Perception has always played an important, and often understated, role in warfare. Before a nation can wage war on its enemies, it must first convince its populous of two things: the first is that an enemy indeed exists, and the second is that the threat presented by said enemy can only be mitigated through force. We see this song and dance in the United States each time tensions begin to rise with a national opponent: Defense officials, and in turn, journalists seem to devote the entirety of their attention to the unavoidable threat presented by Iran’s aggressive behavior in the Middle East, North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, Iraq’s hidden weapons of mass destruction, or Iraq’s brutal killing of babies in Kuwait, and so forth.

These media campaigns aren’t inherently nefarious from a national security standpoint: When an opponent presents a clear and present danger to a nation’s security or prosperity, sometimes war is the unavoidable result — and a nation’s government and military needs popular support to win that war. These techniques, however, are as old as politics and storytelling — and what we’re seeing in the digital world of 21st century warfare is another thing entirely.

These aforementioned examples all relate to the American government engaging with the American public by way of its media apparatus. This system, while ripe with flaws, draws strength from its reliance on dialogue and debate: vetting sources, facts, and positions before a piece goes to print and then being forced to defend assertions against broad public scrutiny. Nations like Russia, North Korea, and Turkey, however, have learned the distinct value of engaging with foreign populations directly, circumventing the media’s adversarial approach and instead leveraging information we offer up readily to better engage each of us as individuals through tactics one might find in any Marketing 101 text book.

Sometimes, the approach is about establishing a common ground and incorporating a national position into it (“I really know what you mean about needing a border wall near Mexico, we have the same problem with the Kurds!”), other times it’s about the volume of messages delivered (because of source amnesia, you’ll begin to accept something you see often enough as true). Often, these campaigns involve using bots or computer operatives to pose as Americans in dialogue, whereas other efforts are tailored specifically to suit trending topics, using up-to-date meme templates and hashtags to advance a narrative.