In the summer of 2019, the KCSC-NATO StratCom COE Summer Academy was launched in an innovative venture that brought together the worlds of theory and practice.
An international group of twenty Masters students from the King’s Centre for Strategic Communications at Kings College London joined experts at the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Riga, Latvia. The aim of this project was to expose students pursuing the academic study of Strategic Communications to the everyday concerns of those engaged in policy making, practice, and research in the field.
The timing was important. In June 2019, NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence played host to its Riga StratCom Dialogue which each year brings together nearly a thousand experts and observers from all over the world. The Masters students were to benefit from hearing and interviewing participants while pursuing their own applied research and writing.
The Future is Now offers a collection of reflections by our Masters students on the future of Strategic Communications from a variety of perspectives. Informed by insights from the international community of practitioners, the book proposes thematic ways in which the next few years might unfold. Launching a Summer Academy is perhaps as ambitious a venture as writing confidently about the future. But both projects are long overdue in this rapidly changing world of Strategic Communications and geopolitics where the future appears impatient to invade our present.
Director, NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence
Dr Neville Bolt
Director, King’s Centre for Strategic Communications
Prelude: 'Open your eyes; listen, listen.'
Strategic communications focuses on what to say and how to stand out in a cacophony of voices. Written from the fresh perspective of graduate researchers at the King’s Centre for Strategic Communications (KCSC), this publication is a reminder that the first step in preparing for the future is to listen to what is around us in the present: the underlying hums, beats, and melodies indicating where society is heading.
This is not a work of prediction. Its authors do not foretell the future. Far-reaching consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak on social life, civil liberties, and economies showed the unexpected lurks just around the corner. And yet, the knock-on effects of the pandemic were not wholly unpredictable or even surprising. Existing trends exacerbated issues already identified by scholars, policymakers, and activists: from deficiencies in national healthcare systems, to racial inequalities and prejudices, to disinformation as a shaper of public opinion.
It is such underlying structural, social, and political trajectories that this publication teases out in paired variations on three themes. From how the information environment shapes and is shaped by us (Reflections on Contained Spaces); to challenges to democracy and legitimacy from inside and outside the nation-state (Reflections on Contested Legitimacy); to the role of creativity and co-creation as a destructive and productive force (Reflections on Creative Catalysts). The finale offers a guide to how Futures Studies should be made an integral element of strategic communications.
‘The future reveals itself to us, long before it sets in’ said the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. This publication offers a soundtrack to exploring this present-future.
Reflections on Contained Spaces
Variation 1––Shrinking Spaces: How More may be Less in the Information Environment and Variation 2––The Internet Is Fragmented: Where do we go from here? set the scene for the reader. One cannot speak of the future of strategic communications without considering how today’s information and computer technologies (ICTs), especially those enabled by AI, are changing the way humans communicate and process information. Both Variations 1 and 2 identify a pattern of contained and walled spaces. Cognitively, in the limited variety of information and differing opinions with which we engage (Variation 1), but also structurally, in the area of Internet governance (Variation 2). The authors suggest we will see a more fragmented and divided online space. These trends will be noticeable on the individual and societal levels of filter bubbles and echo chambers, as well as at national and transnational levels where states will seek to assert sovereignty and territoriality on the Internet.
At the end of 2006, TIME magazine made a surprise announcement: ‘For seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game’, the headline went, ‘TIME’s Person of the Year for 2006 is You.’
TIME editors had chosen to celebrate not the accomplishments of one individual, but the collective effort of millions of creators of user-generated content on the Internet. It seemed to epitomise Manuel Castells’ network society theorised more than a decade earlier: ‘a social structure made of networks powered by microelectronics-based information and communication technologies’ – everyday people working together to create their own rules, norms, and content in an apparently new model of pseudo-anarchic democracy.
Yet as the ‘Web 2.0’ experiment progressed, exclusive online cultures and subcultures were born – some entirely new, others a pastiche of physical world equivalents, but all developing and morphing at unparalleled speed. To the surprise of cyber utopians, many of these are far from the vision of inclusive communities whose thinking broadens through exposure to diverse opinions. Rather, some have developed into closed, self-confirming echo-chambers complete with their own exclusionary language. Challenging exposure to diverse ideas, technology service providers are actively working to tailor services so closely to our tastes that in the near future, even when actively searching for diversity, we may be exposed only to self-confirming content.
Variation 1 suggests that an increasingly limited exposure to ideas contradicting our views is exacerbated by people’s preference for speed over detail in their communications: a barrage of micro-messages – memes, tweets, posts, comments, notifications – containing little extended debate with what they are confronted and further create every day. Human brains can only handle a limited cognitive load, and the onslaught of information, including micro-communications, to which the Internet exposes them increases the need for a filtering system. Yet filtering material according to self-confirming information risks compounding bias, a problem which the frequent use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and AI-enabled devices in everyday life may amplify.
Variation 1 suggests that TIME Magazine’s celebration of ‘You’ taking the reins of content generation and thereby initiating a much lauded ‘digital democracy’ was pre-emptive. Instead, it outlines a present reality where micro-messages and online echo-chambers restrict space for debate and confirm bias in endless feedback loops, intensified by the growing use of AI-enabled technology. It offers a future where to some extent man is in fact an island, increasingly living in a self-contained information biosphere, at the same time feeding and being fed by self-confirming information.
The ‘You’ creator of the future might yet be a singular and not a plural ‘You’.
The Cyber State and its digital villages
In 1996, cyberspace activist Perry Barlow published ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,’ epitomising the cyber-libertarian Zeitgeist. In it, he heralded a new model of society: one without governance or hierarchy, where ‘all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth… We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.’ MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte likewise celebrated the potential of the Internet to ‘flatten organizations, globalize society, decentralize control, and help harmonize people,’ encapsulating quasi-utopian visions of the ‘Web 2.0’, where ideas would be shared, assumptions challenged, and we would learn from and work with each other within a web-wide ‘virtual community’.
Many consider humans to be a tribal animal. And access to a worldwide virtual network has often precipitated homophily. The Internet enables and encourages people to gather in homogenous groups based on interest, background or outlook, creating separate virtual communities akin to supra-national ‘neo-tribes’. Such communities develop along ideological rather than spatial lines, defined by commonalities rather than diversity in what information scientist Gary Marchionini calls ‘information neighbourhoods’. In fact, people may have a stronger affiliation with such ‘neo-tribes’ than with their physical world equivalents because they are centred on defining characteristics, such as shared beliefs and interests rather than reflecting geographical commonalities. At times, social endorsements within communities can increase exposure to heterogeneous perspectives: in surveys, most social media users report being exposed to a variety of viewpoints. However, research indicates that this is the case primarily in discussions of non-political issues, such as the Olympics or the Super Bowl. When the identity of a ‘tribe’ is constructed around a more polarising issue, uniformity of opinion can separate people. Within such groups, a polarising effect may be multiplied because information is given and received within a self-confirming echo-chamber, giving a listener a false impression that a particular attitude is more widespread than it actually is.
For some, the digital space offers ‘tribal’ membership to which they may previously have not had access to, were it not for the newly available web connectivity. From mental health support groups to communities actively encouraging suicide; from exclusive online dating forums to paedophilia rings: the best and the worst of humanity finds a place of belonging. While these groups may disperse as quickly as they gather  – conjuring up the image of a lava-lamp of online connectivity and communications – it is possible that their very ephemeral nature may serve to harden individual conviction. General Internet use might increase exposure to diverse views. Yet shifting between tribes of the same ‘ilk’ may risk layering different angles of the same viewpoint on top of the last, further entrenching opinions.
Exclusionary language characteristic of ‘online tribes’ can limit diversity of opinions by occluding outsiders. Elite ICT communities speak ‘Hackish’ (replete with various dialects) and the cryptic question ‘when does the narwhal bacon’ is a phrase specifically designed to screen out non-Reddit readers. A more prolific example is on the online forum 4chan where, as Angela Nagle explains, ‘the constant hazing of n00bs through argot and complex conventions and elite technical knowledge polices the boundaries of the subculture to inoculate it from massification.’ Access to and acceptance into such groups seems dependent on whether you ‘think and talk like us’ – if you don’t, eviction is likely.
The effect of linguistic in-groups is magnified by the speed and dynamism of communications often evident within such communities, drowning out dissenting voices. Philosopher Paul Virilio coined the term dromology to explain what moves with speed, quickly comes to dominate territory over anything which moves more slowly. When tweets, posts, comments and memes – each a pastiche of the last – are layered on top of each other with little space or time for debate before the next is added, the result is a cacophony of self-confirming micro-messages moving with such speed that any territory already ceded is quickly reclaimed.
Memes promote unity of thought. Share if you agree
One persuasive case where exclusive language is magnified by speed is the Internet meme, commonly understood as an image combined with a concept or catchphrase. There are informal and usually unspoken norms guiding how some of the Internet’s most prolific memes are used, restricting both understanding and accessibility to particular Internet subcultures.
Take one category of meme: ‘advice animals’ are animal characters accorded particular character traits. A picture of a penguin walking from right to left on a blue background is ‘socially awkward penguin’ (paired with text usually indicating socially embarrassing situations), whereas the reverse image on a red background becomes ‘socially awesome penguin’ (paired with text usually indicating social ‘success’). To confuse the two risks online mockery and ‘social exclusion’ from the relevant online sub-community, in clear contrast to Perry Barlow’s ‘without fear of conformity’ clause.
It is true that certain memes may represent different things for different groups. Pepe the Frog began life innocently as a cartoon in a 2005 comic, before being appropriated in the 2010s by the alt-right movement as a hate symbol, and then re-employed in 2019 by groups of protesters in Hong Kong (apparently unaware of the meme’s connotations in the U.S.) as a progressive symbol of liberty and resistance. While the meaning attributed to this same meme varies between diverse communities, its message is nevertheless clearly defined within the boundaries of each group. Within the confines of each community’s narrative, slightly modified versions of the Pepe meme are repeatedly created and shared, adding layer-upon-layer of micro-communications to crystallise opinion by offering repetitive exposure to the same theme. Indeed, our access to the polyvocality foreseen in Web 2.0 seems often to manifest itself in how many rather than how varied are these voices.
The Daily Me
Limited exposure to contradicting ideas is exacerbated by ever more individual tailoring of online information. Netflix feeds viewers with ‘percentage match scores’, predicting enjoyment of unwatched programmes, thus increasing the likelihood of choosing similar content. Shopping activities affect exposure to adverts, thereby driving consumer behaviour: endless feedback-loops where undertaking an activity may actually make any future divergence from that activity less likely. Perhaps even more concerning is the increased tailoring of accessible information. Pages presented to Facebook users vary depending on their political views, in a self-confirming, political hall of mirrors. Huffington Post and Yahoo News tailor news content directly to readers, giving substance to architect and computer scientist Nicholas Negroponte’s 1995 prediction of a ‘Daily Me’ – a virtual newspaper customised for each individual’s taste. Meanwhile, search engines, such as Google, increasingly restrict results according to online behaviour – two people searching for ‘Egypt’ are ever more likely to be presented with entirely different results. This trajectory could signal an Orwellian dystopia where diversified information may not be accessible even if searched for. Indeed, people may even lose awareness that such diversity exists. For many in the future, this ‘Truman Show’ may become a reflection of reality: and why not? If a contrary opinion is googled, results may simply confirm opinion. Activist and entrepreneur Eli Pariser has termed this the ‘filter bubble’ – a state of intellectual isolationism which, he argues, foments polarisation across societies and threatens democracy itself:
‘Democracy requires citizens to see things from one another’s point of view, but instead we’re more and more enclosed in our own bubbles. Democracy requires a reliance on shared facts; instead we’re being offered parallel but separate universes.’
While online privacy concerns are common, consumers have a vested interest in watching programmes that conform to their individual taste – buying products similar to those with which they have previous experience. Human brains are incapable of absorbing and processing the volume of information already presented to them. This dynamic has only been exacerbated by the influx of information readily available at our fingertips. In a world where over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created each day, a filtering system is required. The early days of the Internet anticipated a utopia of information and choice. Yet, as psychologist Barry Schwartz demonstrates, an over-abundance of choice can lead to confusion, disorientation and, ultimately, unhappiness.
The micro-messages described earlier are symptomatic of this reality. Confronted with a complex and often confusing onslaught of information, ideas whittled into digestible bite-size chunks can be welcome and necessary for our ‘cognitive miser’ brains which naturally look for shortcuts. Meme creators can compress complex ideas into simple visual packages, while even intricate military and political decisions can be conveyed in a tweet – from declaring kinetic operations to providing legal notification to Congress. At the same time, the speed, lack of detail and sheer volume characteristic of such communications potentially shrinks the time and space for nuanced debate.
As a surreal exacerbation of the issue, a barrage of simplified communications can serve to contribute to the confusion by increasing cognitive load. A review by academics from Oxford, King’s College London, Harvard, and Western Sydney Universities found that ‘the limitless stream of prompts and notifications from the Internet encourages us towards constantly holding a divided attention – which then in turn may decrease capacity for maintaining concentration on a single task.’ In a chicken-and-egg scenario from which there seems little escape, the prolific production of micro-communications seems itself to limit the absorption of information in anything other than a micro-message format.
Thus emerges an ironic reality in which a barrage of micro-messages contributes to an increasingly complex and incomprehensible information environment, thereby requiring information to be increasingly presented in simple, bite-sized slices. Truly nuanced debate becomes less common. This comes at a time when exposure to diversity of thought is already limited by segregating some people into exclusive online ‘tribes’ with the ‘layer effect’ of communications within these groups continually cementing opinions. Underpinning this reality is the dystopian trajectory where access to non-confirming information may be actively restricted. This dynamic not only renders ‘netizens’ incapable of finding answers to questions but also potentially unaware of the need to ask questions in the first place.
The AI exacerbator
There is a danger that the growing use of AI-enabled devices in our everyday lives could exacerbate this development in the near future.
The problem of asking machines to think and make decisions like humans, is that the best and worst of human tendencies may be reflected and embedded in this process. AI-enabled personal devices learn and adapt through the information we feed them, tailoring their results accordingly. AI bias based on human prejudice already represents a significant problem: in 2018 Amazon scrapped its AI-based recruiting tool after it was found that female candidates were being screened out. The tool had been trained on historical hiring data and thus ‘learned’ to reflect the bias of a male-dominated tech industry. In the same year, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that facial recognition software was accurate for dark-skinned women only 35% of the time, compared with 99% of the time for white men (having been exposed to more images of the latter). This trend is particularly problematic in law-enforcement because it can lead to false accusations and arrests.
