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Publication Date

5-1-2014

Abstract

As smart phones, digital cameras, and webcams become more prevalent in the battle space, the possibility of an unofficially sanctioned conflict “live feed” reaching a mass audience no longer seems inconceivable. Social media would be the likely delivery vehicle for such content, as evidenced by Pakistani live tweets during the bin Laden compound raid and “selfies” taken by locals in Crimea with Russian soldiers. Social media not only poses practical challenges to operational security, but more fundamentally, redistributes the narrative power previously consolidated in official actors. Formatting and disseminating information related to the conflict environment is no longer the exclusive purview of news outlets and political-military leadership, but rather, any social media user has the potential to create unanticipated effects that could influence the conduct of military operations. As war has become increasingly focused on perception and deception as opposed to the kinetic destruction of military targets, public perceptions influenced and shaped by tech-savvy stakeholders may be just as decisive in determining outcomes as the precision of our technologies and the competency of our leadership. Recent developments in social media have profound ramifications for leaders at all levels of warfare (tactical, operational and strategic) and a lack of understanding of the massive amount of new “communication vectors,” particularly by senior leadership, could undermine operational effectiveness and even jeopardize a nation’s ability to prevail in conflict. The goal of this article is to explain and promote a new and useful framework for approaching social media challenges at the OLW by treating it as an influencing means that can be proactively utilized rather than a static asset within the cyberspace domain.

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