Real vs fake news: Navigating a world of information
Information is simultaneously an environment and capability. As an environment, it is a collective of individuals, organisations and systems that collect, process, disseminate, or act on information. As a capability, it is an instrument of power that can be extended across the breadth and span of government.
Having identified the need to educate department personnel, their industry and academia partners on what the information environment is and how information can be weaponised, an Australian Government department engaged RD Consulting for assistance.
The branch developed the concept of a tech-enabled simulation that replicates the real-world information environment. We provided valuable input into the development of the Media component of this simulation, as well as scenario development and event management for game execution.
In the past, simulations used by this department were non-digital, and only offered ‘this’ or ‘that’ responses to scenarios. Understanding that this was not reflective of the global information environment, it wanted to build a model that better mirrored how humans process and interact with the information environment. This would ultimately open research opportunities and allow for more realistic approaches and policy.
We facilitated a scoping process for the branch to map the wargame concept; helping us understand where we could best support the development of the scenario. We hosted a series of meetings and interviews with key stakeholders in the department and industry. With this in place, we worked with the client to identify the primary, secondary and tertiary target audiences for the tool, as well as the best communication channels to target them through.
We then created a rollout timeline and roadmap – setting a one, two, and five-year version of the simulation model.
Partnering with other sectors of industry, we worked together to develop the scenario for the application. This involved assisting the department to create base scenarios for the simulation, fictional countries with state and non-state actors, each with conflicting goals and alliances.
As experts in the communication field, we created fictional conservative, radical, entertainment and state-run media outlets for each country in the simulation. Within the broader strategy of the simulation, the media outlets provide participants with an opportunity to experience media cycles in which they must filter through published articles and sort the information from the disinformation – as each outlet has varying levels of credibility that the participants must speculate.
The wargame has continued annually, and we continue to assist the department run the simulation for Whole-of-Government staff, academia and industry participants.
Our work involves project management, content development, and the design and procurement of pull-up banners, posters, graphics, and merchandise.
At the operational level, our team are based in the simulation’s Exercise Control team, responsible for guiding the narrative of the simulation, assisting participants and adjudicating their actions. Our team form the ‘Media Cell’ which is comprised of media and social media subject matter experts (SMEs).
As one aim of the simulation is to assist participants navigate the world of disinformation, our media SMEs replicate real-life journalists and newsrooms to produce believable articles published through the media outlets in the ‘News’ section of the platform. The media SMEs are responsible for keeping track of all events and storylines in the simulation.
The social media SMEs generate social media posts and short snippets derived from news articles, written in a way to imitate fictional civilians, businesses, and political figures to demonstrate how the public would respond to events taking place in the simulation. The social media SMEs are also responsible for controlling the narrative and ensuring it stays within the context of the scenario.
- Successfully facilitated the branch to develop and implement the platform, launched officially in October 2019.
- Since launch, RD Consulting has provided project management, media and social media SMEs for each game.
- We create a seamless simulation of real-world news cycles and social media application and reactions to player-submitted content.
- We continue to provide research and SME advice to the department team.