Today’s communication environment may be set on a trajectory towards a growing number of people being faced with fewer contradicting ideas in their everyday lives. As AI develops, this limitation may increase. If we choose to accept it, the near future could see devices in our personal ‘Internet of Things’ feed us individually tailored reality based on our pre-existing viewpoints and information which they have learned to align with our preferences. This may lead to ever-increasing feedback loops between AI, online communication, and personal preferences, trapping the user in a confirmation biased hall-of-mirrors.
As our use of these devices increases the volume, speed, and complexity of information available to us, we may come to rely on them to distil that information for us to absorb. A barrage of condensed information via micro-messages may ensue, again hampering nuanced debate. Unless a strong effort is made to seek out dissenting opinion, this may take place within an environment where limited exposure to alternative viewpoints restricts our ability to debate and question.
This near future vision directly contradicts TIME magazine’s 2006 praise of user-generated content as evidence of ‘community and collaboration on a scale never seen before.’ Rather, it is precisely user-generated content that could create information bubbles at an individual level where each person can access different information, yet has neither the tools nor inclination to question it. This could contribute to social fracture by entrenching difference.
In 2006, TIME magazine ended its celebration of ‘You’ with the thought, ‘Web 2.0 is a massive social experiment, and, like any experiment worth trying, it could fail.’ What failure means–– just like success––was not defined. However, a future in which it is not the space between us which shrinks, but the spaces we are exposed to as individuals for question, challenge and debate, would probably come quite close.
States have made strong sovereign claims over national cyberspaces over the past thirty years. In doing so, they have driven the breakup of the internet.Just as a shard of glass can break into smaller and smaller fragments, the process of internet fragmentation is continuous and highly irregular. While some states further this division by hardening digital borders, others advance a counter-trend by converging to facilitate greater cooperation.
The debate over global internet governance has been shaped by a tension between traditional, ‘territorially-bound’ understandings of state sovereignty and the internet’s ‘non-territorial’ nature. In the literature on the subject, this debate is equated with a U.S.-China divide – given the United States’ enduring support for a universal internet and China’s fierce advocacy of ‘internet sovereignty’. However, such a dichotomous description fails to capture the complexity of the current internet landscape. While China’s Great Firewall may be the most prominent example of state sovereignty in cyberspace, other states, including Iran and Russia, have also hardened their digital borders. There is even a significant degree of variation in how Western states – particularly the U.S. and EU member states – have approached internet regulation, despite their historic support for a ‘laissez-faire understanding’ of a ‘free and open’, universal internet. Meanwhile, states such as India and Kenya and more across Asia, Africa, and South America are struggling to manage rapidly expanding digital populations. The question for today, then, is no longer whether the internet will fragment, but what this fragmentation will lead to.
The internet today has become a complex, rapidly evolving landscape that has rendered the ‘universal’ internet a relic of the past. Varying approaches to internet governance have emerged across the globe – from the original American model to the ‘full sovereignty’ approach, to a model with regulatory divergences among EU member states, and further to ‘swing states’ that fall somewhere in between. This Variation suggests that states should accept this ‘new normal’ – recognise that the internet has fragmented and the current internet landscape is in a state of constant flux. Rather than decry this fragmentation, states should accept its inevitability and identify opportunities to build a new internet landscape characterised by regulatory blocs. And find a new metaphor to describe the emerging landscape with which we are already living.
The End of the ‘Universal’ Internet
The very concept of fragmentation implies that national cyberspaces are breaking off from a whole, universal internet. However, this inherent assumption of a once ‘universal’ internet is fundamentally flawed. The early internet was ‘universal’ insofar as it was American and Western. As the internet has grown, it has naturally evolved to resemble the realities of the physical world. Rather than mourn this development, states should see a new beginning – embrace a more diverse internet landscape to drive innovation and freedom of choice.
The Original Model
The early internet, developed by the U.S. with support from European partners, was seen as fundamentally free, open, and universal. The military ARPAnet, antecedent to the modern internet, was imbued with Western liberal values from its inception. The U.S. Department of Defense asserted that an ‘open, secure, interoperable, and reliable Internet […] reflect[s] core American values – of freedom of expression and privacy, creativity, opportunity, and innovation.’ This early period is referred to as the era of cyber-libertarianism, during which the preference for an unregulated, universal internet reigned supreme.
As the internet grew exponentially, a U.S.-backed ‘multi-stakeholder’ model of internet governance was adopted. It brought to the table non-governmental stakeholders, such as public interest advocacy groups, private businesses, and non-profit organisations, alongside governments. However, multi-stakeholder governance cannot be equated with universal inclusivity. As noted in a UNESCO report on internet freedom: ‘not everyone has decided on everything nor is this what is meant by multi-stakeholder participation’. Power has remained largely in the West and particularly in the U.S., considering that ‘the [internet’s] core technical infrastructure was built in the US and Europe’, and therefore ‘the majority of the twelve organizations that run the internet’s root servers, comprising the core of the internet infrastructure, are American’. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance has consistently been criticised by internet stakeholders, including Brazil, India, Russia and China, for its close association with the U.S. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which manages Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and the Domain Name System (DNS) – both central components to our understanding of the internet – is a U.S.-based non-profit organisation that until 2016 operated under the U.S. Department of Commerce. This relationship reflects the United States’ historic and controversial influence over internet governance.
Although the U.S. is not immune to the global trend toward regulation – a trend propelled by the internet’s encroachment on nearly all aspects of public life – it remains committed to preserving a ‘free and open’ internet through multi-stakeholder governance. The administration of President Donald Trump made clear its conviction that the U.S. should retain stewardship of not only a Western, but an American internet when it declared in an Executive Order that because ‘the internet is a United States invention, it should reflect American values as it continues to transform the future for all nations and all generations’.
America’s heavy-handed influence has led ‘many non-Western nations […][to] perceive the existing internet governance model as a manifestation of American power’. China views the existing internet order as an anarchic space, where a hegemon like the U.S. has exacerbated asymmetry through technological advantage. As internet scholar, Milton Mueller points out, ‘[…] states have for decades if not centuries engaged in power games over resources and strategic advantage and […] view Internet governance from within that framework’. Consequently, to counter the U.S.-backed ‘multi-stakeholder’ model that privileges the American public and private sectors, China, Russia, and Iran have coalesced around a model of full state sovereignty in cyberspace. China and Russia in particular have leveraged multilateral institutions such as the United Nations to advance their shared objective of rebalancing the global internet order.
When China announced its intent to exert sovereign control over its national cyberspace, the notion was ridiculed by then U.S. President Bill Clinton. However, China has remained committed to this principle, gradually achieving full sovereignty over its national cyberspace through a tight censorship net, often referred to as the ‘Great Firewall of China’. The Chinese government justifies rigorous action by highlighting the political implications of internet governance, arguing that ‘cyber sovereignty’ is a question of national security. China is actively looking to establish alliances and pursue its strategic interests in the digital space through efforts to ‘promote its approach to internet regulation abroad, directly challenging the “free and open” philosophy.
One of China’s most significant allies in this arena is Russia. It also aims to advance ‘internet sovereignty’ and undermine U.S.-led promotion of internet freedom. Beyond its longstanding use of censorship, the Snowden scandal and the 2014 Ukraine Crisis have provided the Russian government with ample justification to control its own national cyberspace by creating digital borders within the World Wide Web, described by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a ‘CIA Project’ in 2014.
Another state fixated on internet sovereignty, albeit in a more extreme fashion, is the Islamic Republic of Iran. It set up SHOMA (also known as the 'National Internet', 'National Intranet', or 'Halal Internet') to counter external and internal tensions. The state is better able to throttle foreign connection speeds during politically sensitive periods without crippling critical services. Easier internet access in rural areas is a further benefit. Although debate on its internet governance has lasted for ten years, Iran’s political posture and priorities have shifted remarkably little.
If internet governance were represented on a sliding scale, then the multi-stakeholder model backed by the U.S. would stand diametrically opposed to the full sovereignty model. ‘Swing states’, however, would not fit neatly into either camp. Regardless of their form of government, swing states often shift toward the model of internet governance that best serves their domestic priorities at any given time.
Following a debate on internet governance at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai in 2012, ‘swing states’ have become the focal point of contention. Characterised by ‘mixed political orientation’ and resources to ‘influence the trajectory of an international process’ they face a number of challenges, namely protests and disinformation campaigns coupled with a dramatic increase in digital populations. African states, home to ‘the world’s most rapidly expanding digital population’, now favour the sovereign model, leading to an increased government censorship and harsh punishments for content deemed offensive.
Increased state sovereignty over cyberspace has created opportunities for these states to experiment with tightening state control in response to these challenges. States have increasingly implemented internet shutdowns, perhaps the extreme manifestation of governmental control over national cyberspace. Since Egypt first cut off its internet in drastic fashion during the 2011 uprising, the number of internet shutdowns has risen to 75 in 2016 and 196 in 2018. India alone accounted for 134 of those shutdowns, citing problems ranging from students’ cheating during school exams to curbing the spread of information ‘believed to incite communal violence’.
Digital Single Market
The European bloc is typically seen as closer to the U.S. model of internet governance on the sliding scale, largely due to shared values, such as freedom of expression. However, significant fault lines have emerged between the U.S. and EU over regulatory protection of those shared values. Hielke Hijmans, a specialist in EU law and privacy law, recalls this ‘divergence of protective arrangements has been referred to as a transatlantic divide’. This divide manifested in the early 2000s when the American company Yahoo was sued for hosting auctions of Nazi memorabilia on websites accessible in France, and in a momentous decision was ordered to bar French users from accessing such content. Approaches to privacy protection also diverge. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) states that ‘the protection of natural persons in relation to the processing of personal data is a fundamental right’ (L119/1) and consequently implements some of the most stringent protections for online personal data to date. This landmark regulation has helped to secure the EU’s role as a ‘constitutional guardian of privacy and data protection on the internet’ according to Hijmans.
Since then, many EU states have made efforts to advance legislation for the digital domain, touching upon individual rights, civil liberties, and market regulation. However, the legal consensus is that states’ individual efforts to manage their approach are resulting in multi-layered realms of legislation which can ‘counteract and sometimes contradict each other’. Many academics are calling for international frameworks to provide clarity of legislation with regard to trade and economic practices, as well as crime and prosecution, and almost all other aspects of public life. EU member states are modelling avenues of cooperation through measures such as establishing a Digital Single Market (DSM), improving consumer access to goods and services between EU member states, and Schengen-style freedom of movement in the EU region.
Less than twenty years after U.S. President Bill Clinton compared regulating the internet to ‘trying to nail Jell-O to the wall’, states around the world have accepted the inevitability of regulation, albeit to varying degrees. China, Russia, and Iran have rejected the original model of internet governance pursued by the U.S. and disagree with the single market project pursued by the EU. At the same time, a great degree of variation exists between oscillating ‘swing states’. These models are not absolute. The fragmentation of the internet is a highly complex and evolving process. Virtual private networks (VPNs) are used by tens of millions of internet consumers in China. They use a VPN to circumvent China’s firewalls and access restricted content. Despite differences and irregularities between and within all models, their existence is proof positive that today’s internet landscape is fragmented.
Nevertheless, fragmentation does not imply the end of a free and open internet; meaning the absence of state-imposed restrictions on internet users’ freedom of expression and access to the World Wide Web. Although observers have often equated a free and open internet with a universal one, the ‘universal internet’ was never truly such. States have always interpreted the meaning of free and open through a lens of self-interest. Germany and the United States both consider their internet spaces to be free and open. Both consistently appear at the top of internet freedom rankings. Yet the instruments and approaches they wield to regulate those freedoms differ significantly.
Eli Noam, Director of the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information, notes that rather than ‘banging our heads against the wall trying to achieve a uniformity that satisfies nobody, we should find arrangements where different systems can coexist’. Today’s internet landscape shows such arrangements are not only possible, but are already in place. Accepting and even embracing internet fragmentation could be the first step toward forming new alliances and shaping the future of the internet on the basis of shared values. A free and open internet can still exist within a fragmented internet landscape, provided that states establish regulatory coherence around the frameworks that define and govern a free and open internet. In this respect, states will have to engage in truly multi-stakeholder and multi-lateral processes. That entails working together and with private tech and social media companies to overcome regulatory differences. In consensus, states may be able to re-shape the future internet landscape, preserving free and open internet space(s) within regulatory blocs that may resemble Schengen-style freedoms and responsibilities.
Reflections on Contested Legitimacy
The reader is encouraged to consider two recent developments from the perspective of nation state legitimacy and authority. Variation 3 – Comment, Share, Report: Cyber Interference as a Violation of International Law and Variation 4 – At the Climate Protest: Delegitimation of Environmental Governance in Contemporary Liberal Democracies set out two related problems of cyber election interference (external) and social movement organisation (home-grown). Does a vote reflect ‘the will of the people’ when external actors seek to sway public opinion through online communication campaigns? Variation 3 argues that such activities may constitute a breach of international law and the principle of non-intervention. Perhaps it is high time for like-minded nations to align terminology and legislation with the political realities of the 21st century. Simultaneously, the momentum of environmental protests and organisations, such as Extinction Rebellion, enabled by information and computer technologies (ICTs), reveals a waning trust in the ability of institutions to address climate change, and a dissatisfaction with established systems of government. Together, national governments face a future of walking a tightrope between asserting a degree of information sovereignty, without being unduly restrictive to the point of alienating their own populations, and further eroding trust in institutions.
In the run-up to the UK general election in December 2019, politicians and civil servants warned that foreign actors would attempt to influence the democratic process through covert cyber activity. The UK is the latest addition to a list of democracies facing this threat. Whether in the United States (US), Estonia or Germany, state-sponsored cyber interference has become alarmingly common.
We define cyber interference as state-sponsored online activity that seeks to penetrate a target state’s information environment, with the purpose of influencing internal processes. The open structure of the internet in the West – a defining feature of its communications environment – is vulnerable to abuse by malign actors. Through disseminating disinformation and manipulating social media platforms, cyber interference can polarise or distort political debates, undermine cohesion in target societies, and advance a hostile actor’s strategic objectives. In effect, it is a hybrid threat, operating on the spectrum of legality, clouding accountability and remaining below the threshold of conventional war.
When can cyber interference be considered a breach of international law? We address this question by examining strategic communications literature and international legal documents, elevating research through interviews conducted with strategic communications practitioners in June 2019.
We argue that under certain circumstances, cyber interference can constitute a breach in international law. Hostile actors may pollute a state’s information environment to such an extent that the target society can no longer tell fact from fiction. By influencing public perceptions, a hostile state may disrupt internal democratic processes in a way that violates the principle of non-intervention.
