Thought for the day: Weapons of mass instruction

Do not underestimate the internet's role in the media circus surrounding the Iraq war, says Simon Moores.

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Do not underestimate the internet's role in the media circus surrounding the Iraq war, says Simon Moores.

 

 

 

You can’t hide talent in the 24/7 news society, and the man of the month wasn’t George Bush or Tony Blair but Iraq’s information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf.

I find it ironic, that thanks to the presence of a global information network, al Sahaf has had a greater impact than Joseph Goebbels ever could. In the first week of the conflict, he was, arguably, more of a threat to the progress of the coalition's war effort than a division of the Republican Guard.

In the second week of the war, Sahaf, with his outrageous statements, arguably became the most popular single source of optimistic prediction in history, eclipsing a very dry-humoured Donald Rumsfeld in the process.

Unlike Rumsfeld, however, al Sahaf had a limited grasp of the true power of the mult-faceted news technology confronting him, and I very much doubt that he was aware of the influence that the internet was exerting over the direction of this first of the "webcam wars", or even the existence of the Baghdad Blogger, who compiled a web journal, ostensibly from a home in Baghdad, using the pseudonym Salam Pax.

Although the author demonstrated a detailed knowledge of Baghdad, I had my own doubts over its authenticity, if only because of the risk that was being taken in writing it.

Just before the invasion, the media "discovered" Salam Pax or, at least, his web journal, and its content became part of the overall justification process for going to war against the regime.

When he went off the air in the middle of the bombing of Baghdad, everyone assumed that Iraq’s very limited internet connection had followed its telecommunications infrastructure into a very large hole.

Not only can politicians and government learn from the media revolution of the last month but also so can business. The lesson we can draw from the experience of the last month is that armed with a webcam or even a weblog, a single person can exert a disproportional, "asymmetric" influence on a global audience using the truth as a highly flexible commodity.

When Al Sahaf said, “I blame Al-Jazeera - they are marketing for the Americans!” he revealed a weakness in his own understanding of the reach of media in the 21st century. While he showed a natural dramatic talent for ‘the soundbite, Al Sahaf lacked the manipulative brilliance of a Joseph Goebbels, and for that we can be thankful.

Given the explosive growth in weblogs and the way in which more and more people rely on near real-time news from the web during the working day, business needs to be more aware that the impact of negative spin or comment on a popular website, can be far more damaging in the longer term than its equivalent on paper. A moment’s indiscretion remains on the web forever and so does the name of your employer.

In 2003, business in general should start re-evaluating the nature and purpose of public relations in an increasingly information-rich environment. What do people read? Why do they read it? What characterises the internet as a unique communications medium?

My own impression is that the wider world of business and even government still fails to grasp the true potential of the internet as an opinion-forming medium. And so, perhaps, in a strange expression of irony, history will judge Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, not by the regime he represented but by the technology of ''mass instruction" he failed to take advantage of.

What do you think?

Do you think the internet is more powerful than TV? Tell us in an e-mail >> CW360.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.

Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security.

For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit www.zentelligence.com

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