Military Applications of Social Media Warfare

Military organizations face tremendous challenges in social media warfare. Or shall we say, military organizations once again are confronted with the impact of new and evolving technology. This, by the way, is inherent to military organizations and, as in the past, with each new technology, militaries must learn how to deal with yet another new threat. As with past new threats, there is a learning curve and a training curve. Militaries learn to deal with new threats and they train current and future troops how to defend against a technology and how to use the technology as a weapon for their advantage [1]. This round, however, may be a little more complicated than past challenges. This chapter covers the challenges that militaries face in dealing with social media warfare.

Social Media Warfare in Conflict Environments

Unconventional warfare theaters are complex environments where military organizations face a myriad of potential allies and at least as many potential enemies; and it is often difficult to determine who is what. Add the element of social media warfare, and the conflict environment just became more complicated, and operations security more difficult to maintain [2]. Military organizations in unconventional warfare must deal with social media in several ways:

? First, they must be prepared to defend against attacks from opposing forces using social media warfare tactics against them, aligned entities, or local populations.

  • ? Second, military forces must be prepared to combat opposing forces’ use of social media warfare tactics to bolster their own organizing efforts and influence people to oppose what they consider to be enemy forces.
  • ? Third, military personnel must be skilled in the of use social media warfare tactics against their enemies, including insurgent factions and local populations that support aggressors.
  • ? Fourth, military organizations need to control the use of social media by their own members, or citizens of their own country, that may accidentally or inadvertently compromise operational security and the overall stability of the fighting force.
  • ? Finally, a military force must be able to employ defensive and offensive social media warfare tactics, simultaneously and on numerous fronts, to prevail in conflict situations and theaters of war.

Troops on any side of a conflict can use defensive and offensive social media warfare tactics. Defensive social media warfare tactics used in unconventional warfare theaters include self-validation, influence, reinforcement, persuasion of non-aligned entities, recruitment and indoctrination, nullifying opponents, and relationship building. Offensive social media warfare tactics used in unconventional warfare theaters include deception, confusion, divisiveness, exposure, nullifying opponents, trolling, relationship building, and blended tactics.

The simultaneous use of defensive and offensive social media warfare tactics requires a fighting force that can simultaneously work to influence and build relationships with friendly forces, while working to discredit, confuse, and harm opposing forces as much as possible. The process of simultaneously employing defensive and offensive tactics is illustrated in Table 3.1.

Insurgents in recent conflicts, namely the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq, learned how to use social media warfare tactics to its advantage and received considerable news coverage about their ability to use social media to inspire, recruit, and indoctrinate fighters and supporters. As ISIS increased its use of social media, opposing coalitions increased their monitoring of ISIS posts of ISIS-inspired social media posts in order to gain intelligence and to reduce the impact of ISIS efforts to inspire, recruit, and indoctrinate.

Coalition governments were able to influence social media application service providers to help in monitoring activity and neutralizing the ability of ISIS to leverage social media. Providers and independent groups shut down hundreds of thousands of accounts and kept doing so as fast as ISIS operatives could get new accounts up and running. The real details on how the coalitions used social media posts to gain actionable information will probably never be known. But one thing is for sure, military forces are now convinced that social media warfare is something that they will be dealing with for a long time.

Military Applications of Social Media Warfare ? 59

Table 3.1 Social Media in Conflict Environments



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f sjuauoddo А^рцпи 'иореиирорш pue Supmjaay f

Social media warfare operations and

Social media warfare applications

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Insurgent force


Aligned factions

Allied troops

Allied troops

Local loyal troops




Local loyal government




Local loyal organizations




Loyal civilians



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