The growing prevalence, invasiveness, and potency of cyber operations has invited scrutiny by academics, legal scholars, and security agencies seeking to apply international laws of war to the cyber realm. The nature of liberal democracies makes them vulnerable to such actions, due to their inherent pluralism, free media, open economy or system of checks and balances. Such states should recognise the dangers that cyber interference poses to their societal fabric, communicate their position on how it might be regulated, share information and best practices, and create credible mechanisms for attribution and retaliation. By doing so, they may mitigate the risks of cyber interference and adapt the international architecture of norms and values to the threats and technological challenges of the 21st century.
From Cyber Warfare to Twitter Wars
The proliferation of cyberattacks has raised attention to hostile state activity in cyberspace. Operations in the Baltics and viruses like Stuxnet and Petya showed that cyberattacks could qualify as armed attacks under international law, spurring several attempts to apply legal frameworks on conventional warfare to cyberwarfare. Although not universally embraced, the Tallinn Manual, published by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence, was the first multilateral effort to do so.
However, what can be said for cyber operations that do not cross the threshold of the use of force? Instances, such as the 2015 network hack of the German Bundestag, the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, the 2016 US presidential election, and the artificial amplification of debates around contentious issues online, are only a few of the numerous cases where such methods have been used. According to data collected by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the number of election-related cyber operations grew from none in 2006 to eight in 2018.
Democracies like the US, India, and Israel were four times more likely to fall victim to cyber-incidents than autocracies like China and Russia. The impact of such incidents can be significant, most clearly demonstrated in instances of cyber interference revolving around national elections. In the 2016 US presidential campaign, Facebook’s General Counsel, Colin Stretch told the Senate Intelligence Committee that accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a well-documented Kremlin-sponsored troll farm, produced over 80,000 election-related posts with a reach of 126 million people. In a race ultimately decided by around 80,000 voters in key battleground states, it is possible that Russian interference influenced the election outcome in some way. If this is indeed the case, then state-sponsored cyber interference is likely to have played a role in determining the political leadership and direction of another state.
The Case for Coercion
There is general agreement in the international community that the basic principles of international law apply to cyberspace, including the principle of non-intervention. Tallinn 2.0, a follow-up to the Tallinn Manual that explores the relationship between international law and cyber operations beyond the dimension of cyberwarfare, argues that respect for sovereignty covers the closely related principles of the prohibition of the use of force and non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states. A 2015 report by the UN Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE) on risks arising from states’ use of ICTs echoes this, noting that states must honour their commitments to the UN Charter and other principles of international law, including non-intervention. While the UN GGE was dissolved in 2017 after failing to reach consensus, subsequent work from other organisations, including the European Commission´s 2018 report on tackling online disinformation, demonstrates a sustained trend in this direction.
The principle of non-intervention is a foundational norm in international law. The 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States holds that ‘no state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another’. This is reflected in the UN Charter’s articles on sovereign equality and the prohibition on the threat or use of force, which protect a state’s territorial integrity and political independence. A more forceful iteration of the principle of non-intervention is found in the 1970 Friendly Relations Declaration, which states that breaching this principle constitutes a violation of international law: ‘Every State has an inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural systems, without interference in any form by another state’.
Cyber-interference may be considered to fit comfortably within the realm of unlawful interventions. However, the 1986 International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling regarding the illegal US intervention in Nicaragua complicates matters. The Court held that intervention may only be deemed unlawful when it uses methods of coercion. Informed by the time and context of its writing, the ruling offers a narrow interpretation of coercion limited to forcible measures. Tallinn 2.0 concurs with the ruling and argues that without coercion, interventions cannot be counted as unlawful.
However, closer inspection reveals gaps in the Court’s interpretation of coercion. Tallinn 2.0 argues that coercion can be any act ‘designed to deprive another State of its freedom of choice’ or to influence outcomes within its domaine réservé – matters on which it is within a state’s sovereign rights to decide freely. The most important of these were agreed to be the choice of political system and its organisation which ‘lie at the heart of sovereignty’. In an early criticism of the ICJ’s ruling, Professor Lori Damrosch of Columbia University urged the international legal community pay close attention to non-forcible measures, such as foreign funding for political campaigns and propaganda.
Furthermore, both the Court and Tallinn 2.0 concur that such acts can be either direct or indirect. Tallinn 2.0 offers an illustration of an indirect cyber operation of this nature: Imagine State A releases sensitive information online regarding State B that brings about a political crisis in State B, eventually leading to policy changes that would not have happened otherwise. Most experts behind Tallinn 2.0 agreed that this would be an example of unlawful intervention. In effect, this conclusion casts a new light on incidents like the DNC hack in 2016 and bolsters the view that cyber interference can be considered coercive.
The implications of this conclusion pave the way for reevaluating the nature and implications of coercion in the 21st century. Professor Steven Wheatley purports that cyber interference, in the form of a sustained campaign of disinformation, should also be considered coercive – and therefore illegal – when it ‘”pollutes” the democratic debate […] to such an extent that it undermines the capacity of the population to make a meaningful choice based on the facts…’. According to Wheatley, this effectively coerces the population to choose a course of action to which it did not knowingly consent, and hence denies people their right to political self-determination. Professor Damrosch introduces a human rights element, purporting that impinging on the right to self-determination violates both the principle of state sovereignty and citizens’ rights to self-governance.
Consequently, there seems sufficient legal grounding to consider certain instances of cyber interference as internationally wrongful acts when these amount to coercive behaviour aimed at intervening in another state’s domaine réservé. The question now is: what can be done about it?
Putting Words into (State) Practice
First, states that are vulnerable to cyber interference must work to entrench and reinforce the notion that it is considered illegal. To shape nascent international norms, states must contribute to state practice and opinio juris (belief in a legal obligation) in a coordinated manner. Currently, few states condemn instances of cyber interference as internationally wrongful acts. In reaction to alleged Russian interference in the US presidential campaign, President Obama initially responded with whispered warnings to President Putin. This approach may derive from the difficulty of determining attribution or from the fact that many states engage in cyber interference themselves. However, due to the risks posed by cyber interference to state sovereignty, states should set an example in their domestic behaviour, avoid coercive cyber interference, and clearly communicate their position in multilateral platforms, such as the UN’s Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG).
In addition to publicly condemning cyber interference, states may consider means of retaliation. US criminal investigations and economic sanctions against Russia could provide a basis for state practice. But such reactions must be more consistent and widespread to be considered evidence of an emerging norm. Ironically, furious Russian denials of conducting cyber interference, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, actually support the existence of opinio juris against committing cyber interference – had it been legal, there would have been no difficulty in admitting it.
Second, states should incline to build trust and transparency through sharing information and best practices. Currently, states deploy different methods to strengthen the resilience of the various potential targets of cyber interference. Sweden focuses on defending its electoral process, Singapore promotes counter-disinformation legislation, India pressures social media companies to install technical restrictions on popular platforms, and the Baltic states emphasise accountability for perpetrators.
Even more importantly, states must willingly disclose instances of when whether they are dealing with cyber interference at all. Driven by the fear of revealing their own cyber tools or vulnerabilities, states have been tight-lipped about their experiences in this regard. However, by disclosing some of this information within the confines of national security considerations, states will both learn how to boost their defensive capabilities and strengthen their legal case by informing international legal experts on emerging state practice.
Finally, states should consider creating international mechanisms of attribution. Tallinn 2.0 stipulates that customary international law regarding state responsibility applies to activities in the cyber domain. Consequently, a state would bear international responsibility for unlawful cyber interference credibly attributed to it, either directly or through a non-state actor. Attribution is critical to justifying retaliatory measures. However, as noted by General Dan Efrony and Professor Yuval Shany, anonymity afforded by cyberspace and the lack of widely accepted mechanisms of attribution make timely and reliable claims of attribution difficult to establish. In spite of these difficulties, however, there is a record of several incidents of cyber interference that have been successfully detected and attributed. Advances in data science and artificial intelligence will assist in quickly gaining reliable intelligence, allowing for the attribution of blame on public and diplomatic levels.
The speed of technological progress in recent decades has challenged long-held truths regarding the norms and values that have traditionally underpinned the international system. The principle of non-intervention in another state’s internal affairs is the bedrock of state sovereignty. In the past, violations of sovereignty could only be feasibly committed via a limited set of, usually coercive, means. Today, ICTs have opened myriad opportunities for states to undermine adversaries without firing a shot.
Interested states must communicate their position on the impermissibility of cyber interference to adapt the frameworks and instruments international law to the challenges of the 21st century. This can be achieved by condemning cyber interference as illegal when it amounts to coercive behaviour and threatens the freedom of their population to determine their own fate.
Once states speak with a united voice, there is also potential for collective action. Sharing information and best practices should inform domestic and international efforts to counter cyber interference and hold perpetrators accountable. By grasping how communications platforms can be used to shape political debates and undermine political establishments, strategic communicators can affect the rules binding those platforms. Evidently, cyber interference will always persist to some extent as a feature of interstate conduct. Yet experience shows that concerted global efforts can effectively curb aggressive state behaviour. We propose that the same can be done with cyber interference, should states use their words and actions wisely.
Figure 1: Activists perform an 'image event' outside the British Fashion Council, 2020
On a February morning in central London, outside the offices of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP), environmental activists gathered to protest against the organisation’s investment in the planned expansion of London City Airport. Asked why Extinction Rebellion (XR) had organised this protest, Tamsin answers: ‘What we wanted to do, as members of XR Newham…is to say, on behalf of the community: we can’t see expansion happen…This expansion has been dumped on the community, and we are rebelling with them and rising up against it’. Tamsin’s words reveal a wider story: the average citizen lacks influence in decision-making processes in the field of environmental governance, and it is left to non-institutional actors like XR to mediate public opinion in this arena.
This conceptualisation of XR as acting ‘on behalf of the community’ speaks to the wider function of social movements in late capitalist liberal democracies. Social movements here can be broadly understood as ‘collective challenges, based on common purposes and social solidarities, in sustained interaction with elites, opponents, and authorities’. XR and other social movement organisations (SMOs) perceive themselves as defenders of the public sphere and advocates of the public interest. Rather than rely on media representations, SMOs like XR directly represent their participants’ claims – commonly, through protest. In this way, SMOs provide a way for citizens to regain forms of communicative action. This emphasis on communicative action points to the apparent failure of existing governance structures to facilitate public discussion on pressing political questions. In Ireland, the 2016 Citizens’ Assembly demonstrated the efficacy of deliberation and direct democracy for instigating popular constitutional reform – most notably in relation to repealing Ireland’s ban on abortion.
In light of the rapid rise of XR and unprecedented climate protests that swept across liberal democracies in 2019, the communicative function of climate protests bears scrutiny in delegitimising environmental governance in liberal democracies. Protests are a specific practice of ‘delegitimation’ – a process of ‘contestation that undermines the existing legitimacy of institutions’. NATO’s 2017 Strategic Foresight Analysis – the organisation’s most recent visualisation of the future strategic context – identifies a key ‘challenge to governance’ in the form of government legitimacy being undermined by lack of effective governance in response to ‘evolving climate and environmental stressors, and thereby failing to uphold the implicit social contact with their populace’. Variation 4 investigates this prognosis in the context of liberal democracies – evaluating the role and effectiveness of communication in protests orchestrated by Extinction Rebellion UK. This Variation contends that environmental movements constitute a real and growing challenge to environmental governance structures. These structures address the goals, policies, and procedures used to direct action around climate and environmental change. This argument is substantiated by the UK Parliament’s response to XR’s 2019 protests, which included declaring a climate emergency and creating Climate Assembly UK. Variation 4 begins by outlining the principles, goals, and philosophy of XR, before proceeding to examine the strategic meaning behind the group’s multifaceted approach to protest communication. Finally, it evaluates XR’s influence on attitudes and behaviours in the UK’s political and public spheres.
Founded as recently as May 2018, XR has become the fastest growing environmental movement in the world. By October 2019, there were an estimated 485 XR affiliates across the globe. According to the marketing software platform Onalytica, the group is now the No.1 global influencer on climate awareness. When discussing the group’s rise at the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan protest, Tamsin explains that ‘part of the reason why we’ve been able to expand so quickly is because we don’t need to wait for leaders…So, we are decentralised – which means that anyone or any group of people that sign up to the principles of XR…can take part in XR action’. Along with decentralisation, the group is based on autonomy – challenging governance structures, deploying nonviolent strategies and tactics to bring about political change. Contrary to traditional forms of climate marches or lobbying, XR have embraced the widespread use of mass civil disobedience in their protests. The group’s demands are: 1) the UK government should declare a climate and ecological emergency; 2) the government should legally commit to reducing carbon emissions to net-zero by 2025; 3) the government should create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice. In adopting a strategy that relies on states to lead on climate action, XR break with contemporary trends toward ‘do-it-yourself’ environmentalism (where the emphasis is on individual lifestyle changes) and with trends that place the onus of climate action on the international arena (relying on global governance institutions, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) to deliver solutions and ‘save us’ from climate change.
Delegitimation Through Protest
Legitimacy is a specific quality similar to appropriateness. It refers to a perception that actions of an entity are desirable and proper within the context of a society’s systems of norms, values, and beliefs. ‘Legitimation’, then, is a process of evaluation from which legitimacy is derived. And ‘delegitimation’ is the opposite – a process of ‘contestation that undermines the existing legitimacy of institutions’. Ultimately, legitimacy justifies authority within democratic governance, granting it high strategic value. Strategic approaches regard legitimacy as a ‘resource that political, economic or social actors extract…from their cultural environments and…employ in pursuit of their goals’. Through strategic communications – with its potential to influence perceptions, assumptions, and attitudes via words, deeds, and images – actors can establish, maintain, and contest legitimacy and legitimate governance.
Figure 2: Outside the offices of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, XR activists perform an ‘image event’ aimed at drawing attention to the investment fund's role the expansion of London City Airport
The act of protest is the most visible expression of direct public pressure for policy change. Protests have the potential to politicise and scandalise the goals, policies, and procedures of governance – enlarging the audience and leading to processes of delegitimation, the scope of which ranges across society. A communicative technique featuring prominently in XR protests is the creation of ‘image events’ – ‘staged acts of protest designed for media dissemination’. This concept is similar to the idea of ‘Propaganda of the Deed’ (POTD), which can be broadly understood as a tactic that involves communicating a message or narrative through planned events or deeds. ‘Image events’ are of particular importance in today’s media environment characterised by an ‘attention economy’ wherein ‘a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention’, and actors are forced to compete for issue priority in a congested public sphere (see Variation 1 – Shrinking Spaces). With the image representing the primary form of argumentation in today’s mediascape, XR create striking, symbolic scenes inside their protests which are likely to receive media coverage. Figure 1 captures XR performing an ‘image event’ – personifying liberty as activists hold smoke grenades above them, posing for cameras. This deed subsequently became the lead image from the protest for news corporations including ITV, The Independent, and The Guardian. Moreover, figure 2 shows members of XR Newham satirising the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and their role in the expansion of UK airports.
