Psychological warfare

From Gender and Tech Resources

Wikipedia defines "social engineering" as "psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. A type of confidence trick for the purpose of information gathering, fraud, or system access, it differs from a traditional "con" in that it is often one of many steps in a more complex fraud scheme." Although it has a bad name, aspects of social engineering actually touch many parts of daily life. [1]

Webster’s Dictionary defines social as "of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society <social institutions>" [2] and engineering (in this context) as as "the control or direction of something (such as behavior)". Next to it is the definition for another context of engineering: "the work of designing and creating large structures (such as roads and bridges) or new products or systems by using scientific methods". [3]

Combine Webster's social definition with the second definition of engineering in a pair of goggles and you can see through the glasses of social engineers. In this view, social engineering is used in:

  • everyday life in the way parents get their children to give in to their demands, and children get their parents to give in to their demands and that makes for games people keep playing later. [4]
  • the way teachers interact with their students
  • the way doctors, lawyers, or psychologists obtain information from their patients or clients
  • law enforcement
  • dating
  • every human interaction from babies to politicians and everyone in between

Main focus here is on what we can learn from military operations, law enforcement, the politicians, the psychologists, and even children to better our abilities to detect manipulations that are not in our best interest and then secure ourselves from those as best as we can.


PSYOPS, as the military calls it, seek to exploit human vulnerabilities in enemy governments, militaries and populations to pursue national and battlefield objectives.

‘Psychological Operations: Planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organisations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of psychological operations is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to the originator’s objectives. Also called PSYOP. See also consolidation psychological operations; overt peacetime psychological operations programs; perception management. ‘ US Department of Defense.

Propaganda of some sort has been used in warfare for centuries, but all the social, economic, industrial, and military factors that make propaganda a large-scale part of war, first made themselves seriously felt in World War I when it became a formal branch of many governments in the form of institutions such as the British Ministry of Information, the German Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment, the American Committee on Public Information (in World War I), the Office of War Information (in World War II), and their counterparts in many other countries.

The function of war propaganda is to picture military successes on the propagandist’s side, project armed might and economic power the adversary has to face, and the moral superiority of the cause against which the adversary is fighting. And to inform the people back home with a free flow of information that stimulates the war effort, strengthens the nation to hold steadfast through a long conflict, to take losses courageously, to make sacrifices bravely, to buy (war) bonds generously, and to cooperate in every way possible in the great national effort for victory. Give us your children ...

Rewriting history

Most (if not all) of the techniques used in rewriting history (revisionism) are for deception or denial and vary from using forged documents as genuine sources (or inventing reasons to distrust genuine documents), to exploiting opinions by taking them out of their historical context.


Unlike traditional propaganda techniques designed to engage emotional support, disinformation is designed to manipulate the audience at the rational level by either discrediting conflicting information or supporting false conclusions. See Logical Analysis.

Iran wants war.jpg

Perception management

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration pioneered “perception management” to get the American people to “kick the Vietnam Syndrome” and accept more U.S. interventionism, but that propaganda structure continues to this day getting the public to buy into endless war ... [5] Also see Plain Folks.

In social engineering "communication modeling" is common and uses the same Shannon–Weaver model, the "mother of all models" that all other communication models do (Berlo, transactional). [6]

Communication can take many different forms. There are auditory means, such as speech, song, and tone of voice, and there are nonverbal means, such as body language, sign language, para language, touch, and eye contact. Regardless of the type of communication used, the message and how it is delivered will have a definite effect on the receiver. Understanding the basic ground rules is essential to building a model for a target. Some rules cannot be broken, such as communication always having a sender and a receiver. Also, everyone has different personal realities that are built and affected by their past experiences and their perceptions. Everyone perceives, experiences, and interprets things differently based on these personal realities. Any given event will always be perceived differently by different people because of this fact. And these personal realities have been built by previous social engineering, first and foremost (and deepest) from our image makers, our parents, grandparents and siblings.

Each person has both a physical and a mental personal space. You allow or disallow people to enter that space or get close to you depending on many factors. Effective communication attempts to bring all participants into each other’s mental location.

When a social engineer communicates they are trying to bring someone else into their space and share that personal reality. The goal of a social engineer is to give both the verbal and nonverbal cues to alter the perception of the target (individual or group) so as to have the impact the social engineer desires.

