CVE Blog

Credible Voices: How to Empower and Deploy

Contributor: Lucy Froggatt
Posted: 04/10/2017

In this second part of our ongoing series dedicated to Countering Violent Extremism, Lucy Froggatt, director of Audience Psychology at Global Influence, explores the importance of communicating with communities through a 'credible voice' and summarises the ways in which these can be supported.

Anthropologist Scott Atran (2015) argues that “there is no shortage of credible voices ready to engage globally”. But as he points out, at the community level, we need to show which narratives work, for whom and in what contexts.  

The issue of credibility and voice is not new; countless research papers, debates and policies continue to be centred around the topic. Yet, in both theory and practice, it remains a thorny issue, lacking in nuance. So, how do we begin to identify and empower with authenticity grassroots groups and individuals? 

Enabling local people to express their knowledge through participatory approaches is key to empowering credible voices. This article draws lessons from the fields of participatory development and Anthropology and distils them into ten important points to consider when supporting credible voices.

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Anti-Daesh rallies in Europe have been boosted by trusted voices from a wide range of communities.

1    Long-term sustainability

The concept of participatory development (Chambers, 1983), with its move away from top-down policies to bottom-up, micro-level analysis, remains a powerful component of any approach. For positive and sustainable change, it is not enough to amplify local community-based voices; counter-narratives relating to factors that could destabilise human security need to be owned by them. An approach in which the power and control is retained by dominant bodies, such as private sectors and the state, can undermine trust and the perceived legitimacy of counter-narratives, as well as the individuals advocating them. If governments seek to reinforce credible voices, they need to give them platforms and independence to speak. This reinforces representatives who wield authority at the community level. 

2    What makes people credible?

Shared experience, knowledge, and perceived goodwill are important components of trust and credibility. Individuals are more likely to perceive like-minded others (their in-group) more positively. Credibility therefore depends on perspective. You can reinforce a coherent strategic narrative whilst acknowledging multiple voices and perspectives. 

3    Trust 

Western governments laden with foreign and domestic policy are framed, often rightly, as inappropriate messengers. Engaging the right people opens up avenues for dialogue and trust. At its most tangible, the resonance of a particular narrative, from a trusted intermediary, influences behaviour.  

4    Whose side are you on? 

Socio-cultural understanding is crucial. One influencer or voice may elicit different attitudes according to the audience. It is important, therefore, to consider whether individuals or groups have the authority, if not the power, required to reinforce the messages they deliver. For example, disaffected youth may not see formal authorities as acting for them. Indeed, they may seek to rebel against them. Credible voices need not emanate from institutions or traditional powers. The need for a genuine alternative may resonate with those who feel marginalised. 

5    Attractive alternatives

Extremist groups often frame themselves as attractive alternatives to the mainstream. Consider support for such groups in terms of the pragmatic and emotional appeal that these groups provide. Within this context, language is readily used as a tool for promoting legitimacy or stigma. Understanding the nuances which lead to experiences of exclusion, inequality and specific moments of influence can help to mobilise and appropriate responses.  

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6    Openness to a message 

Attitudes and behaviours are subject to scrutiny based on group standards. People are more likely to comply with what is already considered to be socially acceptable – or not too far from accepted social standards. Credible voices amplify existing understandings of cultural values, religion, entertainment, and what matters within a social network. Often ‘popular culture’ narratives are more resonant than factual, historical accounts of the same event. 

7    Empathy is king 

Empathy can be used as a tool for strategic advantage. Empathy fuels connection and builds rapport. At its heart is meaning making, from the other’s perspective. As Simon Baron-Cohen identifies, empathy involves the ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling and responding to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion. No society’s culture is uniform. The social norms, values and expectations of any population will be subject to the individual and group’s experiences, attitudes and assumptions. This is why empathy is most effectively established by credible voices. 

8    Checking our assumptions 

Anthropologists often identify how different communities make sense of the world. There is a strong requirement for social intelligence and enhanced understanding of other perspectives. Anthropology highlights this understanding in the context of specific socio-cultural environments. This helps to overcome biases, fuel connections and build rapport. The existence of different points of view are essential when seeking to understand the root causes, for example, of extreme violence. We need to dig underneath our own perspectives in order to identify the agendas underpinning our own narratives and rhetoric.  

9    Transmission of ideas 

It is necessary to understand local content, culture, history and existing social platforms. Socialisation is the main way in which cultural norms and criteria are transferred from one generation to the next. This is often the principle responsibility of families and institutions like school, sports clubs, television and media. Social networks will influence how the aspirational status of groups are affected.  

10    Measuring effect

Measures of effect should be based on community-level engagements with the specific distribution methods used for the message. They should relate not only to reach and sharing of content, but also to qualitative measures of emotional and linguistic uptake. Our KPIs may need to shift in order to account for the fact that having a real community-based effect may, in some cases, be generating ‘inaction’ or restraint, as much as direct action.  

Empowering credible voices is not about who shouts the loudest, makes the headlines or controls the resources in a conflict. We need to account for multiple perspectives and specific socio-cultural contexts in order to facilitate sustainable and positive movements.

Lucy Froggatt is Director of Audience Psychology at Global Influence.

