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Why Is the Military Advertising Their PsyOps Division on Instagram?

Nothing says ‘covert psychological warfare’ like desperately seeking recruits on Instagram with photos of cupcakes and the ocean

The success of a psychological operation, one might think, would depend largely on the people being manipulated remaining unaware that such an operation exists. In fact, it would seem logical for the entity conducting the operation to deny that they ever implement such programs. For their sake, it would be much better to paint psyops as rumors or myths, relegating them to closed-off corners of high-level, top-secret government agencies. 

The U.S. military, however, has adopted a different tactic. Instead of keeping things mum, they’re straight-up just promoting their psyop divisions on Instagram. 

Over the last few years, the term “psyop” — short for psychological operation — has become something of a meme. On Twitter, people jokingly label anything from Scooby-Doo to Dungeons & Dragons as being psyops to convince kids not to believe in ghosts and make people into dorks. But there’s plenty of reality to these rumors — in fact, the U.S. has been using psyops as a military strategy since at least World War I. Since then, psyops have been involved in almost every conflict, either in the form of the distribution of propaganda or by infiltrating various groups for political ends. Online, people use the term in a more literal sense, accusing things like pornography as being a psyop designed to weaken men and their inherent masculinity. 

Whatever the true nature of psyops may be, there are sections of the U.S. military devoted to them, and per their social media accounts, they want you to join them as well. On the verified Instagram account for the Airborne 8th Psyop Division of the Army are myriad milquetoast posts like images of the ocean that say, “You only fail when you stop trying,” or “Happy 4th of July.” Among these posts are also holiday schedules for the facilities at Fort Bragg and commemorative photos of soldiers as they climb the ranks. For better or worse, this Instagram account and several others for similar divisions don’t reveal the exact nature of whatever it is they’re doing. Instead, they just broadly encourage enlistment. 

In May, the Army even released a weird advertisement encouraging people to join its psychological operations task force. Called “Ghosts in the Machine,” the ominous video says that the Army can “deceive, persuade, change and influence,” and asks that you question who’s “pulling the strings” in the global order. The answer, the three and a half-long minute video reveals, is the U.S. Army — and you, too, can be one of the ghosts in the machine playing puppeteer. 

The ad almost feels like a psyop itself, so obvious in its intentions that there must be something else at play here. And maybe, along with the bizarrely mundane Instagram accounts of these psyop divisions, this is all just a cover for some greater operation. Maybe we’re the ones being psyop-ed after all. 

Or, more likely, as they’ve proven on other occasions by getting forced off Twitch, attempting to lure influencers to Washington D.C. or using a hentai waifu to entice young recruits, the Army is just really, really bad at social media.