Promotion of specific form of intent

Save for a few exceptions, all of us have been shaped by the dominant communications technologies of the 20th century (printing press, radio, television, and the telephone) and our use of them. These technologies make knowledge available, opens our minds to events around the world, and in the case of the telephone, extended our means of conversation. They have truly been technologies of freedom in that sense. Yet with all their advantages, these technologies also seem to exercise a tyranny, favouring passive reception of information and entertainment over thoughtful response, and in the case of the phone favouring immediate reaction over considered and deliberative response. And it seemed only a matter of time before some demagogues in a position to dominate our institutions saw the potential in our mass communications.

O wait.

We were favouring "listening" and "viewing" when in the 1990’s, the story of communications technology changed into the growth of computer communications favouring "free expression". A story of personal websites, blogging, free software, patent trolls and licensing struggles, social media, tunnels, protocols, cycle upon cycle of new hardware and software and a digital security arms race unfolded. The war-work-machine rolls on.

Pre-preparing the publics' minds (whether that happens intentionally or develops opportunistically) for specific events that catalyse massive shifts in governmental policy direction using films and documentary concepts (promoting specific forms of intent) is not a new thing. It is just so much more "advanced" these days.

Bag of digital tricks

Digital morphing

Digital morphing — voice, video, and photo — is now readily available on personal computers. It is very simple to tamper with any image and make it available to others. Compositing is perhaps the most common form of digital tampering with images. Image morphing is a digital technique that gradually transforms one image into another image, and to increase the confusion on what is meant by using the word "morphing", the term has been applied by non-specialist to refer to a broader class of digital tampering which is probably better referred to as re-touching.

Computer generated images can also be generated entirely by a computer and a skilled artist/programmer.

While "image enhancement" cannot fundamentally alter the appearance or meaning of an image (as compositing, morphing and re-touching do), it can still have a subtle effect on the interpretation of an image – for example, simple enhancements can obscure or exaggerate particular image details, or alter the time of day in which the image appears to have been taken. In addition to all of these, images and videos can have invisible alterations like digital watermarking for protecting copyright, and hidden files added by steganography applications.

The fog


Rewriting history and disinformation tactics were such a success in the past that the tactic was expanded on for online use in what has been named "the fog": Computer scientists call it "Fog Computing" — a play on today’s cloud computing craze. And in a recent paper for Darpa, the Pentagon’s premiere research arm, researchers say they’ve built "a prototype for automatically generating and distributing believable misinformation … and then tracking access and attempted misuse of it. We call this 'disinformation technology.'" [7]


The internet has become a battlefield for virtual personalities—sockpuppets all attempting to gather information and using that information to help their causes and hurt their enemies. It’s a war without bystanders, for we’re all caught up in the fighting, whether we’re aware of it or not. [8]

We can’t physically meet most of the people we interact with on the internet. So we create avatars who represent us in the online world, personae that are designed (on some level, conscious or subconscious) to shape others’ ideas about who we really are. It is natural for us to create avatars that represent what we want to be rather than what we are, and to enhance our cause(s). And it is only a short step from there to manipulating others’ perceptions of us to give ourselves an advantage of some sort, to deceive, to become the petty tyrants we fight.

Sockpuppetry (using false identities for deception) is centuries old, but the web has made creating sockpuppets, and falling for their tricks, easier than ever before [9] [10]. Secret services have even used dead children to create spy and infiltration personae [11] [12].


Government agents are trained to troll to promote specific forms of intent and attack other forms. Intelligence agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself. For example, among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG [13] are two tactics:

  • to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and
  • to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.

See trolling for the minor and little petty tyrant version of this delightful and loving practice.


Cyberbullying is also not under our control. And in the current state(s) of society, some of our little ones and more vulnerable members of society are in need of help, the help they are not getting locally because for example, everybody is too busy making money and racing around for that.

(Counter) moves

Digital morphing

'Digital morphing', altering what an image looks like, is in use in psychological operations and has been on the rise, especially on twitter and facebook. Horrible images of children that were sometimes taken years before, or images delivered as "proof" of certain troops being "somewhere in the middle east" yet small letters on a sign in the background are in hindu, those are easy to detect as having been tampered with using TinEye. [14] This tool will show you previously uploaded images of an indicated image on the net. Note that if it isn't found by TinEye, it doesn't mean it's not morphed. The image may be new (and altered), or not in Tineye's database. But if an older version is found that is different, likely the image you have that is different was morphed.

