For those interested about propaganda. Let me introduce you to this story from WW2 and why what’s currently happening (on a small scale) is not something new, or even remotely state-of-the-art.
Let’s go back in late 1943. German soldiers deployed in the western front listened to Soldatensender Calais (Soldier’s Station Calais), which was believed to be a Nazi operated radio station from the official military broadcasting network.
It indeed used the same frequencies associated to known German stations. It was regarded as a reputable source of information among soldiers and it played decent music between news coverage and sports events. Nothing unusual, the soldiers liked it 🎶
But in fact, this radio station wasn’t broadcasted from Calais (which was then occupied by Germany), but from a 500 kW (!) transmitter emitting radio waves from across the English Channel near Crowborough.
This was one of the most powerful transmitters in the world at that time - it probably caused cancer to those around, but you know, you had more chance to die from shelling anyway. War is war.
When real German stations went off the air during air raids, the powerful British station would rebroadcast the signals of other German network stations still on the air, thus giving the impression that it was part of the German network (old school #spoofing)
The super-powered transmitter could blanket the continent, by drowning out all other nearby signals on the small German radio receivers it could join the real Nazi broadcast network seamlessly.
Into those transmitted programs, it would subtly insert misinformation: for 3 accurate data points, it gave 1 fake, giving more credit to the radio while disseminating FUD. This is called "black propaganda"
The goal? Demoralizing and weakening the enemy by wasting their effort on stupid stuff. For example, it could be used to issue false evacuation orders to send civilians to clog the roads during German military movements.
The Germans eventually figured out what was going on, and they preceded official instructions with a new message:
>"The enemy is broadcasting counterfeit instructions on our frequencies. Do not be misled by them. Here is an official announcement of the Reich authority."
Of course, the English station then began its messages with the same announcement!
To demoralize German troops during D-Day, they made soldiers think Calais had already fallen in June 6, they renamed the station “Soldatensender West” claiming the French Resistance had taken over the "German" radio.
They would then start broadcasting music for the benefit of the invading Allied armies on the former Soldatensender frequencies. In fact, Calais was only liberated between 25 September and 1 October 1944, by the Canadian 3rd Infantry Brigade.
But the rest of the inland German infantry didn’t know that, and it was hard for them to distinguish what was real and what wasn't. And this was only one piece of the big information war the British launched against the Germans. Demoralizing troops was certainly effective
Now the internet did change the playground but not the rules.
Everything is online, which implies
\1) information gets shared immediately, and is rapidly out of control, but
\2) information is relatively easy to fact check given enough work (compared to WW2)
The Nazis were defeated not only by weapons and force, but also by smart propaganda, disinformation and SIGINT (breaking Enigma was probably a game changer). It’s depressing to see such methods being used in peace time just to cause confusion and chaos.
So next time you see “BREAKING NEWS” on Twitter or Facebook, think twice about it. Who is broadcasting the message? 😉 Peace!
For history freaks, you can find the daily summarized transcripts of the clandestine radio station G.9 Kurzwellensender Atlantik / Soldatensender Calais here: