic' and followers of the Constitution cry foul when democracy does not go their way.
The dangers of disinformation and propaganda in that instance are very obvious. With the speed of social media, the dangers become even greater when disinformation is being sowed.
Groucho Marx was really one of the last great comedians. His comment, along with Pieter's comment, issue us with a warning. We do need to start thinking about 'why' and 'whose agenda' is being pushed.

Die Stoor said...

Eeben said: "One cannot regulate the truth but I think irresponsible and blatant disinformation should be exposed and those responsible traced and held accountable."

Don't you think perhaps that the problem here is who defines what is Fake News? We have had the US State Dept propose these things many times to counter countries, individuals and organisations that have given an alternative take on the actions of the US over issues like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine to name but a few. They have stood their and publicly decried their critics as disseminating Fake News whilst barely attempting to disguise the fact that they are the ones mostly responsible for Fake News on these situations.

So who gets the authority to determine what is fake news and what sanctions are they empowered to take? Because it seems like those that protest the most are also the most guilty.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A valid question Stoor.
All governments use disinformation and propaganda to further their aims. I think we all know that is a given. My problem arises when they eventually believe their own disinformation and propaganda and then use it as an excuse to topple a government or attack a neighbour.
But a problem I foresee, and I may be completely wrong here – is when the media is used as a tool, by its sponsors, to disrupt or destabelise its own government. The problem is amplified when the fake news or disinformation is picked up by foreign media houses and returned as blow-back – and it then becomes ‘the truth’.
And then of course, some journalists use the pen to promote their own agendas. These agendas are then used to promote their own disinformation and propaganda (I was a victim of such) but then gets picked up by intelligence services and accepted as fact ‘as the newspaper said so’. The services then recruit this generator of rubbish as an agent/source and more lies are developed to give credibility to the agent.
You are correct: Governments sometimes (often) are the main contributors to Fake News to achieve their aims, often at the expense of entire countries and people. When called to book, they decry their critics.
On your question, who determines Fake News…I don’t have the answers. But I do know of news editors who refuse to publish a news article if it has not been confirmed via several sources.
It is the ones who seek to get a story out without any fact-checking that bother me and that should be held accountable.
I am afraid I could not answer your question fully.