Proposed US law makes domestic propaganda legal

From Boingboing

Buzzfeed's Michael Hastings reports on a revision to the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987, which prohibit the use of government disinformation and propaganda campaigns within the USA. The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry from Texas and Rep. Adam Smith from Washington State, would allow the US government to knowingly tell lies to its people in order to promote the government's own policies.

The new law would give sweeping powers to the State Department and Pentagon to push television, radio, newspaper, and social media onto the U.S. public. “It removes the protection for Americans,” says a Pentagon official who is concerned about the law. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”

According to this official, “senior public affairs” officers within the Department of Defense want to “get rid” of Smith-Mundt and other restrictions because it prevents information activities designed to prop up unpopular policies—like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Critics of the bill point out that there was rigorous debate when Smith Mundt passed, and the fact that this is so “under the radar,” as the Pentagon official puts it, is troubling.

The Pentagon spends some $4 billion a year to sway public opinion already, and it was recently revealed by USA Today the DoD spent $202 million on information operations in Iraq and Afghanistan last year.

And Dvorak.org/blog

An amendment that would legalize the use of propaganda on American audiences is being inserted into the latest defense authorization bill, BuzzFeed has learned.

The amendment would “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda material produced by the State Department and the Pentagon, according to the summary of the law at the House Rules Committee’s official website.

The tweak to the bill would essentially neutralize two previous acts—the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987—that had been passed to protect U.S. audiences from our own government’s misinformation campaigns.

The bi-partisan amendment is sponsored by Rep. Mark Thornberry from Texas and Rep. Adam Smith from Washington State.

The kicker:

The bill’s supporters say the informational material used overseas to influence foreign audiences is too good to not use at home, and that new techniques are needed to help fight Al-Qaeda, a borderless enemy whose own propaganda reaches Americans online.

And to provide a propaganda engine that could be coopted by politicians in the future. Richard Nixon never had it so good...

farley3k wrote:
The Pentagon spends some $4 billion a year to sway public opinion already

Hey guys. I found $4 billion in spending cuts.

So we need to lie to our own citizens because Al Qaeda is lying to us too?

iaintgotnopants wrote:
farley3k wrote:
The Pentagon spends some $4 billion a year to sway public opinion already

Hey guys. I found $4 billion in spending cuts.

With an all volunteer based army, the DoD needs to be able to advertise. That isn't a problem at all.

Ulairi wrote:
iaintgotnopants wrote:
farley3k wrote:
The Pentagon spends some $4 billion a year to sway public opinion already

Hey guys. I found $4 billion in spending cuts.

With an all volunteer based army, the DoD needs to be able to advertise. That isn't a problem at all.

Nope. That's most definitely a target for spending cuts.

The DoD has a fat advertising budget of $600+ million a year, which is a totally separate budget line item, that it spends to recruit the 150,000 or so new soldiers it needs. For those of you keeping score at home, that's a new customer acquisition cost of just over four grand a solider. No waste there...

It might as well be legal. Public relations people do the same exact thing, it's just under a different name.

I am confusing. So you are saying that up until now, the government has NOT been routinely trying to misinform me already?

OG_slinger wrote:
Ulairi wrote:
iaintgotnopants wrote:
farley3k wrote:
The Pentagon spends some $4 billion a year to sway public opinion already

Hey guys. I found $4 billion in spending cuts.

With an all volunteer based army, the DoD needs to be able to advertise. That isn't a problem at all.

Nope. That's most definitely a target for spending cuts.

The DoD has a fat advertising budget of $600+ million a year, which is a totally separate budget line item, that it spends to recruit the 150,000 or so new soldiers it needs. For those of you keeping score at home, that's a new customer acquisition cost of just over four grand a solider. No waste there...

Advertising is expensive and getting someone to sign up their life is even more so. How much should it cost to recruit a soldier?

Ulairi wrote:
OG_slinger wrote:
Ulairi wrote:
iaintgotnopants wrote:
farley3k wrote:
The Pentagon spends some $4 billion a year to sway public opinion already

Hey guys. I found $4 billion in spending cuts.

With an all volunteer based army, the DoD needs to be able to advertise. That isn't a problem at all.

Nope. That's most definitely a target for spending cuts.

The DoD has a fat advertising budget of $600+ million a year, which is a totally separate budget line item, that it spends to recruit the 150,000 or so new soldiers it needs. For those of you keeping score at home, that's a new customer acquisition cost of just over four grand a solider. No waste there...

Advertising is expensive and getting someone to sign up their life is even more so. How much should it cost to recruit a soldier?


That doesn't seem too far off from what it normally takes to get an employee does it?

Ulairi wrote:
Advertising is expensive and getting someone to sign up their life is even more so. How much should it cost to recruit a soldier?

Zero. It's an all-volunteer service. Either people want to join the military for whatever reason--a sense of patriotism, family tradition, get their life together, etc.--or they don't.

I'm exceptionally uncomfortable with spending my tax dollars to manipulate a teenager--a minor--to put his life in danger, either by bombarding them with a fancy CGI Marine ads, providing the makers of horrible action movies with free military equipment and personnel, or outright bribing them with cash and an education. (Those recruitment bennies are a separate $1 billion budget line item for the DoD, bringing the total recruitment cost per solider to well north of $10,000).