The news media are the obvious shapers of cultural sensibilities, and XR uses news media as the main channel through which protestors broadcast their narratives and values. Even though ‘exploitative’ media is one of the group’s primary common grievances, the group uses the weight of the media to their benefit, drawing attention to their demands and pushing the issue of climate and ecological emergency into the public sphere, and later, onto political agendas. In a congested and contested media and policy environment, SMOs like XR embrace ‘noisy’ activism and creative forms of dissent to promote their views in public debates.
Beyond the Protest
A central goal of XR’s strategy is its adherence to the ‘mobilisation principle’ – whereby mobilising 3.5% of the population can achieve systemic change. This principle stems from American political scientist Erica Chenoweth whose research showed that ‘those engaging a threshold of 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change’. In accordance with this research, XR UK must mobilise 2 million people if they want to secure the kind of rapid systemic change they advocate. In pursuit of the mobilisation principle, a less overt yet critical role that protest communication plays for XR is its capacity to create a growing and regenerative culture – a culture that is ‘healthy, resilient, adaptable.
In increasingly polarised liberal democratic societies, where trust in governments is considered to have fallen to unprecedented lows, and where news media tend to amplify societal divisions, protest spaces can become ‘islands of refuge’ for concerned citizens. XR has embraced protests as communicative spaces for recruitment, reproduction, and consolidation, recognising its ‘unique ability to motivate individuals to take action and to crystallize the already extant beliefs or attitudes of attendees’. Within the protest space, protest communication such as disruption, performance art, costume, placards, banners, poetry, and song socialise the participants to the values and narratives of the group. Bound by a radical imaginary or ‘shared vision of change’, protests become important spaces of friendship, meaning, care, possibility, and identity formation. In this regard, protest communication can be understood as a social binding agent for networks like XR. Whilst this socialising effect is endemic to any protest movement, XR is novel in prioritising interpersonal relationships within the movement and incorporating ‘action care’ (taking care of each other as they undertake direct action and civil disobedience) into their protest strategy. This communicative function was clearly visible in XR’s October 2019 protests which saw activists in Westminster host meditation sessions, all-night dance marathons, and a mass ‘nurse in’ staged by mothers with their babies (see figure 3).
A Present and Future Challenge to Governance
While mass civil disobedience, the ‘image event’ (or POTD), and a ‘regenerative culture’ are by no means new features of social movements, their effectiveness for XR – participation, attention, and political impact – is unprecedented. In April 2019, following 11 days of protest in London, a new record was set for the number of times ‘climate change’ was mentioned in the UK press. During the ‘international rebellion’ in October 2019, the group was mentioned more than 70,000 times in online media reports. The ‘climate strikes’ of September 2019 – co-created with the UK Student Climate Network amongst other environmental groups – was the largest ever climate mobilisation, attracting a reported 6 million protestors worldwide. There were also significant surges in public concern for climate change in the UK following XR’s April actions. In late April 2019, concern for climate change jumped to 24%, roughly the same level as concern for the economy and immigration. These figures represent historically high levels of public concern around climate change. The impact of XR on the public sphere demonstrates why liberal democracies around the world should recognise the challenge to governance posed by the global environmental movement.
Figure 3: A mass 'nurse in' staged in Whitehall (Source: ITV, ‘In Pictures: Mothers’)
With evidence of the growing impact of climate change and the imminent risk of further deterioration, the relevance of the global environmental movement will not dissipate. NATO’s 2017 report highlights scenarios where governments fail to respond adequately to evolving climate and environmental stressors. The UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – the leading advisory body to the government on reducing greenhouse gas emissions – warned in July 2019 that the ‘UK government [is] failing to act on climate change’. The CCC’s 2019 progress report found that the government had delivered on just 1 of the 25 emissions-reducing actions recommended by the committee in 2018. The committee also concluded that the UK is seriously underprepared for protecting its citizens from the impacts of climate change – thus failing to uphold the implicit social contract. Through mass protest, XR has targeted UK government failings in environmental governance. Unprecedented mobilisation (in the form of civil disobedience) and media-savvy protest tactics (such as ‘image events’) have been key to XR’s agenda and pursuit of normative delegitimation of existing governance structures. The group’s regenerative culture transforms these movements from short-lived concentrations of political expression to enduring, resilient, and growing entities. Growing climate and environmental mobilisation around the world is forcing policymakers to reconsider how environmental governance arrangements can (re)gain and maintain their legitimacy.
Following XR’s 2019 protests, the UK parliament approved a motion to declare a climate and ecological emergency. Furthermore, a Citizens’ Assembly (UK Climate Assembly) was commissioned by six cross-party House of Commons committees and completed in May 2020. These responses from the UK Parliament suggest that XR’s strategic communications are working to an extent. The Parliament’s responses signal the relevance of institutional (Citizens’ Assembly) and discursive (declaration of climate emergency) measures to restoring legitimacy in environmental governance structures. However, there is a real danger that government actions could amount to tokenistic measures. Deliberative events like Citizens’ Assemblies are institutional manifestations of the direct, deliberative brand of democracy advocated by XR. Assemblies create points of interaction with civil society and are deeds that signal to publics that consensus and common understanding are the goals of environmental governance. However, while deliberation has the potential to mobilise public opinion, deliberative outputs must be linked to the formal political sphere and be invested with a degree of mainstream political engagement. If deliberative decisions do not guide policymakers, citizen involvement becomes mere ‘activation’ – involvement that may have ‘the appearance of empowerment, but takes place on the terms of the already powerful, and may serve only to pacify democratic demands without actually submitting to their bottom-up force’. Extinction Rebellion argues that this is what happened in the recent Climate Assembly UK; it is non-binding and can be ‘completely ignored’ by government.
Aided by real-world climatic conditions that widen their political appeal, today’s media-savvy environmental movements have grown to pose a significant challenge to incumbent governments through their use of climate protests in the pursuit of high-level goals. For XR, these goals target particular government discourses: climate and environmental change (declaring climate emergency); the policy schedule (urgency); meeting emissions reductions targets (Net-Zero by 2025); and how democracy functions in the UK (direct, deliberative democracy). Communications processes within protests employ real-time, rapid dissemination across online information superhighways. They have become a powerful tool for prioritising XR’s message in a congested media environment. Crucially, they also serve to enable a ‘regenerative culture’. As Parliament demonstrated in its responses to the 2019 climate protests, the popularity and prominence of XR protests that year undermined the UK government’s goals, policies, and procedures regarding environmental and climate action. Variation 4 shows that the process of delegitimation, enacted through mass protest by SMOs, has a key role in spurring states to act on climate change. Beyond the climate question, delegitimation has a wider, unsettling effect on trust and perception of governance institutions in liberal democracies. With this in mind, states and their governments must (re)gain and maintain legitimacy if they are to implement successfully wide-reaching, structural changes – as is required for successful climate action.
Reflections on Creative Catalysts
Creative freedom and organic coalescence around an issue do not just characterise the recent climate protests. As information and communication technologies develop, so do the sophistication and power of harnessing them creatively. Variation 5 – A Hum that Cannot be Silenced: The Future of Terrorist Communications and Variation 6 – Mirrors and Hammers: Creativity in Strategic Communications draw on this theme. From an aesthetic that trivialises and glorifies violence in online communities of far-right or religious extremists (Variation 5) to becoming familiar with democratic systems through the voting-process in an Afghan talent show (Variation 6), creativity and co-creation are forces to be reckoned with.
Early 21st century terrorism was frequently characterised by ‘loud’ moments that shook governments and publics alike. Terrorism in future will be better understood as a low hum that cannot be fully silenced. It will be diverse in medium and objective, with terrorist communicators increasingly inviting audiences to participate in, rather than simply observe, their violent world. Terrorist communicators will look not only to build the profile of causes but to affect the social conditions in which they operate. Although in seeking to remain relevant, these insurgent movements will risk compromising their credibility. Communication will occur outward to adversaries and wider publics, and within networked communities, some of which will be characterised by new subcultural identities steeped in violence.
Scrutinising the strategic intent of ‘conventional’ terrorist communications will remain vital to national security. But the democratisation of technology has extended the means of propaganda production, allowing loosely-comprised extremist networks to create ‘bottom-up’ content at scale. This too comprises part of the risk that we now face in countering terrorism.
While the technical repertoire of terrorist communicators continues to diversify, so does the context and design of violence itself – the ‘Propaganda of the Deed’. Grandiose acts of highly orchestrated communicative violence may continue to have long-term effects on national consciousness, as did the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre on 9/11. Among myriad consequences, those attacks generated an ‘affective wave’ of public reaction, which ‘opened political windows as concerns about security took centre stage’. The last half-decade has instead seen regular, smaller-scale, solo attacks which saturate the news cycle for days, or sometimes only hours. This mode of terrorism holds the prospect of violence in society’s peripheral vision, ensuring the social fault-lines it targets remain salient in our discourse. Its full communicative impact may be complex, revealing itself in tangible attitudinal shifts (the hardening of Western attitudes toward refugees from Syria) yet also in diminishing returns for its perpetrators.
Inspiration and Interaction
Terrorist communications of the future will be increasingly participatory. Audiences will not simply be recipients of ‘one-to-many’ communication, but will become involved in interactive experiences, with both ‘messaging’ and discursive networks serving as vectors for inspiring violence. If delivered effectively, such approaches may mobilise supporters, offering the satisfaction of being instantly mythologised by a peer community, or the compelling prospect of being a player in an existential game.
The rash of IS-linked terrorism experienced across Europe in recent years was characterised by frenzied low-sophistication attacks, concluded abruptly by armed police. Less characteristic, but potentially instructive as to the future was the Magnanville attack of June 2016. Larossi Abballa murdered French police officer Jean-Baptiste Salvaing and his partner Jessica Schneider before beginning a Facebook Live broadcast. Filming himself from their home, he declared his loyalty to the Islamic State (IS). He canvassed his online followers to adjudicate the fate of their three-year-old son. Two aspects of Abballa’s crime foreshadow potentially significant trends.
The first was its interactivity. Aballa’s use of Facebook’s just-launched, live-streaming service presaged Brenton Tarrant, who in 2019 broadcast his mass-shooting of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand. Both episodes prompted governmental anxiety about the technical possibilities and future application of live-streaming. However, the asymmetry of terrorism has always prompted experimentation with novel technologies. The more troubling forewarning was not live-streaming’s functionality, but the producer-consumer relationship it implied.
Aballa and Tarrant choreographed outrage with the experience of their audiences in mind. They went further than their terrorist antecedents, who generated dramatic moments demanding media attention as the vector for connecting to audiences. Rather, as innovative marketers, they created a grotesque interactive consumer experience. They invited audiences not merely to observe, but to participate in their enterprise – to share links, feedback in real time, and incorporate the act into their memetic world. This form of terrorist communication treats its audiences not as passive recipients of information, but as consumer-producers, in terms of ‘marketing with’ rather than ‘marketing to’.
This participatory trend may also emerge at the intersection of terrorism and video gaming. Much has been written on Tarrant’s adoption of a ‘first person shooter’ (FPS) stance, while the online sub-communities that lauded him use the language of gaming to describe ‘kill counts’ and ‘high scores’. Among IS’ supporters the influence of gaming culture has been identifiable in the sloganeering of its Western affiliates––a poster by British IS recruits Rayat al-Tawheed carried the gaming-inspired legend: ‘This Is Our Call of Duty and We Respawn in Jannah’. Although gaming as a means of message distribution remains under-exploited by terrorist organisations, the use of gaming references is an increasingly established trend.
Second, Abballa’s attack signalled the role communications may play in the commission of violence, as he declared himself to be acting on instructions issued by then-spokesman of IS, Abu Muhmmad al-‘Adnani. In doing so, Abballa revealed the maturing of an inspirational model of twrrorism, reliant on often generalised instructions issued to willing sympathisers. This approach pre-dates the 21st century: from Louis Beam Jr. to Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, terrorist strategists have long advocated a diffuse self-starter approach. Nor was the principle of remotely instigating Islamist violence new. In this regard, a key milestone was Ayatollah Khomeni’s 1989 call for ’all valiant Muslims wherever they may be in the world’ to kill the author Salman Rushdie. Yet IS seemed to extract greater value from the model by affording it centrality and prestige in their propaganda. While reporters debated whether lone-actor attacks had ‘really been ISIS’, for their cadres the question had no significance. Simply declaring allegiance was sufficient to be designated a ‘soldier of the Islamic State’ in the communiqué that would follow: an assurance to the perpetrator that their performative violence would grant them status in the narrative history of the movement––the ultimate badge of participation.
Contemporary terrorist communications provide a toolkit for signalling intent, recruiting, and instituting violence; but also for retaining relevance and affecting social conditions in ways that benefit their cause. Terrorists will face challenges in balancing the need to maintain profile in a busy information environment with the risk of losing credibility.
June 2017 saw the publication of the tenth edition of its Rumiyah magazine. Crowing over the London Bridge attack, it recorded that ‘large numbers of police and soldiers were deployed on the streets’, adding that Chelsea’s Premier League winning victory parade had been cancelled, and that ‘politicians [had] brought their campaigning for the upcoming general elections to a halt’. By filling its magazine with the UK’s response to the attack, its intent was to accrue a communicative dividend, strengthening its reputation as a belligerent capable of affecting ‘enemy’ societies.
This was an attempt to consolidate ‘strategic effect’, understood here as identifiable outcomes arising from terrorism. These include media coverage which boosts IS profile, catalysing prejudice within and towards communities, as well as state responses. As such, at its most impactful, terrorism may be compared to the Soviet doctrine of ‘reflexive control’ which sought to nudge its adversaries toward independently making decisions favouring the USSR’s strategic interests. For IS, the arc of responses provoked by terrorism represents a virtuous circle: media coverage raises its profile, while adversarial social interactions in the aftermath of its attacks potentially serves to amplify prejudice and shape public attitudes. Although this may alienate some potential supporters, it can nonetheless serve to advance its broader polarisation agenda. Although dynamics of societal mood and atmosphere are difficult to measure, international relations scholar, Claire Yorke observes that official pronouncements ‘can change the dynamics of response and how people feel about a situation, with constructive or deleterious implications’. Daesh/IS recognises this at an intuitive level. A Syrian defector from the group described excitement amongst leadership figures following Trump’s election, perceiving the new president’s rhetorical indifference to the civilian cost of counter-IS airstrikes as ‘another kind of victory’.
