The Age of Weaponized Narrative

Article Source: Issues in Science and Technology, Vol. 33, No. 4, pp. 65-70, Summer, 2017
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Technology and advances in psychology make it possible for other nations and groups to use “weaponized” narratives to undermine their adversaries. Increasingly, Russia and China are using these methods against the United States.


Policy Relevance:

Western nations have trouble responding to “weaponized narrative.” The United States should rely on private firms and local government to adapt to this threat.


Key Takeaways:
  • "Weaponized" narrative is the use of information technology to spread stories that undermine an adversary by sowing confusion and exacerbating political divisions; this narrative is becoming more effective as advances in psychology, behavioral economics, and marketing are combined with advances in artificial intelligence.
  • Weaponized narrative is a good strategy for adversaries of the United States that cannot compete in conventional warfare, because it is inexpensive and unlikely to trigger a conventional military response.
  • The volume and velocity of the stream of information to which the public is exposed is growing, and is augmented by technologies that allow people to expose themselves only to appealing ideas, resulting in fragmentation of society.
  • Geopolitical trends support the growing importance of weaponized narrative.
    • Large areas of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, have lapsed into political disorder.
    • Russia and China have shifted to methods of warfare that lie outside traditional combat.
  • Weaponized narrative, especially when combined with other new forms of warfare, threatens all aspects of society, including the financial sector, infrastructure, and personal information.
  • Western nations have trouble understanding and responding to these attacks, because the attacks span multiple legal and operational domains, including the Constitutional divide between civilian and military functions, and the divide between the public and private sphere.
  • The United States should bolster its commitment to decentralized governance, taking advantage of the agility and adaptability of private firms and state and city governments to enhance the appeal of the United States around the world.



 Braden Allenby

About Braden Allenby

Braden R. Allenby is Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment at Arizona State University. He is also Professor of Law and President's Professor of Civil, Environmental and Sustainable Engineering. His principal areas of teaching and research are design for environment; earth systems engineering and management; industrial ecology; technological evolution; and the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information and communication technology, and cognitive sciences.