Never mind. Not sure where I was going with that.

How ridiculous. Yet another reason they should not be able to stuff riders and pork into larger bills to try to get them passed since they wouldn't stand on their own. Any politician that says with a straight face they need to pass a law to allow the government to lie to its citizens needs to be voted out of office.

NathanialG wrote:
That doesn't seem too far off from what it normally takes to get an employee does it?

Way off. A business might spend a 1/3 of an employee's salary to recruit them. But in the business world recruitment costs include everything: advertisements, paying a recruiter, having an HR department, the time it takes existing employees to interview candidates, training, and more.

The Army's accession cost--how much it costs from when someone walks into a recruitment center to when they arrive on their first duty station--is between $54,000 and $73,000. I'm not certain if the advertising budget is part of those numbers.

That puts the total recruitment costs at two to three times a solider's salary, which is way, way more than what it costs to get a new employee.

OG_slinger wrote:
Ulairi wrote:
Advertising is expensive and getting someone to sign up their life is even more so. How much should it cost to recruit a soldier?

Zero. It's an all-volunteer service. Either people want to join the military for whatever reason--a sense of patriotism, family tradition, get their life together, etc.--or they don't.

I'm exceptionally uncomfortable with spending my tax dollars to manipulate a teenager--a minor--to put his life in danger, either by bombarding them with a fancy CGI Marine ads, providing the makers of horrible action movies with free military equipment and personnel, or outright bribing them with cash and an education. (Those recruitment bennies are a separate $1 billion budget line item for the DoD, bringing the total recruitment cost per solider to well north of $10,000).

When did all advertising become manipulation? To me, it's only manipulation if once you've been motivated to take the plunge on something, it turns out it was the wrong decision for you. Plenty of people with good reasons to do something need that extra motivation. We're humans, not robots.

CheezePavilion wrote:
We're humans, not robots.

Speak for yourself, meatbag.

CheezePavilion wrote:
When did all advertising become manipulation? To me, it's only manipulation if once you've been motivated to take the plunge on something, it turns out it was the wrong decision for you. Plenty of people with good reasons to do something need that extra motivation. We're humans, not robots.

Really? Advertising has always been about manipulating people.

We think bacon and eggs is the all American breakfast today because of advertising. Edward Bernays, the nephew of Freud, got paid by the Beech-nut Packaging Company early last century to get people to eat more bacon and he did so by manipulating people's perception of what was a good way to start the day. Cereal companies did the same thing a few decades later, only stressing speed, convenience, and space-age nutrition over the heartiness of bacon and eggs.

Just because a company makes a product doesn't mean people need it. Advertising creates that need and it does so by manipulating people and their emotions. You don't need to spend extra to get a convertible, but advertising has convinced you that you'll be rolling in the poontang if you do. Or if you drink the right beer. Or use the right body wash.

OG_slinger wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:
When did all advertising become manipulation? To me, it's only manipulation if once you've been motivated to take the plunge on something, it turns out it was the wrong decision for you. Plenty of people with good reasons to do something need that extra motivation. We're humans, not robots.

Really? Advertising has always been about manipulating people.

That's not what I asked. I asked when did all advertising become manipulation, not when manipulation became a part of advertising. None of this is relevant to what I'm talking about: that human beings are not always being pushed into a bad decision just because advertising motivated them into that decision.

CheezePavilion wrote:
That's not what I asked. I asked when did all advertising become manipulation, not when manipulation became a part of advertising. None of this is relevant to what I'm talking about: that human beings are not always being pushed into a bad decision just because advertising motivated them into that decision.

And I answered your question. It's always been about manipulation, whether it's a snake oil salesman's patter, a radio jingle, or web ad for some horrible knock off browser game.

Madison Avenue has just gotten really damned good at it because leverages psychology. Whereas an ancient trader might try to flatter a buyer to get them to buy their wares, modern advertisers have a complete psychological profile of their target buyers, complete with a breakdown of their key motivators and emotional triggers.

Whether someone rationalizes their decision as a good one or not is irrelevant. They were manipulated into making it. They might not realize or understand they were manipulated, but they were.

OG_slinger wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:
That's not what I asked. I asked when did all advertising become manipulation, not when manipulation became a part of advertising. None of this is relevant to what I'm talking about: that human beings are not always being pushed into a bad decision just because advertising motivated them into that decision.

And I answered your question. It's always been about manipulation, whether it's a snake oil salesman's patter, a radio jingle, or web ad for some horrible knock off browser game.

or

let's not answer the question by stacking the deck and pretend it's all snake oil and horrible knock offs if we're just going to call it all 'manipulation.'

Madison Avenue has just gotten really damned good at it because leverages psychology. Whereas an ancient trader might try to flatter a buyer to get them to buy their wares, modern advertisers have a complete psychological profile of their target buyers, complete with a breakdown of their key motivators and emotional triggers.

Whether someone rationalizes their decision as a good one or not is irrelevant. They were manipulated into making it. They might not realize or understand they were manipulated, but they were.

