Fighting The ‘War Of Ideas’ With…Better Web Design

The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus reports on a U.S. Special Operations Command “proposal to develop and operate ‘influence websites’ that, when needed, would support combat commanders in the war on terrorism.”

The Web sites, in local languages, would “shape the global media landscape” using Internet technologies.[…]

The purpose is to present “news, sports, entertainment, economics, politics, cultural reports, business and similar items of interest to targeted readers” following “guidance provided by the appropriate combat commander,” according to the proposal. “Content will provide open and unbiased analyses of major events in the targeted regions and the ramifications of those events on the target audiences,” it adds.

Contractor surveys and focus groups of target audiences are to help determine “design styles, colors and web site features” and develop “a network of indigenous content stringers and staff editors and site managers.”

Links to other “appropriate” national, regional and internationally oriented Web sites “that support the established objectives of each respective combat command” will be attached only after approval by the Special Operations Command. The “foot print of the government” must be low, but there must be “open attribution,” as with other Pentagon sites, in the clickable “about us” link at the bottom of the home page.

The Pentagon ran into some problems with this in 2006, when it was revealed that, because of global access to internet communications, the U.S. public was “increasingly exposed to propaganda disseminated overseas in psychological operations” by the Defense Department.


I’m curious, is there an example of this sort of thing ever having worked? And how would you measure that? Is there some substantial number of formerly anti-American people who report having been converted by U.S.-friendly blogs, sports and entertainment news?

There could obviously be a very significant tension between “open and unbiased analyses of major events” and “the established objectives” of the U.S. government. It seems that, much more likely than changing changing peoples’ opinions with bells, whistles, and web design, the effect of this operation would simply be to discredit the sites it approvingly links to. I can imagine few things more devastating to a website’s credibility than an acknowledgment by the U.S. Special Operations Command that that website “supports the established objectives” of the U.S. Special Operations Command. The new proposal seems to be an excellent way to undermine the very people we’re trying to reach out to.