Control over narratives is paramount in perception management as it has a powerful effect on the imagination. However, this can sometimes backfire.
In the early 2000s, the Bush administration launched its ‘war on terror’ programme aimed at winning public approval for their policies while attempting to mitigate negative perceptions nationally and internationally. In Afghanistan, some information operations themes used by the US military included ‘the war on terror justifies US intervention’, ‘Taliban are enemies of the Afghan people, and ‘monetary rewards are offered for turning in weapons and/or capturing Taliban leaders’. US researchers found some of the material to be effective in shaping public opinion in the country but much of it was found to be inefficacious due to the development of communication materials without considering the local sociocultural landscape.
For example, many Afghans did not know what US dollars looked like, so material that offered monetary rewards in dollars was woefully ineffective. Using footage of the actual attack on the World Trade Centre elicited the same response, as much of the Afghan rural population had not even seen a television even, much less New York itself. Similarly, images of the Taliban used in the material were images of everyday Afghans. Many Afghans did not know what the Taliban leaders looked like, and were likely to associate material showing targeting of Taliban with targeting of all Afghans.
*This article was originally published on Dawn
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