Since the beginning of time of the technological era, the media has played the main role of news broadcasting. Due to the great power that this entails, large entities have made use of them for their own benefit, giving access to different forms of information manipulation. There are different ways to manipulate the news. From one hand we have “Yellow Journalism” that delivers irrelevant news in order to create morbid and hostility. “Fake news” that basically manipulate the truth or create a lie based on facts that never occurred. Perception Management and PSYOPS, are other two ways of manipulating the true by giving the wrong impression of a fact. These techniques have been implemented in what is currently known as “softwar”.
The nickname ‘softwar’ is not something new, it has always been carried out by the empires. Using it according to the objective to pursue and especially also according to the degree of political formation and democratic and human sensitivity of the population itself, which is finally who will accept or not that all this can happen. It is not possible to continue a war with a majority of the population against or convince or finally have to stop before it is too late for those who are running that society. Some kind of discontent in the country itself or in the government itself is used, for example, in the case of Venezuela after the arrival of Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan oligarchy who had lived in privilege, leading the country according to his benefit and capricious, and in the case of Libya taking advantage of the venality of some leaders who allow themselves to be bribed and that of organizations or groups linked to Islamic fundamentalism that also sell themselves to the interests of foreign corporations, by promising them power and juicy benefits if they collaborate in the overthrow of the government and the submission of the country to foreign economic interests.
Another example of “software” in the military invasion of Iraq by the United States Army and its allies in 2003. This did not arouse much sympathy. The attacks were too open, probably too shameless, and things of this kind do not like anywhere. This made reflect the economic power, which is the one that really decides whether there is a war or not. This reflection led to a more hidden stance, while continuing to wage war, but so that it is not the army that intervenes so visibly and directly, using, instead, strategies of attrition, defamation, fraudulent use of human rights against the government or country that wants to attack, so that the western population, including the left, finally collaborate, giving their support and blocking the movements that oppose the war.
In October 1990, two months after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, a 15-year-old girl was called to testify in a crucial session of the United States Congress. In that assembly the government’s demand was played by George Bush, the father of the current president, for the military offensive in the Gulf. Crying, choking the words, the girl affirmed before the astonished audience that Saddam Hussein’s troops had taken 312 babies out of the incubators of a hospital to ‘let them die of cold in the cold floor’.
Due to its harshness, the story moved the entire country reluctant initially to endorse the new military action. The polls changed the trend showing then a sudden popular support for the war. Mounted on the wave of popular outrage, President Bush ordered a whiplash attack on Saddam Hussein. The story jumped to the headlines with profusion of data, except one essential: everything was a fiasco, an invention, ‘a shameful hoax’, according to the definition of an analyst. Today that false testimony reappeared as a precedent in the world press due to the questions caused by the report of Foreign Minister Colin Powell to the UN. That testimony was known as “The Iraqi Incubator Story “and today is part of the indispensable study material when analyzing how public opinion is manipulated to justify a war.
The surprises came in March 1991, after the end of the war, when the journalist John Martin, of ABC, interviewed doctors, nurses and officials of the Kuwaiti hospital: none knew Nayirah and all denied the story of the babies. The report even forced Amnesty International to retract – she had admitted the case without fully investigating it – and paved the way for the last big revelation: the young woman was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador in Washington, Saud Nasir al Sabah; he had not been in his country during the Iraqi invasion; and I did not have a sister with a newborn baby either. The whole story was false.
Another element emerged from that experience. The public relations consulting firm had discovered that a phrase that sensitized Americans in a particular way was one that revealed that ‘Saddam had murdered his own people with chemical weapons.’ The comment was intensely repeated by the president and his ministers following a marketing guide. And today in this second chapter of the Gulf War that is about to begin, returns to the front pages, this time in the mouth of George Bush, son, who has insisted on showing that aspect to bare the malefic character of the Iraqi dictator and thus justify the military action. The propaganda of fear is used and has always been used by terrorists, not only in recent attacks in Europe but also in other continents. Due, among other factors, to phenomena such as globalization, fear is increasingly based on society, making it more vulnerable.
As shown throughout history, fear accompanies human beings from their origins, although one of the objectives in any modern society is to minimize any danger or risk that generates that feeling of fear on an individual. With the criminal acts that occur in our societies and despite the fact that crime is a social phenomenon that is part of them, it is true that terrorism as a global threat is used to coerce both societies and their governments. With such public attacks, a psychological effect is pursued that causes a social impact among the individuals that make up the society, but also struggles against a political system and a pre-established legal system.
After a wave of misinformation that could have even altered the result of the US presidential election, the most recognized media counterattack to regain their credibility and help filter out the fake news, the famous ‘fake news”. The big media, in many cases forming alliances with important technology companies and social networks, redouble their efforts in the verification of news to promote a journalism supported by concrete and verifiable facts. But this task is being uphill with the attacks of President Donald Trump and other personalities, who qualify anything that does not favor them as ‘fake news’. False news is as old as journalism, but in recent years the most reputable media have acquired the role of ‘sentinels’ of reliable information. This task has accelerated in the changing world of the internet, when rumors and false information become viral, often with tragic results. In India, for example, a rumor spread by WhatsApp that 300 people in the western state of Gujarat were loitering to kidnap children and then sell them, sparked clashes between the population with fatalities.
Social networks have made things worse because ‘they offer a simple means for those who are not journalists to outwit these sentinels, and so anyone can publish anything, no matter how biased or directly false it may be,’ says John Humford, professor of journalism at Illinois State University. Internet firms, after a certain reluctance to define themselves as ‘media’, have redoubled their efforts to identify false news and promote stories that come from reliable sources. ‘Technology companies such as Apple, Google, Snapchat, Twitter and, above all, Facebook, have taken on many of the functions of the news media, becoming key players in the world of news, whether they want to or not,’ reads a March 2018 report by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University.