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The Age of Informational Statecraft

By subtly influencing foreign media markets and disseminating sophisticated messages emphasizing the shortcomings of democracy, autocratic regimes have pioneered a new form of foreign policy. In an era of democratic backsliding, Western politicians and Big Tech firms should find this much more concerning than they do.

LOS ANGELES – As authoritarian governments increasingly turn to media operations and propaganda campaigns to influence global public opinion, the information sphere has become an arena of intensifying geopolitical competition. We have entered the age of what I call informational statecraft, defined as a government’s use of media and information tools to spread certain narratives and alter public discourse in support of its strategic goals.

This development is particularly worrying for the world’s democracies. After all, among the most effective practitioners of informational statecraft are China, which is ramping up its foreign propaganda campaigns, and Russia, which has long used disinformation to interfere in Western elections and to justify its revisionist policies, including its invasion of Ukraine.

With informational statecraft, foreign policy is no longer simply a matter of state-to-state diplomacy or even state-led public diplomacy. Owing to the widespread transnational use of digital media platforms, governments and those working on their behalf can easily penetrate foreign media markets and disseminate ideas to a broad audience. These operations can involve everything from paying for ads and hiring social-media influencers to deploying bots and gaming algorithms. Whatever the method, informational statecraft tends to offer far more bang for the buck than multi-billion-dollar fighter jets or destroyers do.

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