In which case you can use other techniques that work on the assumption that although digital forgeries may leave no visual clues that indicate tampering, they may alter the underlying statistics of an image. The set of image forensic tools for passive or blind approach for manipulation detection can be roughly categorized as pixel- based techniques, format-based techniques, camera-based techniques and geometric based techniques.

Detecting promotion of specific form of intent

Pre-predictive programming is a research field sifting carefully through subtexts, semiotics, dialogue, conceptual architectures and basically identifying synchronous random anomalies with the subtly deliberate insertions in movie scripts, stories, documentaries, news, etc, that exist only to promote a specific form of intent in the collective publics mindset.

Effective countermoves to such promotions of specific forms of intent are resetting our own direction and intent, for example by roleplay and controlled folly, and building our own knowledge and resource bases for (re)interpretation of physical and emotional information.

For example, The Grand Chessboard, a fictional novel using the traditional narratives of state-centric Westphalian order as a necessary condition of international relations, can be used as a DIY exercise in pre-predictive programming research, where the reader is the central character of the novel. Warning: If taken serious, reading can lead to causal fallacies and an almost inevitable blindness to the role and impact of non-state and non-corporate actors.


Underminers is a book and a movement using a highly practical approach to the process of undermining in all its many hues. At once entertaining, shocking and inspiring, Underminers draws on the author’s own experience dealing at first hand with the lies of the industrial machine, and that of a wide range of other people who have their own unique take on the swath of topics covered in the book.


General defense from cyberbullying

  • Don’t reply to messages from cyberbullies – this is exactly what cyberbullies want. They want to know that they’ve got you worried and upset. They are trying to mess with your mind and control you, to put fear into you. Don’t give them that.
  • Do not keep this to yourself. You are NOT alone and you did NOT do anything to deserve this. Tell someone you know and trust.
  • Do not erase or delete messages from cyberbullies – Do not read it, but keep it, it is evidence. You may get similar messages from other accounts. Note the accounts. Friends, your ISP, and/or telephone company can perhaps use these messages to help you. If you notice certain words or phrases that are also used by people you know, write them down. You can do a little research of your own to provide those you ask for help with more information.
  • Protect yourself – Never arrange to meet with someone unless you take someone with you. Make sure it is in a public place.
  • You may need to delete your current e-mail and social media accounts, phone accounts and set up new ones (unless you are keeping the account(s) active to try and catch the cyber bully).

More specifically for the gendersec context see dos and donts supporting people subject to online violence.


There are many (other) reasons for us for consciously creating multiple, fake, anonymous or pseudonymous identities online (without becoming the petty tyrants we fight):

  • Engaging in the present with no need for past or future references.
  • Being who you are naturally and freeing your speech.
  • Dreaming another you into being for gaming, hobbies, trolling the trolls, defense from mass surveillance, confusing surveillance, etc. in a way that it doesn’t automatically become a part of your finger- and footprint.
  • Being more resilient online.
  • Career actualisation, increased individuality, autonomy and freedom by separating professional and private information.
  • Exploring abandonment of being, and gaining recognition on how your “usual identity” can be a trap.
  • Challenging yourself and engaging at the edge.
  • Feeding (r)evolution and self-authority.

See creating a new online identity.


News and watchdogs




Co-ercion and deception



War made easy

Psychological warfare

The century of the self

Who owns the future?




  1. Wikipedia: Social Engineering (security)
  2. Webster's Dictionary: Social
  3. Webster's Dictionary: engineering
  4. Games people play, Eric Berne
  5. Consortium news: The Victory of "Perception Management"
  6. Shannon–Weaver model
  7. Wired Danger Room: Fog Computing
  8. Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know It’s True?
  9. Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media
  10. China Uses an Army of Sockpuppets to Control Public Opinion – and the US Will Too
  11. Police spies stole identities of dead children
  12. The Lives of Ronald Pinn
  13. The Art of Deception: Training for a New Generation of Online Covert Operations
  14. TinEye: Reverse image search