Research Topic

Propaganda and Persuasion in Contemporary Western Wars

About this Research Topic

It is well understood that propaganda plays a critical role in wartime and, across the course of the 20 and 21st century, every major conflict that the West has been involved in has been accompanied by substantial propaganda campaigns aimed at influencing and manipulating domestic and international audiences as well as ‘winning hearts and minds’ among populations within the zone of conflict. Less well understood is how propaganda activities have worked across the most recent major inter-state conflicts that the West has been involved in, including Iraq (2003-present), Afghanistan (2001-present), Libya (2011-present), Syria (2011-present and (Yemen 2014/15-present). These wars have involved substantial and sustained engagement by Western governments and have occurred in the context of an information revolution which has seen the rise of digital internet-based communications and significant developments with respect to independent and alternative news media, social media (e.g. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter). These wars have seen the increasing relevance of strategic narratives promoted by non-Western states, including Russia.

An important area in need of research concerns the ways in which belligerents have developed called ‘strategic narratives’ as ways of explaining and legitimating military action: for example, military action in Afghanistan (2001-present) has been variously legitimated in terms of a ‘war on terror’, ‘humanitarian necessity’ and ‘democracy building’. Associated with this have been more specific narratives promoted during individual conflicts (e.g. chemical weapon attacks in Syria). Critical analysis is necessary of how these narratives have been constructed by governments, and promoted across news media, how they have varied across time and context, and the extent to which they have involved deception. A second key area for research concerns the organizational aspects of propaganda activities regarding the actors and organisations that have been involved in the planning, development and promotion of various propaganda campaigns: prima facie evidence suggests that propaganda campaigns are not the sole preserve of governments, and communicated via mainstream news media, but rather that a range of organisations and individuals, including NGOs, think tanks, academia and celebrities, have been involved in the development of propaganda and persuasion campaigns. Research is necessary to explore these networks, their organization, objectives and funding sources. A third key area concerns how social media platforms have variously enabled and/or disabled propaganda operations including social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and alternative/independent media outlets: In particular, research is needed into how effective challenger groups (such as antiwar activists, dissident voices as well as strategic narratives emanating from ‘competitor’ states such as Russia, China and Iran) have exploited such media in order to influence public debate. Finally, we need to understand better the consequences of both contemporary propaganda operations and alternative voices, communicating across the complex digital information environment, for public perceptions and understandings of the recent wars that Western governments have been involved in.

Research and Review Articles are invited in the following areas:

• The discursive construction of strategic narratives across individual wars and the broader foreign policy agendas of Western governments.
• The role and influence of counter narratives promoted by non-Western states (e.g. Russia, Iran and China).
• The role of deception and manipulation with respect to state-sanctioned narratives.
• The organizational architecture of propaganda operations including the role of non-state entities such as think tanks, academia, NGOs and popular culture.
• The ways in which the new media environment, characterized by the emergence of digital, internet-based, media environment occupied by existing mainstream/corporate media, alternative and independent media as well as social media, has been exploited in order to propagandise and persuade.
• How public opinions and perceptions have been shaped by contemporary propaganda campaigns and the new realities of the digital, internet-based, information environment.

We encourage conceptual articles as well as empirical analysis, including both case studies and quantitative approaches, that are theoretically informed.


Keywords: war and propaganda, deception, fake news, new media environment, public opinion, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, strategic communication, public diplomacy, information warfare


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

It is well understood that propaganda plays a critical role in wartime and, across the course of the 20 and 21st century, every major conflict that the West has been involved in has been accompanied by substantial propaganda campaigns aimed at influencing and manipulating domestic and international audiences as well as ‘winning hearts and minds’ among populations within the zone of conflict. Less well understood is how propaganda activities have worked across the most recent major inter-state conflicts that the West has been involved in, including Iraq (2003-present), Afghanistan (2001-present), Libya (2011-present), Syria (2011-present and (Yemen 2014/15-present). These wars have involved substantial and sustained engagement by Western governments and have occurred in the context of an information revolution which has seen the rise of digital internet-based communications and significant developments with respect to independent and alternative news media, social media (e.g. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter). These wars have seen the increasing relevance of strategic narratives promoted by non-Western states, including Russia.

An important area in need of research concerns the ways in which belligerents have developed called ‘strategic narratives’ as ways of explaining and legitimating military action: for example, military action in Afghanistan (2001-present) has been variously legitimated in terms of a ‘war on terror’, ‘humanitarian necessity’ and ‘democracy building’. Associated with this have been more specific narratives promoted during individual conflicts (e.g. chemical weapon attacks in Syria). Critical analysis is necessary of how these narratives have been constructed by governments, and promoted across news media, how they have varied across time and context, and the extent to which they have involved deception. A second key area for research concerns the organizational aspects of propaganda activities regarding the actors and organisations that have been involved in the planning, development and promotion of various propaganda campaigns: prima facie evidence suggests that propaganda campaigns are not the sole preserve of governments, and communicated via mainstream news media, but rather that a range of organisations and individuals, including NGOs, think tanks, academia and celebrities, have been involved in the development of propaganda and persuasion campaigns. Research is necessary to explore these networks, their organization, objectives and funding sources. A third key area concerns how social media platforms have variously enabled and/or disabled propaganda operations including social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and alternative/independent media outlets: In particular, research is needed into how effective challenger groups (such as antiwar activists, dissident voices as well as strategic narratives emanating from ‘competitor’ states such as Russia, China and Iran) have exploited such media in order to influence public debate. Finally, we need to understand better the consequences of both contemporary propaganda operations and alternative voices, communicating across the complex digital information environment, for public perceptions and understandings of the recent wars that Western governments have been involved in.

Research and Review Articles are invited in the following areas:

• The discursive construction of strategic narratives across individual wars and the broader foreign policy agendas of Western governments.
• The role and influence of counter narratives promoted by non-Western states (e.g. Russia, Iran and China).
• The role of deception and manipulation with respect to state-sanctioned narratives.
• The organizational architecture of propaganda operations including the role of non-state entities such as think tanks, academia, NGOs and popular culture.
• The ways in which the new media environment, characterized by the emergence of digital, internet-based, media environment occupied by existing mainstream/corporate media, alternative and independent media as well as social media, has been exploited in order to propagandise and persuade.
• How public opinions and perceptions have been shaped by contemporary propaganda campaigns and the new realities of the digital, internet-based, information environment.

We encourage conceptual articles as well as empirical analysis, including both case studies and quantitative approaches, that are theoretically informed.


Keywords: war and propaganda, deception, fake news, new media environment, public opinion, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, strategic communication, public diplomacy, information warfare


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

01 July 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

01 July 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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