IS invested extensively in communicative violence, essentially a process of ‘strategic scene-setting’ sufficient to enter the popular imagination. Having done so, as its suffered vast territorial losses across Syria and Iraq, its communications sometimes tried to leverage its once all-conquering reputation and capitalise on incidents unrelated to terrorism. In recent years, IS or its supporters have claimed responsibility for a non-political mass shooting in Las Vegas, and attempted to exploit or insinuate connection to events ranging from protests against racial injustice in the US to Australian bushfires.
While terrorist commentary on external events is not a novel phenomenon, IS attempts at self-association with unrelated violence, social disorder, and chaos may be regarded, like bomb hoaxes, as a kind of subjunctive form of terrorism. As noted by terrorism researcher Nicole Tishler, these tactics ‘initially generate the same responses as their corresponding serious tactics’. IS operates in the slipstream of what communications theorist George Gerbner labels the ‘mean world syndrome,’ overlaying its own filter on a media-curated landscape of violence. Consequently, it benefits from the ‘priming’ effect of its earlier violence on publics and particularly the media, whose nervousness surfaces in ‘ghost incidents,’ such as the incident at Oxford Circus in November 2017. Here, a tube platform fight sparked emergency response procedures, leading national media to report a non-existent vehicle and firearm attack was underway in central London. Notably, one week after the incident, the pro-Daesh Wafa Media Foundation issued a poster depicting a jihadi on Oxford Street.
For IS and its supporters, growing reliance on this form of strategic effect betrays a failure to maintain genuine momentum, and carries significant risk. During its ascendancy its public profile benefited from a ‘narrow say-do gap’ – the demonstrable veracity of most its claims allowing it to deliver messaging ‘designed to convince audiences of [its] credibility and legitimacy…’. Yet it subsequently squandered this reputational capital through claims perceived to be increasingly tenuous. By 2017, British Twitter users were posting with ironic hashtags such as #IslamicStateClaims in mockery of its reliance on ‘self-starter’ terrorism.
IS attempts to capitalise on events with which it has no substantive connection, reveal an intuitive (if increasingly desperate) model of ‘asymmetric warfare in the information theatre’, from an actor seeking to ‘overcome their own comparative disadvantages in strength and size through resourcefulness and innovation’. Though such strategies may increasingly strain the credulity of wider audiences, they can nonetheless sustain a supporter base, whose capacity for ‘dissonance management’ helps them navigate a growing disjuncture between its claims and observable reality.
While preventive counter-terrorism efforts have often primarily focused on ideological factors, experts have long held that questions of identity are ‘central to radicalisation’, with communications serving to link identity to collective crisis in a ‘system of meaning’ that ultimately validates terrorism. Terrorism in the future will be defined partly by the emergence of networked communities where traditional ethnic and religious identities are super-charged by idiosyncratic, violent sub-cultures. Such a subculture was linked to the series of five extreme right-wing terrorist attacks committed throughout 2019, the perpetrators of which were users of /pol/ (‘politically incorrect’) forums, most commonly 8chan imageboards.
Recent years have seen considerable scholarly exploration of ‘chan’ imageboards, the ‘irreverent meme factory’ exerting an outsized influence in contemporary internet culture, most famously through memes spawned on 4chan’s /b/ (‘random’) board. The growing influence of politicised communities on these fora was described by Angela Nagle, an expert in internet-based movements who in 2017 wrote of ‘the gradual right-wing turn in chan culture’. Others have explored how symbols like Pepe the Frog came to serve as a ‘floating signifier’ loosely connecting disparate ideological communities across the internet, sometimes typologised under the umbrella term ‘alt right’. Within these image-led online communities new identities emerged, with the ‘implicit formation of an “us” and “them” comprised, respectively, of those aware and of those unaware of a meme’s subcultural currency’. For more on the role of memes and the creation of closed-off online communities, see Variation 1 – Shrinking Spaces.
By 2019, the discourse within the /pol/ subforums of spaces like 8chan (and yet more extreme online redoubts such as Neinchan) was dominated by an explicitly violent world-view. Digital culture researchers, Tuters and Hagan observe that although it was not their intent to assess whether the ‘collective identity of /pol/ is ‘dangerously’ right-wing” as a result of its othering dynamics, following the 2019 attacks ‘such an assessment would not appear to be in question’. It is those specific sub-communities we are addressing here.
Similar to their jihadi counterparts, adherents to this collective identity are quick to sanctify those who act in their name, anointing successful killers as ‘saints’. In part influenced by works such as SIEGE, a 1980s neo-Nazi publication that promoted atomised, racist terrorism, open promotion of provocative violence became commonplace on 8chan’s /pol/ forum. Typically, its advocates argued that this would hasten the onset of racial conflict that will definitively resolve the existential crisis they believe white Europeans now face. One such individual was Philip Manshaus, a 22-year-old Norwegian, who in August 2019 posted on Endchan: ‘It's my time, i was elected by saint tarrant’, asking fellow users of the board to ‘bump the race war thread irl’ [in real life]. Manshaus, who had earlier killed his stepsister, intended to attack worshippers at a mosque in Bærum near Oslo, but failed having been overpowered by a retired Pakistani Air Force officer.
The relationship between social identity and radicalisation is complex. Extremism expert, J.M Berger notes that the ‘very act of embracing a collective identity, even when seen as positive may set the stage for the seeds of negativity’. Within each of us exists an interplay of mutable and immutable characteristics, the identity salience of which responds to wider conditions. An individual may find themselves ‘Forty times a woman before a Muslim before the Gaza conflict, forty times a Muslim more than a woman now’. Extremist ideologies founded on notions of in-group peril exploit the dynamics of intensifying affinity with an apparently threatened community. This, in turn, may render some ‘less likely to consider the actual harm they may have inflicted upon other out-groups’.
Mansaus was informed by extremist ideology and an identity founded on notions of white European race and culture. But alongside this superordinate identity, he articulated the ambition to become an elect figure, a self-characterisation informed by a distinct strand of /pol/ subculture. The hyper-violent and internationalised political subculture incubated in some /pol/ subforums is sustained by a memetic discourse. Like non-violent online communities, this subculture is characterised by codes of often darkly humorous ‘costly signs’. And while for many this will be no more than entertainment (‘lulz’), Mansaus’ final posts suggests that for others it may both define their world-view, and become the anchor of an individual’s social identity.
The chan-linked extreme right-wing attacks of 2019 and IS-inspired violence of the preceding years signal a future in which terrorist violence emerges from a plurality of organisational forms, ranging from structured bureaucracies to networked online social movements without visible leadership. Both forms might exist within the same broader movement. The terrorism of IS’ baqiya ‘fan’ subculture is well-documented, as is the terror of its territorial so-called Caliphate. Together, they constitute distinct if symbiotically-linked phenomena.
Today, online remnants of those subcultural networks, whose members at times appear to identify with IS more than their Islamic faith, continue to produce less sophisticated content. Through this they seek to revive flagging momentum within IS. These munasirun or ‘supporters-cum-volunteer media operatives’, represent one strand of problems increasingly characterised by diversity. These include Hizballah’s al-Manar satellite television station with its multi-million-dollar budget; muhajiroun in war-scarred villas around the Euphrates, refining the audio tracks on murder films; a young man in suburban Texas who types a racist manifesto he will post online prior to going on a shooting spree; and his online peer network immediately glorifying the violence through malign and creative memes.
Tomorrow’s terrorist communications will be innovative and participatory, driven by the imperative to secure strategic effect. Unlikely to catalyse the kind of mass conflict terrorists desire, they may nonetheless serve to nourish the followers of otherwise failing movements. It is those followers who will sustain the low background hum of violence from which we will struggle to escape.
Coarse dust blows through windows broken by IED blasts, a donkey brays as it plods ponderously down a road of frozen mud churned up by armoured vehicles, men stare out from their shop fronts with defeated curiosity. In Afghanistan, it seems like the creative arts would rank last among public priorities. But then, as a tinny tune blares out from a TV repair shop, announcing the theme song of Afghan Star to a crowd of expectant faces, it is apparent that ‘Enduring Freedom’ craves creative expression.
As global attention focuses on the swaying fortunes of Afghanistan – the delicate political accord between the US and the Taliban, the fragility of the government in Kabul – it is easy to overlook the fierce contest playing out in the arena of the creative arts. Ahmad Sarmast, the founder of Kabul’s all-female orchestra Zohra, is adamant that creative thinking must play an integral role in the foundation of a peaceful Afghanistan. He is a firm proponent of investment in the arts, culture, and music as a way to defeat radicalism. As Galia Press-Barnathan has observed, the creative arts, particularly popular culture, can reach a large number of people and encapsulate both information and emotions. Yet they are often ignored in studies of international conflict due to their interdisciplinary nature, which makes them difficult to categorise, measure, and define. Variation 6 explores how the creative industries can inform and guide strategic communications in a contested and conflict-ridden environment. An example of this can be seen in Afghan Star, the hit talent show on Afghanistan’s most popular commercial station, TOLO TV.
The ‘usefulness’ of the creative arts has been questioned by a long line of political economists from Adam Smith onwards, but their value to strategic communications in societal, military, and political environments should not be underestimated. NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence defines strategic communications as a ‘holistic approach to communication’ – the term ‘holistic’ necessitates the inclusion of creative communications, such as art, music, and mass media.
Classical archaeologist Paul Zanker describes the creative arts as ‘mirrors of society’, which ‘reflect the state of its values’. German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht takes this a step further, positing that ‘art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it’. In the case of Afghanistan, the value of creativity in strategic communications can be understood both as a mirror and as a hammer.
Treating the creative arts as a ‘mirror to society’ offers a critical contribution to a holistic information environment analysis. Strategic theorist David Betz condemns the NATO ISAF mission’s lack of understanding of the public mood of the Afghan people, and identifies a need for a greater understanding of local ‘atmospherics’ – a concept immensely difficult to measure or quantify, but which creative thinkers can capture and convey in an easily communicable format, such as a song, a joke, or a cartoon.
The power of creative thinking as a ‘hammer to shape society’ should also be appreciated when designing and producing communications. W.E.B. Du Bois, an African-American artist and political campaigner, recognised the importance of art in his campaign for African American rights in the 1920s. His provocative article in The Crisis asserted: ‘all art is propaganda and ever must be’. Du Bois ‘understood the political importance of cultural production and artistic expression’ and used his position as editor of The Crisis in order to ‘challenge racial stereotypes and dignify blackness’ by constructing a wide political alliance to ‘build an interracial dialogue on political and civil rights’. In the context of Afghanistan, Variation 6 demonstrates how creative industries play a role in shaping Afghan society for a future once the Taliban’s control over levers of power has been loosened.
In 2005, TOLO TV, Afghanistan’s most popular commercial television station, launched a new talent show, Afghan Star. This represented a deliberate and direct challenge to the Taliban’s outlawing of music in 1996. Havana Marking’s award-winning feature documentary, also titled Afghan Star, follows the third season of the talent show (2007/8). The film emphasises a sense of freedom felt by Afghans since the suppression of the Taliban. One contributor says that the Taliban had taken them backwards; he sees music as a way to drive them forwards. The film also portrays a powerful message of unity. One finalist, Hameed Sakhizada, draws passionate support from many different tribes and communities, despite his ethnic identification as an oft-persecuted Hazara. In the grand final, he uses his platform to proclaim Afghan unity: ‘if you are from Bamyan or Kandahar…if you are from Kabul, Balkh or Takhar, we are one brother. We are all one brother’.
The two finalists are deeply aware of their power as celebrities to influence politics: the other finalist and eventual winner, Rafi Naabzada, says he wants his music to be his politics. Supporters of the talent show are filmed saying that voting for Afghan Star is more exciting than parliamentary voting, because they feel they have more of a personal relationship with each candidate, and, consequently, are more engaged with the voting process. The film exhibits the democratic nature of the talent show’s voting system: viewers vote for their favourite candidate via mobile phone, one vote per SIM card. Title cards at the beginning of the documentary state that ‘for many young people, this is their first encounter with democracy’.
This grassroots emergence of a democratic voting system which engages a large proportion of the Afghan population is precisely in line with what Betz proposes in his article on strategic communications in Afghanistan. Betz draws on the idea of Strategic Communications scholar, Neville Bolt to distribute mobile phones en masse in order to create ‘a real communications space’ which allows ideas to ‘find their own levels’, and places the Taliban ‘in a highly awkward situation with respect to the population whom it wishes to control’. If Betz had looked beyond the military environment and into the creative environment, he might have identified a budding parallel to this initiative. Furthermore, Afghan Star was an Afghan-led creative enterprise that grew organically with mass participation from millions of Afghans. Recognising the value of this home-grown democratic engagement is precisely the ‘leap of faith’ in strategic communications that Bolt advocates. It is telling that the third season of Afghan Star drew eleven million viewers, while the recent 2019 elections in Afghanistan drew just two million voters. Neither was without threat of sabotage by the Taliban.
Marking’s film expresses a sense of relief and freedom at the waning influence of the Taliban; now Afghans live in fear of their return to power. Right on cue, in 2019 Afghan Star made history with its first female winner, Zahra Elham. Those who voted for Elham proclaimed with their votes that women can and should sing publicly, and that they can do so on an equal platform with men. This does not mean that all of Afghani society is now in favour of women’s equality. In a documentary made for BBC Radio Four, the BBC’s Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet met Nazifah, an English teacher at a girls’ school in Kabul. Nazifah told her that life for women has improved considerably in Kabul since Taliban rule, but in the provinces ‘[girls’] schools are still attacked and burned’. At the same time, the significance of a female winner of Afghan Star should not be underestimated. The viewership of Afghan Star stretches across Afghanistan. We can take Elham’s victory as a message from the people of Afghanistan, a message that pure talent is appreciated irrespective of the gender of the performer. Aryana Sayeed, Afghanistan’s most popular female vocalist, said of the victory: ‘this means change in Afghanistan’.
