Public Relations actors for public surveillance are bad advocates

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This is an archived article from 2015.

An influence theory perspective

The mechanics of getting influence can be seen under a new state due to the bombardment of influence attempts: within the internet, TV advertisements, inline advertisements, or simply billboards. Political actors use it all nowadays, not only in heavily sponsored campaigns for the US presidency. Even local politicians use it, because it’s appears to be easy to generate public statements due to this. In reality though the exact opposite is the case. Unclever campaigning can result into a misrepresentation.

For example public surveillance campaigns appear like conformity warnings and threats against tolerated or even appreciated individualism. Such an inconsistency might not be a short term problem, but the internet does not forget. Any reaction will persistently be available for a long time. Despite the short term effects, even mid term consequences can be shown to be undesirable at least: social riots rise quickly and statements by opposition leaders weaken the campaign before it even peaks.

Successful influence results into compliance (target does what you ask, when you ask) or commitment (targets buys in). In case of the debate of public surveillance debate in Europe neither is archived.

The ATTC model of influence direction

The practical applications of influence mechanics make use of a passive idea, which is emerged by the agent. An agent can be a politician, a statesman, an actor, a celebrity or an expert. The status of the individual determines the freedom of the actor to chose the instruments. There are more and less efficient ways to aim for compliance. Depending on the actor the set of accepted tools differs.

The agent is trying to influence the target. Persuasion is a well known tool, which is available to everyone. Campaigning is usually costly, but transports the influence attempt efficiently. Other tools of influence are status certificates, like doctoral degrees or achievements. Conformity is another tool, which can be very powerful if it reflects a general public desire.
Lesser known tools are subconscious, like speech methods, rhetorical elements, individual gestures by the actor or finer degrees of indirect influence transportation. Some methods aim to circumvent the skeptical consciousness, like looks or cloths.
Each tool’s efficiency is relative to the target. The target must remain as unaware of the influence attempts as possible to be open to suggestion.
The logical argumentation approach to convince a target is not a direct application of influence theory, because the status of the agent is already defined by an advantage of information or authority. Authority is a preference for acceptance of information. Therefore this is influence management and not influence direction. You already have enough influence, you just do not use it until you act. To deliver certain information efficiently as facts, you need to qualify as an authorized actor; a physician e.g. if you want to influence a medical debate.

Tactics include timing, the use of empathy or the research for influence surface within target groups. Efficient tactics need to make use of appropriate tools relative to the status of the agent. It’s not enough to know about influence surface, because not every target audience is easy to reach and there can be multiple actors in concurrence with each other. In such cases influence theory and conflict management come together.

Context is defined by the environment, in which the interactions appear. There can be predefined constraints here, like ethic norms, society norms, laws and established interaction patterns.

The ATTC model makes use of this separation between Agent, Target. Tactics, Context. The target is the most central aspect. It defines the actor (which needs to fit based on context and available tactics) and it is movable. If a target is static, it cannot be influenced. Examples of this are decided individuals, which already signed a binding contract. Even if they were to be affected by the directed influence, they would remain in their state.

Influence asynchronicity on public data retention debates

Actors

The actors are mostly politicians, often ministers of internal affairs. They are not renown experts on any (surveillance or technology) field and do not use proper terminology. Often the facts are summarized incorrectly, which makes their messages appear sloppy or dubious.
The resulting question is: Have they been manipulated to deliver the argumentation or are they the primary actor? Even if the majority of targets does not ask this question, a multitude of side effects advance to popularity related to this. Trust is one of the key losses due to unprepared and non reviewed statements. If you cannot phrase your message in accordance with the Context you are not a qualified actor. In order words: the fact that the majority of “targets” have a higher expertise than elected politicians is an asynchronicity. a gap.

In modern democracies a ministerial position is temporary. This means they cannot leverage on authority or status, especially because of many past scandals which damaged the reputation of politicians in general. Unless you are the ruler of North Korea, and in full control of your targets, you need more than status. Politicians need to maintain their qualification as an actor.

Targets

“Targets” are civilians, diversely educated. They will quickly search on the internet for a term they do not know, and unless your explanation fits the chain of arguments quickly collapses. Furthermore targets are interest groups, so called lobbies. The problem is that these interests might be ambiguous, and inconsistent, and not even combine-able with your target’s. That is a conflict management scenario for politicians; and a gap.

Targets are not lead by pre-positioned newspaper articles. The problem is, that newspapers have reacted to the digitization with cutting staff and mono-cultural re-posting of large press agency news tickers. Their influence is often comparable to central individuals. Targets here are followers, which means there is an influence surface.

Tactics

For internet surveillance to catch terrorists, their OpSec has to fail. Betting on the adversary’s poor security is a bad strategy. The question is: is there a good one in your Counter Terrorism strategy? Timing might reveal, that we do not have this, especially if politicians push for surveillance in a reactive statement. Therefore political actors should be very careful with timing based influence attempts.

If a terror incident is perceived the natural reaction of the target is to backup the established political system. The political actor as part of the system can leverage this, until there is a gap.
Such gaps can be: misinformed statements like aggressive tendencies towards suspects which turn out to be innocent, supporting the political fraction without an individual approach due a lack of preparation time, but foremost repeating prior influence attempts which failed.
Latter shows a lack of influence, which you political actors try to overcome by leveraging the chance. This way they try to convert the global impact of terror into subjective influence, which means associating their positional influence attempt with it. Short term this might appear popular, but even mid term effects will reveal that this is populism.

Context

The technology context is neither new, nor extraordinary challenging. It exists since the 1960ies in Western Europe, and since 1990 as a normal situation; since around 25 years.
If as an actor by today you are not over 60 years old, you cannot act within the technology context as inexperienced and overly skeptical.

What political actors often do is asking for innovative advances and this way they position themself as an expert on the one hand, and on the other hand they naively campaign for internet surveillance without expertise - in a fear driving manor. This creates a gap, which quickly reveals an ambivalent status as an actor. This costs influence, if not credibility.

As an actor you cannot artificially promote past terror incidents as examples of successful surveillance if the context is aware of different circumstances. The context is the target’s information access. A typical mistake is to think, that an interior ministry is the only source of information. This is simply not the case if there are videos about the incident.

Just gaps in the influence application?

The gaps in the application of influence modern pro-surveillance politicians allow themselves to show reveals that they do not respect the target. This is either an environmental (context) problem due to the political system or a subjective problem with the arrogance of the actor.

Either way the weakness of arguments is concerning, especially because this gap quickly reveals a lack of an appropriate counter-terrorism strategy. While the vast majority of targets will not adequately express the concern this way, fear mongering of modern day pro-surveillance politicians isn’t the only source of fear. Their inexperienced behavior adds to this.

Furthermore the repeated pressure for inefficient means like public data retention of endpoint connectivity logs or remote espionage tools for local federal polices reveals a great lack of expertise; and arrogance. Again this gap shows that there are no successful strategies to pursue cyber-crime, which requires to build the means to enforce the laws in a unified strategy beyond the borders of individual territory.

Such gaps are rhetorically often described as vacuums, which exist due to limited conflict management. That is part of the next post about why influence strategies need to be carefully crafted to allow for a planed and tactical conflict management.