The Intoxication of the ‘Art of the Hack’

Contributor: Alicia Kearns

Posted: 03/02/2017

Information Operations seek to master the enemy’s operating space; to limit their ability to act, move and communicate. On the internet, hackers hold a wealth of expertise and experience – yet we have failed to lever them effectively.   

With this in mind, what are the key motivations for hackers to work with us in the interests of national security?  

Hackers’ motivations can vary significantly. However, there are some common drivers: the risk / reward balance that can be found at hackers’ own fingertips, and the intoxicating power behind ‘the art of the hack’.  

Rather than breaking down the motivations for individual hackers, it’s helpful to look at the underlying motivations that are present across all hackers. At this point, we’ll put aside malign  state-sponsored hackers, as their motivations differ entirely from the 'average hacker'.

First, let’s look at the risk / reward balance. A hacker can create and adopt a virtual persona for themselves online, which is a considerable draw as it gives them the opportunity to create a notion of oneself that can be completely alien to the individual’s real-world identity. Through social media, the online community, and the inherent infamy of hacks, individuals can create a more desirable and alternative projection of self. One with great social currency within this subculture.  

The online community rewards risk-taking behaviour. However, hacking allows individuals to perceive themselves as minimising the potential risks of their activity for themselves. Hackers, whether they are hacktivists, black hat hackers, or any other form, perceive life as dull – yet through hacking they can seek adventure while securing social status, in a way that suits them.

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Daesh sympathisers have boasted about stealing personal data of government and military personnel.

Now, let’s look at the hackers’ desire to author change. The power and ‘art of the hack’ cannot be underestimated.  The vast majority of hackers are motivated by their ability to effect change. Hacking requires single-mindedness, determination, and of course, hacking capability.  However, there are some hackers that are motivated by violence and perceptions of infamy for themselves. For instance, those acting in support of Daesh and other violent extremist groups – attacking websites and posting images of dead ‘Westerners’ as a way of threatening further attacks. This absolutely sits within the psychology of someone seeking revenge and infamy. In the Daesh online community of ‘fan boys’, those perpetrating the hacks will be celebrated – and potentially featured in Daesh propaganda.  

As mentioned earlier though, this is not the case for the majority of hackers. Instead, they are motivated by their ability to effect change in some way. For example, we’ve seen hackers attack Daesh on open-source platforms and the dark web. This action is broadly welcomed, as it limits Daesh’s ability to communicate, and it prevents individuals from being able to view and share Daesh propaganda. It can also be seen as an attempt to show that Daesh’s propaganda, internet and hacking abilities – despite being praised by the media – are actually still substandard to that of their own group’s.  

But, why do hackers do what they do?  

Simply put: ownership of action and immediacy of impact. Carrying out an action which you control, and seeing an immediate and (often significant) impact from it, is something which many hackers may feel is absent from their lives – an ability to influence the world and effect change.  

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There is an additional aspect to hacking that is enjoyed and appreciated; the race / gamer aspect. You may be racing against time or inbuilt protections to achieve your hack. Beating security systems can in itself be an objective. There is an intellectual element to all of this, as it can take days, or weeks, to deliver a truly talented hack.  

So, how can information operators and counter violent extremism interventions best lever hackers’ expertise?  

We need to understand that operating in this space can be as alien to those with decades of CVE experience as it would be for anyone thrown into the Death Star without an instruction manual. As a country, our national defence will increasingly be measured by our ability to identify, prevent and protect our national infrastructure and institutions from cyber terrorism. It is a fact that other countries are investing heavily in their cyber capabilities (both offensive and defensive). In order to keep our economy and national security safe, we must be able to compete.

For example, Estonia’s government has invested heavily in cyber with its Cyber Defence League and Information Technology College, having launched a cyber curriculum in 2015. These institutions have helped Estonia to become a European leader in cyber infrastructure.  

And when cyber terrorism gets to the point where one nation can affect the democratic processes of another (as seen with allegations of Russia’s significant interference in the US Presidential election), we have to ask whether, in defending democracy, cyber defences are just as important as kinetic activity. I believe they are.  It is essential that Britain invests in cyber. And by investing in cyber capabilities during school, we can capture cyber actors early – drawing their skills and attraction to cyber into a role that will realise their potential in a way that benefits the state. This would also open up a new avenue for further education and employment – which would be good for the British economy.  

In CVE, we have no excuses. We must be ahead of the game, working in partnership with hacktivists to protect our national interests, and to deliver strategic effect. In June of this year, a conference will be held in London to discuss these very issues: Countering Violent Extremism; open source intelligence, social media and strategic communications. A much-needed platform for everyone in the Information Operations and CVE fields to collaborate and to make a plan going forward.  

We have an opportunity to make the most of cyber – let’s make sure we don’t fall behind, for the sake of democracy.

Global Influence is sponsoring this year’s Countering Violent Extremism Summit (21 - 22 June, 2017; London, UK). For more information on attending this event, visit 

Alicia Kearns is Director of Global Influence, a sister-company of Verbalisation, focused specifically on government and defence influence solutions, with a particular focus on counter-terrorism, counter violent extremism, stabilisation and political campaigning. Kearns leads strategic comms campaigns and influence solutions for several international clients, with activity including initial target audience analysis, through strategy, cross-platform activation and effects-based measurement.

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