The potential for creative thinking as a force for change can also be seen in the great efforts expended by totalitarian in containing and controlling it. The Nazi regime took great care to define what was acceptable in the realms of art, music and film, and what was not. In North Korea, the distribution of Western media is punishable by death. The regime is fully aware that even programmes as seemingly innocuous as Friends hold immense soft power potential by demonstrating the quality of life in America and the West. Islamic State’s destruction of the antiquities at Palmyra, Syria was described in their online magazine Dabiq as a continuation of the iconoclasm practised by the Prophet Mohammed, but at the same time was a deliberate rejection of Western ideals of cultural heritage, value, and beauty. In Marking’s film, we see former Taliban warlord Ismail Khan single out Afghan Star as a direct threat to Islamic values. In 2015, two of Hameed Sakhizada’s music students were kidnapped by the Taliban, with one being killed. When Aryana Sayeed appeared as a judge on Afghanistan’s version of The Voice, a group of mullahs passed a fatwa against her. In 2016, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a TOLO TV minibus, killing seven and wounding twenty-six more. Some of those killed worked on Afghan Star.
If fascists like the Nazis and fundamentalists like the Taliban see the creative arts as a hammer which threatens to destroy their ideologies, then, indeed, they must be a powerful force for freedom of expression and democratic values. As Professor of English Language and Literature Helen Small puts it, ‘democracy needs us’. Since it is a strategic objective of NATO to foster the resilience of Afghan civil society against extremist groups, an available and often underestimated option is to offer support for existing Afghan-led creative initiatives that counter extremist edicts, such as TOLO TV, Radio Roshani (a radio station devoted to women’s issues), and the all-female orchestra Zohra.
I have made the case for the creative arts as both a mirror to Afghan society and a hammer with which to shape it. For future strategic communications, this means incorporating insights from the creative arts and industries into any analysis of the information environment in order to achieve a holistic reflection of the communications space. It also highlights the imperative to identify and invest in creative enterprises which have the potential to hammer home a particular aspect of a strategic objective, such as leveraging Zahra Elham’s success to promote women’s rights in Afghanistan. While the Taliban’s inclusion in the peace agreement in Afghanistan may send a political message that the group still holds influence in the country, the creative industries can help to promote resilience against extremism and facilitate cultural change within the Afghan population.
Why all Strategic Communicators should be Futurists is a guide to how Futures Studies should be made an integral element of strategic communications. Most importantly, it emphasises the role of language in how futures are framed. As strategic communicators we aim to shift long-term discourses and influence future action. Put simply: we seek to tell compelling and convincing stories. Whether explicitly articulated or not, we are always already engaged in ‘telling’ what is to come and how it should be understood. The future does not wait for us. The future is now.
Finale: Why all Strategic Communicators should be Futurists (by Samantha Glass)
The future is a contested space where conflicting images held by individuals and groups inspire actions in the present. Strategic communicators are inherently engaged in this competition.
Strategic communications is ‘a holistic approach to communication based on values and interests that encompasses everything an actor does to achieve objectives in a contested environment.’ By shaping the discourse of futures, strategic communicators influence people’s perceptions, attitudes, actions, and behaviours. However, speaking credibly about the future and harnessing human agency effectively requires a theoretical foundation in Futures Studies. Given the recent emergence of strategic communications as an independent field, an examination of its relationship and overlap with Futures Studies is nascent in academic literature. Realising the synergy between these two disciplines contributes to a much-needed discussion on suitable tools available to states to avoid undesirable futures, minimise risk or to achieve desired future outcomes in a technologically sophisticated and competitive environment.
John M. Culkin, the contemporary of futurist and media philosopher Marshall McLuhan, stated that ‘we shape our tools and therefore our tools shape us.’ This observation provides the starting point of a theory of how strategic communicators can operationalise Futures Studies research to understand the options, limitations, and repercussions of working towards our preferred futures. Futures Studies is the ‘systematic study of possible, probable, and preferable futures, including the worldviews and myths that underlie each future.’ Futures research focuses on understanding the origins and consequences of competing, alternative images of the future. It asks why certain people hold specific images of the future as opposed to others, how those images inspire present actions or inactions, and thus how those actions or inactions bring about a desired image of the future. Considering its emphasis on research, analysis and forecasting, Futures Studies gives the impression of functioning solely as an academic field. This Finale challenges this impression by arguing that the fundamental role of strategic communicators in Futures Studies is to enable individuals, groups, and states to articulate, implement, re-envision, and realise their desired futures.
This Finale provides coherence to the terminology and scope of Futures Studies to improve its application to strategic communications. What follows is an analysis of the function and limitations of strategic communications within the three typologies of futures research. Strategic communicators should ideally be applying all three typologies through a procedural process to maximise the effectiveness of their futures discourse. While this chapter address the theoretical framework of Futures Studies, an analysis of the specific methodologies, such as causal layer analysis, scenario planning, visioning and backcasting, is beyond the scope of this chapter.
Why Futures Studies? - Terminology and Scope
Futures Studies is a transdisciplinary, transnational, and multi-sectoral field. There is minimal academic literature that details the history and terminology of the futures field, which has led to frequent reinvention and mislabelling as Futurology, Futurism, or Futuristic. However, futurist Ziauddin Sardar has resolved the field’s identity crisis. His work established that the label of the discipline must be consciously pluralistic and emphasise a diversity of perspectives and methodologies, which is best served by adopting the label ’Futures Studies.’ The temporal scope of Futures Studies is from five to fifty years. It is committed to studying fundamentally different alternative futures that use multiple ways of interpreting reality (empirical data, mythology, historical) and considers the perspectives of all types of stakeholders (individuals, corporations, and states).
Three Typologies of Futures Research
For states to speak about the future(s) in a way that is intuitive and credible, strategic communicators need a cogent theoretical framework. Futures Studies is not a clearly defined or bounded discipline with fixed theories. However, futurists tend to bifurcate the research field between the empirical approach to a single future and the pluralist approach to multiple futures. While there are several typologies that fall within these two categories, this section focuses on three dimensions of Futures Studies developed by Sohail Inayatullah, Richard Slaughter, and Jennifer Gidley: the predictive, interpretative, and critical approaches. By examining different assumptions and limitations of the three typologies, this Finale hopes to improve strategic communicators’ understanding of how futures discourse inspires human agency in working towards consciously chosen futures.
1. Predicting an ‘objective future’
In the predictive/empirical tradition, hard science techniques detect trends that predict the future. During the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force and RAND Corporation developed this forecasting approach through extrapolating from mathematical models to anticipate potential national security threats. The assumption underlying prediction is that previously existing circumstances determine the future. In the digital age, improvements in surveying methodologies, modelling, and statistical techniques can reveal lawlike trends from masses of data. From an empiricist perspective, this can be used to quantify complex problems and predict a world based on cumulative and progressive knowledge.
The purpose of strategic communications in the predictive approach is to link theory to data. In this approach, language is considered to be a neutral tool and the future is objectively derived from scientific research. In a contested environment, this approach provides decision-makers with time to plan a set of responses in anticipation of upcoming challenges. Additionally, by asserting that trends are inevitable, this approach can generate second-order effects on empowerment. Depending on whether the trends are positive or negative, strategic communicators must consider how actors operating within and aware of this reinterpretation of reality will react.
However, the future is not observable. Hard sciences have yet to determine a law for social change, caused by rapid technological advancement and diffusion, that permit new behaviours and challenge prior values. Therefore, futurists assert that without future facts and contextual awareness, prediction is impossible. Although the discipline of statistics continues to be serve as a dominant method of structuring our knowledge of the world, it lacks contextual awareness and privileges the worldview or model of thinking of expert authorities in the field. These considerations run counter to the assumption that a quantitative approach is completely objective.
2. Mapping alternative futures
The cultural/interpretative tradition expands the discourse of the future to incorporate non-Western perspectives. Departing from the aim of predicting the singular future, the purpose of the interpretative approach is to understand competing images of the future. A comparative analysis of dissimilar perspectives of the future across various economic, ethnic, gender, or national identities reveals a common understanding of universal human needs and interests. Simply put, by searching for cultural differences, futurists are simultaneously looking for shared stories and narratives. Cultures have different ways of structuring knowledge, implying that there are multiple models for categorising new information to understand the world. What the West perceives as future international challenges is bound by cultural context, and differs from how China sees the future. Yet, by studying how China structures its understanding of reality, the West can re-interpret its own image of the future. Unlike the predictive approach, language in the interpretive tradition does not merely describe reality; rather, it emerges from a historical or cultural context. Terminology is inherently rooted in cultural myths and metaphors, serving as the lens through which we experience and interpret the world.
A range of independent, alternative futures emerges from the interpretative approach. This contributes to a deeper understanding of the perspectives that underpin how different societies conceptualise and articulate possible, probable, and preferable futures. For strategic communicators, understanding the role of identity is critical because the labels given to disciplines and subjects inevitably shape how they are recognised and spread. The interpretative approach enables a reinterpretation of myths and cultural narratives to alter how people understand their reality and perceive their futures, which may stimulate attitudinal or behavioural changes in the present. This also implies that strategic communications can facilitate the marginalisation of different cultures’ competing worldviews. By favouring western perspectives and visions of the future, strategic communications can potentially foreclose the future for non-western cultures, enabling a non-physical form of colonisation. The interpretative approach can be exploited to assert the superiority of Western images of the future.
3. Shaping Desired Futures in the Present
The post-structural/critical tradition developed to counterbalance an overreliance on empiricism. Rather than focus on forecasting and comparison, the objective of the critical approach is to question the status quo of how societies define, discuss, and categorise the present. This is achieved by problematising current assumptions and social constructions of reality that shape how we discuss the future. Unlike the interpretative tradition, in which language is symbolic and tied to cultural myths, the critical tradition asserts that language directly constructs reality. Therefore, a state’s discourse and its authoritative use of language is fundamental to understanding how certain futures and worldviews become dominant. The critical tradition asserts that the present is the ‘victory of one discourse, or way of thinking, overpowering another.’ This underscores the central role of competition in strategic communications. Therefore, the task of strategic communicators is to renegotiate the historical power structures that define people’s current worldviews. This involves questioning and destabilising the assumptions of categories and labels used when discussing futures and asking why these models have become the sole way of describing reality. The examination of what historical categories have become hegemonic simultaneously shows which categories and alternative futures have been suppressed.
The three approaches are not mutually exclusive, and while the most relevant approach depends on the strategic communicator’s operational context, ideally all three should be used in one communications strategy. Futurists contextualise empirical data (predictive) within the culture from which the data originated (the interpretative) and then historically dissect the different knowledge structures, power relationships, and assumptions that enabled the domination of one futures discourse or scenario over another (critical). This process reveals which alternative futures were silenced and who benefited/suffered from the materialisation of a certain worldview. This tripartite research process enables the identification of cultures that have historically been or will be silenced based on historical trends. Therefore, the ultimate role of strategic communicators is to construct stories or reinterpret myths and metaphors that create emotive support to help others articulate and potentially realise alternative futures. This Finale has shown that Futures Studies has progressed beyond forecasting a singular future, to analysing alternative futures, to shaping desired futures.
These three typologies demonstrate that Futures Studies is engaged in more than merely forecasting a future. Rather, it interprets alternative futures and critiques the assumptions and categories behind those futures. This Finale has demonstrated that understanding and applying the theories of Futures Studies enables strategic communicators to anticipate futures more effectively, and to shape futures more credibly in pursuit of a specific policy objective. Therefore, despite the perception that Futures Studies is primarily an academic research field, it is increasingly becoming action-oriented.
Language directly constructs the future. Understanding the theories of Futures Studies is the threshold for integrating its methodologies with strategic communications. To maximise the effectiveness of both fields, the methodologies of the predictive, interpretative, and critical approaches must precede and subsequently guide a state’s strategic communications activities. The entire scope of the process, from the identification of alternative futures to day-to-day discourse, must be conscious of the power of each approach and methodology to privilege a certain worldview. If alternative images of the future are not communicated effectively, they will not inspire human agency in the present.
 Ursula K. LeGuin, ‘Author’s Note,’ in The Left Hand of Darkness (New York: ACE, 2019), xix.
 Translated by the author from the German: ‘Die Zukunft zeigt sich uns, lange bevor sie eintritt.’ ‘Zitat zum Thema: Verstehen,’ Aphorismen.de, accessed 21 July 2020.
 Manuel Castells, The Network Society: A Cross-Cultural Perspective (Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd: MA, USA, and Cheltenham, UK, 2004), 3.
 John Sweller, ‘Cognitive load during problem solving: effects on learning,’ Cognitive Science 12:2 (1988): 257-285.
 Perry Barlow, ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (1996),’ accessed 3 March 2020.
 Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyber culture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (University of Chicago press: Chicago, 2006).
 Cory Clark et al, ‘Tribalism is human nature,’ Current Directions in Psychological Science, 28:6 (2019): 587–592.
 Michael Maffesoli, The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society, trans. D. Smith (SAGE Publications: London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, 1996).
 Fivos Papadimitriou, ‘A Geography of Notopia,’ City 10:3 (2007): 317-326
 Gary Marchionini, Information Seeking in Electronic Environments (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1995).
 Karen L. Michaelson, ‘Information, Community and Access,’ Social Science Computer Review 14 (1996): 57-59.
 Solomon Messing and Sean Westwood, ‘Selective Exposure in the Age of Social Media: Endorsements Trump Partisan Source Affiliation when Selecting News Online,’ Communication Research 41 (2014): 1042–1063.
 Pablo Barber et al. ‘Tweeting from left to right: Is online political communication more than an echo chamber?,’ Psychological Science 26:10 (2015): 1531-1542.
 Joshua Tucker et al., Social media, political polarization and political disinformation: A review of the scientific Literature, Hewlett Foundation, 2018, https://hewlett.org/library/social-media-political-polarization-political-disinformation-review-scientific-literature, accessed 16 May 2020.
 Seamus Hughes, Countering the virtual caliphate: written testimony before the US House Of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, 23 June 2016, accessed 3 March 2020.
 American Psychological Association, People often think an opinion heard repeatedly from the same person is actually a popular opinion, in ScienceDaily (2007), accessed 4 March 2020.
 Alex Grech, ‘Beyond Networked Individualism and Trivial Pursuit,’ Studies in Inclusive Education 16 (2012): 167-182.
 Papadimitriou, A geography of Notopia.
 Angela Nagle, Kill all Normies (Zero books: Winchester, UK and Washington, USA, 2017).
 Grech, ‘Beyond Networked Individualism and Trivial Pursuit.’
 John Armitage, (ed.), Virilio Live: Selected Interviews (SAGE publications: London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi, 2001),173.
 Ryan Milner, The World Made Meme: Discourse and Identity in Participatory Media (University of Kansas, ProQuest dissertations publishing, Kansas, 2012).
 Perry Barlow in 1996 envisaged, ‘a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.’ Barlow, ‘A Declaration of The Independence of Cyberspace.’