What about when there's no rationalization going on--what about when it's a good decision, plain and simple, like I was talking about? I don't think it matters if someone was manipulated by advertising into a good decision if it's impossible to advertise without manipulating people.

I don't see anything wrong with advertising being used to 'manipulate' someone to join if the "key motivators and emotional triggers" center on things like "a sense of patriotism, family tradition, get their life together, etc." Maybe we should hold advertisements by the military to a stricter standard than other kinds of advertisements, but there are other ways to do that besides dropping the marketing budget to zero.

I feel like you're coming from this point of view that any time advertising plays a part in a person's decision, it's got to be 'rationalization' because if it wasn't, they wouldn't need to be 'manipulated' into making it by advertising. I disagree with the way I think you see meatbags. Like I said, we're human beings not robots.

CheezePavilion wrote:
What about when there's no rationalization going on--what about when it's a good decision, plain and simple, like I was talking about? I don't think it matters if someone was manipulated by advertising into a good decision if it's impossible to advertise without manipulating people.

Rationalization is pretty much always involved because a good decision is only a good decision if an individual rationalizes it as a good decision. There aren't "plain and simple" good decisions that apply to everyone.

CheezePavilion wrote:

I don't see anything wrong with advertising being used to 'manipulate' someone to join if the "key motivators and emotional triggers" center on things like "a sense of patriotism, family tradition, get their life together, etc."

Patriotism is the one of the worst things you can appeal to because it immediately classifies everyone as "us" or "them". And "them" can be easily changed to include citizens. Just ask Japanese Americans. It's also horrible because it hides the reality of the choice those teenagers are making. They aren't doing something noble. They're being trained to kill people on command by politicians.

You can simply read any book about WWI to see just how quickly the shine of patriotism and adventure wore off for the dough boys.

CheezePavilion wrote:

Maybe we should hold advertisements by the military to a stricter standard than other kinds of advertisements, but there are other ways to do that besides dropping the marketing budget to zero.

Sure. Make sure there's a big disclaimer that the only valuable skills a new recruit is going to learn is how to walk with one leg because the other got blown off by an IED and drinking excessively to cope with crippling PTSD. And that their lives are going to be at the mercy of hawkish politicians who made sure they or theirs were never put at risk.

CheezePavilion wrote:

I feel like you're coming from this point of view that any time advertising plays a part in a person's decision, it's got to be 'rationalization' because if it wasn't, they wouldn't need to be 'manipulated' into making it by advertising. I disagree with the way I think you see meatbags. Like I said, we're human beings not robots.

No, my point is that if advertising influenced a person's decision they were manipulated. And that person likely won't even realize they were manipulated because the ad tapped into their emotions. It's why so many ads rely on sex. Madison Avenue has harnessed the most basic drive of any species--to propagate itself--to sell everything from cars to beer.

And we're a species of social primates. We aren't driven by logic or reason, we're driven by emotions and (perceived) social status. It's because of that that we're susceptible to manipulation.

This stuff is not intended to advertise for military personnel. It's intended to covertly change the views of Americans on the Middle East, using media methods that could be used for any other topic, and it's going to be done by the government. It's pretty scurrilous to see Congress suggest that the government resort to misleading people as an overt policy.

I didn't like it when Bush did it, and I don't like it now. It's a stupid idea that undermines the ability of the government to provide accurate information and have it believed.

OG_slinger wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:

Maybe we should hold advertisements by the military to a stricter standard than other kinds of advertisements, but there are other ways to do that besides dropping the marketing budget to zero.

Sure. Make sure there's a big disclaimer that the only valuable skills a new recruit is going to learn is how to walk with one leg because the other got blown off by an IED and drinking excessively to cope with crippling PTSD. And that their lives are going to be at the mercy of hawkish politicians who made sure they or theirs were never put at risk.

Well, there you go: the military advertising budget does not need to be zero.

You mean this isn't true?

DSGamer wrote:
You mean this isn't true?

I hate when the trailer is just a cutscene and not actual gameplay...

The point is so what? The question here is whether the Marine Corps can deliver to the people motivated by that ad what's being promised to them. What's being promised to them isn't a battle with a knock-off Balrog. What's being promised is all that "the few the proud" etc stuff. I'm thinking by and large, Marines feel that way about being a Marine and would feel that way even if they never saw an advertisement in the first place.

My point was simply that the US government already uses propaganda on its own citizens. The thing that's so nasty about this law is that it would codify the ability to basically run psyops programs on US citizens. As if the low-level lying and advertising were not enough. Hollywood already gets cheap to free use of military bases and hardware in exchange for portraying the US military in a positive light. They don't need more rope.

Oh, and just for Cheeze since I know you're in this thread.

Spoiler:
I can't reply to you or PM you. The system won't let me reply to you.

DSGamer wrote:
My point was simply that the US government already uses propaganda on its own citizens.

But now you've got me wondering how they got away with what looks like blatant copyright infringement!


The thing that's so nasty about this law is that it would codify the ability to basically run psyops programs on US citizens.

Exactly. That's a huge step up from advertising and weasel-speak.