Digital domination – don’t leave it to the powers that be

77 twitterA couple of years ago I came across a very scarey phrase in a United Nation’s document about digital governance. It spoke about ‘controlling the internet’.

Now, on one level, the powers that be are only interested in controlling something if it is powerful, so hat’s off to the internet and in particular, the self-publishing and social communicating it has enabled. But ‘boo’ to any big cheese or brass hat that wants to control it.

Where the internet gets its power

The internet is as powerful as it is because of the egalitarian nature of its access. Countries who attempt to restrict access to the internet are inevitably repressive regimes. Okay, so some of us (individuals and organisations) are still learning how to conduct ourselves in this massively liberating space, but I’m sure it was the same for cavemen when they first saw flames lick around dry tinder. Something that game changing; well, you’re bound to get burned in the early days.

Which is why I currently have misgivings about the army’s revelation that it’s setting up a special unit skilled in non-lethal warfare and where recruits will need to be adept with social media and its use. On the face of its, no bad thing. It’s obvious that if you’re going to win hearts and minds and keep boots off the ground, the major battle grounds will be virtual and psychological.

“shaping behaviour through the use of dynamic narratives”.

But what disturbed me was tucked away in the announcement. It’s the bit where Chief of the Army, General Sir Nick Carter speaks about “shaping behaviour through the use of dynamic narratives”. Now, don’t get me wrong. On one level all of us involved in content strategy have such an ambition. Create the right story. Engage the right audience. Shape a space that delivers the desired action.

You win customers – not wars – in 140 characters

But when the Chief of the Army says it I get a little spooked. The reality is that commercial organisations have spent decades, possible centuries, learning the marketing and communications skills that allow them to engages audiences and working within evolving guidelines and regulatory bodies, in terms of what they can and cannot say.

I’m not sure that the army, no matter how carefully it recruits to the new 77th Bridgade, has those skills. General Carter has an impressive military career. Appointed to post towards the end of last year he is keen to persuade civilians and politicians that the army has a place and deserves a secure budget line.

But miliary experience of content strategy is grounded in war time experience and the Cholmondley Warner school of public service announcements. The only area where it has progressed, in my opinion, is in recruitment, where its use of commercial agencies and the more clear cut customer conversion dynamic have created creditable, well executed marteting messages.

Boots on, on in, the internet?

My worry is that the boots on the internet will still be controlled by a generation of senior military personnel who are not socially mediate and view the interweb as something of a threat; roamed be terrorists, anarchists and young people. Watch their space.