 Daniel Victor, ‘Hong Kong Protestors Love Pepe the Frog. No, They’re Not Alt-Right,’ New York Times, 19 August 2019, accessed 19 June 2020.
 Nicholas Negroponte, Being digital (Alfred A. Knopf Inc.: New York, 1995).
 Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You (Penguin: London, 2012).
 Ibid., 5.
 John Ericson, ‘Information Overload: How the Internet Inhibits Short-Term Memory,’ Medical Daily, 22 September 2013, accessed 8 March 2020.
 Bernard Marr, ‘How Much Data Do We Create Every Day? The Mind-Blowing Stats Everyone Should Read,’ Forbes, 21 May 2018, accessed 8 March 2020.
 Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why Less Is More (ECCO: New York, 2004).
 Susan Fiske and Shelley E. Taylor, Social Cognition, from Brains to Culture (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1991).
 Israel Defense Forces, tweet 5 May 2019, ‘We thwarted an attempted Hamas cyber offensive against Israeli targets. Following our successful cyber defensive operation, we targeted a building where the Hamas cyber operatives work.’, accessed 5 March 2020.
 Donald Trump, tweet 5 January 2020, ‘These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner. Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!’ https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1213919480574812160, accessed 5 March 2020.
 Joseph Firth et al., ‘The ‘Online Brain’: How the Internet May be Changing our Cognition,’ World Psychiatry 18:2 (2019):119-129, press release cited, accessed 3 March 2020.
 A term originally coined by Michael and Ronda Hauben in Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet (IEEE Computer Society Press: LA, USA, 1997).
 Jeffrey Dastin, ‘Amazon Scraps Secret AI Recruiting Tool That Showed Bias Against Women,’ Reuters, 10 October 2018, accessed 16 May 2020.
 Joy Buolamwini, ‘Examining racial and gender bias in facial analysis software,’ Essay originally published in AI: More than Human exhibition catalogue as ‘Facing the Coded Gaze,’ now online at Google Arts & Culture, accessed 16 May 2020.
 Natasha Singer and Cade Metz, ‘Many facial-recognition systems are biased, says US study,’ New York Times, 19 December 2019, accessed 16 May 2020.
 Grossman, ‘You – yes, you – are TIME’s person of the year’.
Nicholas Tsagourias, ‘Law, Borders and the Territorialisation of Cyberspace,’ Indonesian Journal of International Law (2018).
 William J. Drake, Vinton G. Cerf and Wolfgang Kleinwächter, ‘Future of the Internet Initiative White Paper - Internet Fragmentation: An Overview,’ World Economic Forum, 2016, 15-16.
 Milton Mueller, ‘A Battle for the Soul of the Internet,’ in Networks and States: the Global Politics of Internet Governance (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2010), 1.
 See for example: Madeline Carr, ‘Power plays in global internet governance,’ Millennium 43:2 (2015): 640-659; Tara Flores and Philip Hall, ‘Tomorrow's Internet - The Jello is on the Wall,’ Defence Strategic Communications 9 (2019): 261.
Justin Sherman, ‘Russia and Iran Plan to Fundamentally Isolate the Internet,’ Wired (2019).
 Mirko Hohmann and Thorsten Benner, ‘Getting “Free and Open” Right: How European Internet Foreign Policy Can Compete in a Fragmented World,’ Global Public Policy Institute (2018): 1.
 Tim Maurer and Robert Morgus, ‘Tipping the Scale: An Analysis of Global Swing States in the Internet Governance Debate,’ Global Internet Governance Commission 2 (2014).
 Ibid.; Jonah Force Hill, ‘Internet Fragmentation: Highlighting the Major Technical, Governance and Diplomatic Challenges for U.S. Policy Makers,’ John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 2012.
 Noam, ‘Picking the Best Internet,’ 10.
 Carr, ‘Power Plays in Global Internet Governance.’
 Hohmann and Brenner, ‘Getting “Free and Open” Right,’ 10.
 Mueller, ‘Battle for the Soul of the Internet,’ 2-3.
 Ibid., 7-8.
 Anri van der Spuy, What if we all governed the Internet?: Advancing multistakeholder participation in Internet governance (Unesco Publishing, 2017).
 Hohmann and Brenner, ‘Getting “Free and Open” Right,’ 12.
 Harold Trinkunas and Ian Wallace, ‘Converging on the Future of Global Internet Governance: The United States and Brazil,’ Foreign Policy at Brookings, July 2015.
 Ibid.; Séverine Arsène, ‘Global Internet Governance in Chinese Academic Literature. Rebalancing a Hegemonic World Order?,’ China Perspectives, 2 (2016); Mueller, ‘Information Revolution and Global Politics,’ in Networks and States - The Global Politics of Internet Governance (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2010), 61-62.
 Mueller, ‘Battle for the Soul of the Internet.’
The White House, ‘President Trump Protects America’s Cyber Infrastructure,’ 12 May 2017.
 Hohmann and Brenner, ‘Getting “Free and Open” Right,’ 12.
 Tan Youzhi, ‘Wangluo kongjian quanqiu zhili: guoji qingshi yu Zhongguo lujing’ (Global Internet Governance: International trends and the Chinese path), Shijie jingji yu zhengzhi 12 (2013): 31.
 Mueller, ‘Battle for the Soul of the Internet,’ 2-3
 Carr, ‘Power plays in global internet governance.’
 Shen Yi, ‘Quanqiu Wangluo Zhili Yuanze zhi zheng yu Zhongguo de Zhanlue Xuanze’ (The global competition on Internet Governance principles and China's Strategic Choice), Waijiao Pinglun (Foreign Affairs Review) 2 (2015): 65-79; Trinkunas and Wallace, ‘Converging on the Future of Global Internet Governance.’
 Bill Clinton, ‘Speech on the China Trade Bill,’ 9 March 2000.
 CPCNews, ‘Xi Jinping Talks on Network Security: Without Network Security, there would be no National Security,’ People's Daily Online, 17 August 2018.
 Hohmann and Brenner, ‘Getting “Free and Open” Right,’ 4.
 Stanislav Budnitsky and Lianrui Jia, ‘Branding Internet Sovereignty: Digital Media and the Chinese-Russian Cyberalliance,’ European Journal of Cultural Studies 21:5 (2018): 594-613.
 Katherine Ognyanova, ‘In Putin's Russia, information has you: Media control and internet censorship in the Russian Federation,’ (2015), 10.4018/978-1-4666-8553-6.ch003.
 Sally Adee, ‘The global internet is disintegrating. What comes next?,’ BBC, 15 May 2019.
 Julien Nocetti, ‘Contest and Conquest: Russia and Global Internet Governance,’ International Affairs, 91:1 (2015): 111–130.
 James Marchant and Bronwen Robertson, ‘Chaos & Control: The Competing Tensions of Internet Governance in Iran,’ Internet Policy Observatory (2015).
 Hannes Ebert and Tim Maurer, ‘Contested Cyberspace and Rising Powers,’ Third World Quarterly 34:6 (2013): 1054-1074; Maurer and Morgus, ‘Tipping the scale.’
Maurer and Morgus, ‘Tipping the Scale,’ 7.
 Flores and Hall, ‘Tomorrow’s Internet,’ 267.
 Ibid., 270.
 ‘The State of Internet Shutdowns Around the World: The 2018 #KeepItOn Report,’ Access Now, 2018, 2.
 Elisabeth Zoller, ‘Foreword: Freedom of Expression: Precious Right in Europe, Sacred Right in the United States’ Ind. LJ, 84 (2009): 803.
 Hielke Hijmans, The European Union as Guardian of Internet Privacy (Springer, 2016),14.
 Tim Wu and Jack Goldsmith, Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 2ff.
 European Parliament and Council of the European Union, ‘Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council,’ Official Journal of the European Union (2016), L119/1.
 Hijmans, The European Union as Guardian of Internet Privacy, 7.
 Eric Brousseau, et al., Governance, Regulation and Powers on the Internet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
 Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, ‘A Multilateral Legal Assistance Protocol: Preventing Fragmentation and Re-territorialisation of the Internet,’ ECIPE Policy Briefs 9 (Brussels: ECIPE, 2013).
 Carr, ‘Power plays in global internet governance’; Lee-Makiyama, ‘A Multilateral Legal Assistance Protocol’; Laura DeNardis, ‘Hidden Levers of Internet Control,’ Information, Communication & Society, 15:5 (2015): 720-738.
 Qtd. in Hohmann and Brenner, ‘Getting “Free and Open” Right,’ 7.
 Noam, ‘Picking the Best Internet,’ 13.
 The Electoral Commission, UK Parliamentary General Election 2019 (UK Electoral Commission, 2020), 11-16.
 Dan Efrony and Yuval Shany, ‘A Rule Book on the Shelf? Tallinn Manual 2.0 on Cyberoperations and Subsequent State Practice,’ The American Journal of International Law 112:4 (2018): 583-657; Lucan Ahmad Way and Adam Casey, ‘Is Russia a Threat to Western Democracy? Russian Intervention in Foreign Elections, 1991-2017,’ Memo for Global Populisms as a Threat to Democracy? (Stanford Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, 2017).
 The term ‘cyber interference’ was chosen over ‘cyber propaganda’, as the latter was considered too nebulous and ill-defined for the purposes of this article. Cyber interference was also considered preferential to ‘cyber influence’, which does not suggest the same malintent and possible illicitness as interference.
 Neville Bolt and Leonie Haiden, Improving NATO Strategic Communications Terminology (NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence: Riga, Latvia, 2019), 50.
 Mikael Wigell, ‘Hybrid interference as a wedge strategy: a theory of external interference in liberal democracy,’ International Affairs 95: 2 (2019), 255-275.
 Mikael Wigell, ‘Democratic Deterrence: How to dissuade hybrid interference,’ FIIA Working Paper 110 (2019): 4.
 Efrony and Shany, ‘A Rule Book on the Shelf?’
 Michael N. Schmitt, Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare (NATO Cooperative and Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, 2013).
 Efrony and Shany, ‘A Rule Book on the Shelf?’; Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Russia, 21 July 2020, (Open Government Licence, House of Commons, 2020); Hendrick Townley and Asaf Lubin, ‘The International Law of Rabble-Rousing,’ Yale Journal of International Law Online 45: 1 (2020), 1-26.
 Michael N. Schmitt, Tallinn Manual 2.0 on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Operations (NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence: Tallinn, Estonia, 2017).
 United Nations Group of Governmental Experts, ‘Report of the Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security’ (United Nations, 2015), 12.
 European Commission, ‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the online disinformation: a European Approach,’ (European Commission, 2018).
 ‘Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States,’ opened for signature, 26th December 1933, entered into force, 26th December 1934: Article 8.
 Lori Fisler Damrosch, ‘Politics Across Borders: Nonintervention and Nonforcible Influence Over Domestic Affairs,’ The American Journal of International Law 83:1 (1989): 8.
 United Nations General Assembly, ‘Declaration on Principles of International Law Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations’ (United Nations, 1970), 7.
 International Court of Justice, ‘Reports of Judgements, Advisory Opinions and Orders: Case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities In and Against Nicaragua – Nicaragua vs. United States of America,’ (ICJ, 1986).
 Schmitt, ‘Tallinn Manual 2.0.’
 Ibid., 317.
 Ibid., 315.
 Damrosch, ‘Politics Across Borders,’ 6.
 Schmitt, ‘Tallinn Manual 2.0,’ 320.
 Steven Wheatley, ‘Regulating the Frontiers of Hybrid-Warfare: The International Law on Foreign State Cyber Operations Targeting Democracy,’ Report presented at conference on ‘New Technologies: New Challenges for Democracy and International Law,’ (University of Cambridge, 2019), 17.
 Damrosch, ‘Politics Across Borders.’
 Efrony and Shany, ‘A Rule Book on the Shelf?.’
 NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, ‘A surprising turn of events: UN creates two working groups on cyberspace,’ accessed 22 May 2020.
 Efrony and Shany, ‘A Rule Book on the Shelf?’
 Sebastian Bay, Senior Expert, NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, Interview by authors, Riga StratCom Dialogue, Latvia, 11th June 2019.
 Yi-Ling Teo, Senior Fellow, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Interview by authors, Riga StratCom Dialogue, Latvia, 11th June 2019.
 Madhulika Srikumar, Associate Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Interview by authors, Riga StratCom Dialogue, Latvia, 12th June 2019.
 Sebastian Bay, Interview.
 Efrony and Shany, ‘A Rule Book on the Shelf?’
 Schmitt, ‘Tallinn Manual 2.0.’
 Efrony and Shany, ‘A Rule Book on the Shelf?’
 Alina Polyakova and Spencer P. Boyer, ‘The Future of Political Warfare: Russia, the West, and the coming Age of Global Digital Competition,’ (Brookings, 2018), 1-18; Heine Sørensen and Dorthe Bach Nyemann, ‘Deterrence by Punishment as a way of Countering Hybrid Threats – Why we need to go ‘beyond resilience’ in the gray zone’ (Multinational Capability Development Campaign: Information note, March 2019).
 The primary source material was collected by the author while conducting research for King’s College Strategic Communications (KCSC), 10 February 20 to 16 February 2020.
 ‘Governance’ here refers to a cooperative and non-hierarchical form of political steering that often involves both public and private actors. Jens Steffek, ‘Discursive legitimation in environmental governance,’ Forest Policy and Economics 11:5 (2009).
 Sidney Tarrow, Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics, Third Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 9.
 SMOs are formals groups that function as part of broader social movements.
 Jürgen Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983).
 Didier Caluwaerts and Min Reuchamps, ‘Generating Democratic Legitimacy through Deliberative Innovations: The Role of Embeddedness and Disruptiveness,’ Representation 52:1 (2016): 14.
 Laura Devaney et al., ‘Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change: Lessons for Deliberative Public Engagement and Communication,’ Environmental Communication 14:2 (2020): 141-146.
 Steffek, ‘Discursive legitimation,’ 314.
 NATO, ‘SFA’, 69
 Nosheen Iqbal, ‘How Extinction Rebellion put the world on red alert,’ The Guardian, 6 October 2019, accessed 20 May 2020.
 ‘COP 25 – Key Topics and Influencers Shaping the Climate Change Debate’, Onlytica, 3 December 2019, accessed 20 May 2020.
 ‘Net-Zero’ refers to an overall balance between emissions produced and emissions taken out of the atmosphere.
 Mark C. Suchman, 'Managing legitimacy: strategic and institutional approaches,' Academy of Management Review 20:3 (1995): 571–610; John Dowling, and Jeffrey Pfeffer, ‘Organizational legitimacy: Social values and organizational behaviour,’ Pacific Sociological Review 18:1 (1975): 122-136.
