According to the report, a company called Strategic Communications Laboratories Ltd was advertising itself at a notable London arms fair, suggesting that it could fool the population into believing any number of things in an attempt to divert attention from a presumed ‘actual’ catastrophe or similar dangerous situation.
When the Slate reporter suggested it sounded like propoganda, a member of staff was quoted as denying the fact, saying:
“If your definition of propaganda is framing communications to do something that’s going to save lives, that’s fine,” says Mark Broughton, SCL’s public affairs director. “That’s not a word I would use for that.”
The company’s website suggests otherwise though, stating they can provide training “for up to 250 staff, including specialised (and tailored) persuasion and propaganda courses.”
Their entry in the Defence Suppliers Directory further outlines the sort of work they’re willing to undertake:
Campaigns may range from homeland security and compliance issues to humanitarian and healthcare behaviour changes. In special circumstances the company will undertake political projects, especially if the sovereignty of the country is at stake, and – very occasionally – corporate campaigns.
Research has shown that attitudes and behaviour correlate poorly. However, SCL claim they can specifically influence behaviour: “for instance – you require a significant number of the electorate to vote for you, it is far more important to get their vote than it is for them merely to hold a favourable attitude towards you.”
The PsyOps field is certainly a murky one. As a tool it could be used both to prevent public panic during an emergency, and to prop up a failing government that would otherwise fall.
Unfortunately, it is often difficult to judge whether such companies are having a positive or negative effect on society, because by their very nature, it is difficult to see how and where they are influencing public behaviour.