 Suchman, ‘Managing Legitimacy,’ 571.
 Steffek, ‘Discursive legitimation,’ 314.
 Suchman, ‘Managing Legitimacy,’ 576.
 Steffek, ‘Discursive legitimation’, 317.
 John W. Delicath and Kevin Michael DeLuca, ‘Image Events, The Public Sphere, and Argumentative Practice: The Case of Radical Environmental Groups,’ Argumentation 17 (2003): 315.
 Elizabeth A. Brunner and Kevin Michael DeLuca, ‘The Argumentative Force of Image Networks: Greenpeace's Panmediated Global Detox Campaign,’ Argumentation and Advocacy 52:4 (2016): 281.
 See: Nadeem Badshah, ‘Extinction Rebellion,’ The Guardian, 15 February 2020; Sabrina Barr, ‘London Fashion Week,’ The Independent, 15 February 2020; ITV, ‘Activists Block Traffic,’ ITV, 15 February 2020.
 For an account of the role of the media in social change, see: Catherine Happer and Greg Philo ‘The Role of the Media in the Construction of Public Belief and Social Change,’ Journal of Social and Political Psychology Vol 1:1 (2013).
 David Robson, ‘The '3.5% rule': How a small minority can change the world’, BBC, 14 May 2019, accessed 29 May 2020.
 Extinction Rebellion, ‘About Us.’
 Alex Khasnabish and Max Haiven, The Radical Imagination: Social Movement Research in the Age of Austerity (Zed Books, 2014), 10.
 Kirk Hallahan, ‘Strategic media planning: Toward an integrated public relations media model,’ in Handbook of Public Relations, ed. R. L. Heath, 461–470 (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001): 468.
 Extinction Rebellion, ‘About Us.’
 Khasnabish and Haiven, ‘The Radical Imagination,’ 9.
 Akshat Rathi, ‘Extinction Rebellion succeeded where most climate protests fail,’ QUARTZ, 1 May 2019, accessed 20 May 2020.
 Mark Townsend, ‘Tube protest was a mistake, admit leading Extinction Rebellion members,’ The Guardian, 20 October 2019, accessed: 28 May 2020.
 Matthew Taylor, Jonathan Watts, and John Bartlett, ‘Climate crisis: 6 million people join latest wave of global protests,’ The Guardian, 27 September 2019, accessed 20 May 2020.
 Leo Barasi, ‘Polls reveal surge in concern in UK about climate change,’ Climate Brief, 10 May 2019, accessed 20 May 2020.
 For example: extreme flooding and coastal surges in USA; wildfire in Australia (see: Committee on Climate Change, ‘Climate change is getting worse, but it is no worse than we predicted’, CCC, 4 May 2019, accessed 20 May 2020.
 For example: melting speeding in Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets; slowing of carbon storage in Amazon rainforest (see: CCC, ‘Climate change is getting worse’).
 Committee on Climate Change, ‘Reducing UK emissions – 2019 Progress Report to Parliament,’ CCC, 10 July 2019, accessed 26 May 2020.
 Marit Hammond, ‘Democratic innovations after the post-democratic turn: between activation and empowerment,’ Critical Policy Studies (2020), DOI: 10.1080/19460171.2020.1733629, 3.
 Camilla Hodgson, ‘‘Citizens’ assembly set to offer UK government climate advice,’ The Financial Times, 22 January 2020, accessed 16 May 2020.
 Todd Hall and Andrew Ross, ‘Affective Politics after 9/11,’ International Organization 69:4 (2015): 847-879.
 ‘YouGov polling: Brits less accepting of Syrian refugees in wake of Paris attacks,’ YouGov, 18 November 2015.
 Amanda Rogers, ‘Viewing Non-State Armed Groups from a Brand Marketing Lens: A Case Study of the Islamic State,’ United Nations University State of Research Brief (2018).
 Robert Evans, ‘The El Paso Shooting and the Gamification of Terror,’ Bellingcat, 4 August 2019.
 Miron Lakomy, ‘Let's Play a Video Game: Jihadi Propaganda in the World of Electronic Entertainment,’ Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 42:4 (2019): 383-406.
 J. M. Berger, ‘The Strategy of Violent White Supremacy Is Evolving,’ The Atlantic, 7 August 2019.
 Colin Roberts et al., ‘After Woolwich: analyzing open source communications to understand the interactive and multi-polar dynamics of the arc of conflict,’ British Journal of Criminology 58:2 (2018): 434-454.
 Claire Yorke, ‘Reading the Mood: Atmospherics and Counterterrorism,’ The RUSI Journal (2020).
 Mike Giglio, ‘Shatter the Nations: ISIS and the War for the Caliphate,’ (New York: Public Affairs, 2019), 241.
 Neville Bolt, The Violent Image: Insurgent Propaganda and the New Revolutionaries (London: Hurst, 2012).
 Nicole Tishler, ‘Fake Terrorism: Examining terrorist groups’ resort to hoaxing as a mode of attack’ (PhD diss., Carleton University, Ottawa, 2017).
 Haroro J. Ingram, ‘Learning from ISIS’s Virtual Propaganda War for Western Muslims: A Comparison of Inspire and Dabiq,’ in Terrorists’ Use of the Internet: Assessment and Response, eds. Maura Conway et al., NATO Science for Peace and Security Series – E: Human and Societal Dynamics, Vol. 136 (Amsterdam: IOS Press, 2017), 170-181.
 Haroro J. Ingram, ‘A Brief History of Propaganda During Conflict: A Lesson for Counter-Terrorism Strategic Communications,’ The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague 7:6 (2016).
 Lorne L. Dawson, ‘The Failure of Prophecy and the Future of IS,’ The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague 8:3 (2017).
 Shiraz Maher, ‘The roots of radicalisation? It’s identity, stupid,’ The Guardian, 17 June 2015.
 Haroro J. Ingram, ‘A “Linkage-Based” Approach to Combating Militant Islamist Propaganda: A Two-Tiered Framework for Practitioners,’ The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague 7:6 (2016).
 In Christchurch, New Zealand; Poway, US; El Paso, US; Bærum Norway; Halle, Germany.
 Angela Nagle, Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right (Winchester and Washington, DC: Zero Books, 2017),16.
 Nagle, Kill All Normies, 17.
 Marc Tuters and Sal Hagen, ‘(((They))) Rule: Memetic Antagonism and Nebulous Othering on 4chan,’ New Media & Society (2019).
 J. M. Berger, ‘Extremist Construction of Identity: How Escalating Demands for Legitimacy Shape and Define In-Group and Out-Group Dynamics,’ The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague 8:7 (2017).
 Waqar Ahmad and Venetia Evergeti, ‘The making and representation of Muslim identity in Britain: conversations with British Muslim ‘elites’,’ Ethnic and Racial Studies 33:10 (2010).
 Dina Al Raffie, ‘Social Identity Theory for Investigating Islamic Extremism in the Diaspora,’ Journal of Strategic Security 6:4 (2013): 67-91.
 Thomas Hegghammer, Jihadi Culture: The Art and Social Practices of Militant Islamists (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
 Charlie Winter and Jade Parker, 'Virtual Caliphate Rebooted: The Islamic State’s Evolving Online Strategy,’ Lawfare, 7 January 2018.
 Maura Conway, ‘Terror TV? An exploration of Hizbollah's al-Manar television,’ in Countering Terrorism and Insurgency in the 21st Century, ed. James F. Forest (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007), 401-41.
 Creativity is associated with the power to invent original ideas and make use of raw materials in a new way that produces interesting and unusual results. See ‘creative’ in Collins English Dictionary, 2020. The creative industries are defined by the UK government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport as ‘industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent’. See DCMS, Creative Industries Mapping Document, 2001. I use ‘creative arts’, ‘creativity’ and ‘creative industries’ to describe ‘texts’ (and by ‘text’ I mean anything that carries meaning), which communicate a message in an inventive and original way through visual, musical or rhetorical skills and talents.
 Galia Press-Barnathan, ‘Thinking About the Role of Popular Culture in International Conflicts,’ International Studies Review 19 (2017): 166.
 Helen Small, The Value of the Humanities (Oxford University Press, 2019), 4 and 61.
 Neville Bolt and Leonie Haiden, Improving NATO Strategic Communications Terminology (Riga: NATO StratCom Centre of Excellence, June 2019), 10.
 Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, trans. Alan Shapiro (University of Michigan, 1988), v.
 Quote attributed to Bertolt Brecht by Peter McLaren and Peter Leonard, Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter (Routledge, 1993) 80.
 David Betz, ‘Communication Breakdown: Strategic Communication and Defeat in Afghanistan,’ Orbis (Fall 2011): 620.
 Betz, ‘Communication Breakdown,’ 622.
 W.E.B. Du Bois, ‘Criteria of Negro Art,’ The Crisis 32:6 (October 1926): 295.
 Martina Mallocci, ‘‘All Art is Propaganda’: W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Crisis and the Construction of a Black Public Image,’ Journal of American History and Politics 1 (2018): 2 and 5.
 Afghan Star, directed by Havana Marking (Zeitgeist Films, 2009), 24.22.
 Afghan Star, 34.45 – 35.03.
 Ibid., 1.23.20.
 Ibid., 1.18.13.
 Ibid., 35.34.
 Ibid., 05.00.
 Betz, ‘Communication Breakdown,’ 627.
 Neville Bolt, ‘The Leak Before the Storm,’ The RUSI Journal 155:4 (2010): 51.
 ‘Afghan Elections Witness Historical Low Turnout Amid Taliban Threats,’ AskTruth24, 29 September 2019; Holden, ‘A Talent-Show Tonic for a War-Weary Land.’
 Zand, ‘Afghan Star: Music, Tradition and the Taliban,’ 24.58.
 Nicholas O’Shaughnessy, Marketing the Third Reich (London: Routledge, 2018), 30, 38, 39, 44; Jonathan Petropoulos, Art as Politics in the Third Reich (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 54; Andrew Dickson, ‘Swing time for Hitler: how the Nazis fought the allies with jazz,’ The Guardian, 16 September 2014.
 Arwa Gunja and T.J. Raphael, ‘Seeking to overthrow North Korea, one American sitcom at a time,’ The World, 27th March 2015.
 ‘Erasing the legacy of a ruined nation,’ Dabiq 8 (April–May 2015): 22.
 Matthew Clapperton, David Martin Jones, and M.L.R Smith, ‘Islamic State and cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria,’ International Affairs, 93:5 (2017): 1205-1231.
 Afghan Star, 52.00ff.
 Alexander Petropoulos, ‘Hamid Sakhizada: ‘There Were Hazara People That Hadn’t Forgotten Their Culture’,’ Songlines (31 January 2020).
 Zand, ‘Afghan Star: Music, Tradition and the Taliban,’ 19.08.
 Nick Paton Walsh, ‘Reporters under fire: Afghan TV station weathers constant Taliban threat,’ CNN, 21 April 2016.
 Small, The Value of the Humanities, 125.
 Mike Thomson, ‘The woman who dares to run a feminist radio station in Afghanistan,’ BBC News, 6 September 2018.
 James Allen Dator, Advancing Futures: Futures Studies in Higher Education (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002), 8.
 Neville Bolt and Leonie Haiden, Improving NATO Strategic Communications Terminology (Riga, Latvia: NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, 2019), 31.
 John Culkin, ‘A Schoolman‘s Guide to Marshall McLuhan,’ Saturday Review, 18 March 1967.
 Dator, Advancing Futures, 7.
 Jennifer Gidley, ‘Global Knowledge Futures: Articulating the Emergence of a New Meta-Level Field,’ Integral Review: A Transdisciplinary and Transcultural Journal for New Thought, Research and Praxis 9 (1 June 2013): 151.
 Ziauddin Sardar, ‘The Namesake: Futures; Futures Studies; Futurology; Futuristic; Foresight—What’s in a Name?,’ Futures 42:3 (2010): 182.
 Inayatullah, ‘Futures Studies,’ 40.
 Gidley, ‘Global Knowledge Futures,’ 151.
 Ibid. 161.
 Kaya Tolon, ‘Futures Studies: A New Social Science Rooted in Cold War Strategic Thinking,’ in Cold War Social Science, ed. Mark Solovey M. and Hamilton Cravens (New York, United States: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 45.
 Sohail Inayatullah, ‘Pedagogy, Culture, and Futures Studies,’ American Behavioral Scientist 42:3 (1998): 387.
 Inayatullah, ‘Pedagogy, Culture, and Futures Studies’, 387.
 Gidley, 161.
 James Ogilvy, ‘Futures Studies and the Human Sciences: The Case for Normative Scenarios,’ in New Thinking for a New Millennium: The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, ed. Richard A. Slaughter (London; New York: Routledge, 2002), 37; Gidley, 161; Dator, 6.
 Sohail Inayatullah, ‘Deconstructing and Reconstructing the Future: Predictive, Cultural and Critical Epistemologies,’ Futures 22:2 (1990): 135.
 Ziauddin Sardar, ‘The Namesake: Futures; Futures Studies; Futurology; Futuristic; Foresight—What’s in a Name?,’ Futures 42:3 (2010): 182; Gidley, 162.
 Inayatullah, ‘Deconstructing and Reconstructing the Future,’ 122.
 Sardar, ‘The Namesake,’ 182; Bolt and Haiden, Improving NATO Strategic Communications Terminology, 26.
 Sardar, 177.
 Bolt and Haiden, Improving NATO Strategic Communications Terminology, 27; Inayatullah, ’Deconstructing and Reconstructing the Future,’ 116, 130.
 Sardar, 182.
 Dator, 288; Sardar, 182.
 Gidley, 161.
 Richard A. Slaughter, ‘The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies as an Evolving Process,’ Futures 28:9 (1996): 806.
 Inayatullah, ‘Deconstructing and Reconstructing the Future,’ 129.
 Inayatullah, ‘Pedagogy, Culture, and Futures Studies,’ 387.
 Tuomo Kuosa, The Evolution of Strategic Foresight: Navigating Public Policy Making (Abingdon: Taylor and Francis, 2016), 32; Inayatullah, ‘Futures Studies,’ 44.
 Inayatullah, ‘Deconstructing and Reconstructing the Future,’ 129.
 Inayatullah, ‘Pedagogy, Culture, and Futures Studies,’ 387.
 Ibid., 388.
 Inayatullah, ‘Futures Studies,’ 37.
 Inayatullah, ‘Deconstructing and Reconstructing the Future,’ 115.