An axiom of political theory is that any stable and sustainable polity must be able to express and renew a cultural and political form with broad legitimacy among its constituent communities. Already impoverished by market fundamentalism, this capacity is further endangered in the digital age by its attack on the cognitive conditions critical to the reproduction of historical memory.
Political warfare and a geopolitical actor’s pursuit of political dominance is not new. The Soviet Union’s success during the Vietnam era showcases the importance of political warfare as the KGB was able to sow distrust and promote anti-war sentiment in the United States. In today’s digital age, social media is a powerful and potentially a dangerous weapon that can erode trust within society and its government. I do not suggest that political warfare acts as the backbone in projecting power or influence abroad.
Interconnectedness has allowed society to take great leaps forward, social media and the internet remain an ungoverned space for nefarious actors. Violent extremist organizations, criminal groups, and state actors have all taken advantage of the anonymity and access afforded by modern technology to plan, execute, and support operations, gaining relative superiority over traditional security structures. As adversaries become more technologically savvy, the United States and its allies must become more adept at leveraging these trends. Open source intelligence, especially when coupled with rapidly improving big data analysis tools, which can comb through data sets that were previously too complex to derive meaningful results, has the potential to offset this growing problem, providing intelligence on enemy forces, partners, and key populations.
The key to counteracting social engineering is awareness since social engineers are targeting our lack of cognition, our ignorance, and our fundamental biases. In a cybersecurity context, it’s not as easy to mitigate social engineering as it is to mitigate software and hardware threats. On the software side, we can purchase intrusion detection systems, firewalls, antivirus programs, and other solutions to maintain perimeter security. Attackers will certainly break through at one point or another, but strong cybersecurity products and techniques are readily available. When it comes to social engineering, we can’t just attach a software program to ourselves or our employees to remain secure.
Ultimately, the best defense in information warfare is resilience—the ability to critically assess a dynamic information environment where everything is not always what it seems and manage the identified risks to ensure mission success. In a military context, this could include adapting basic and advanced levels of training to include fostering a deeper understanding for how information warfare is changing the nature of conflict, and how every service member’s actions can and will be used against them in a digital age.
In a sense, a good strategy serves as the focal point that combines all forces to fulfill a specific objective. Without it, the particular forces aim in diverse directions; they can even cancel each other’s efforts. This problem is as old as time, but it seems to become more and more important in postmodern times.
In a hyper-connected world, one can no longer just put messaging out there. Once a message is pushed out, control of it is lost, and an adversary can and will subvert and shatter it into myriad distortions that ricochet back and hurt the sender. Likewise, any actions on the ground contradicting the messaging, will also be used to attack the sender aiming to erode public faith at home by exploiting hypocrisy, creating ambiguity and, ideally, disrupting decision-making.
Russia showed the world the effectiveness of social media as a weapon system in the cyber domain. By leveraging the population against one another, it successfully took ground from another sovereign nation without the employment of massed conventional forces. Future conflicts will involve civilian populations as connected, or more connected, as those in Crimea, and the employment of social media will be essential to shaping the narrative of U.S. Army operations. As the Russian government proved, through proper timing, messaging, and population targeting, social media has the potential to manipulate the outcome of a conflict and win a complex engagement.
This article describes how a multi-disciplinary team from the Australian Army integrated a communications plan into the design and execution of Exercise Hamel in 2016. We examine issues such as planning for public affairs and social media to be supporting elements of the exercise; workforce design; execution of a social media campaign, including tracking and adaptation; and finally, the results. Notably, this article also makes a contribution to emerging research regarding the role of new and social media as part of an integrated military public affairs strategy.
How can military leaders institutionalise their use of social media for the variety of ‘raise, train, sustain’ functions that are executed on a daily basis? This is not to say that military organisations don’t have a social media presence; they do. In the Australian context, the Army Facebook page has a following nearly ten times the size of the regular Army. The Twitter feed, while having a smaller presence, at least has established a foothold for the Army in the Twittersphere. But presence is not the same as an institution fully exploiting the potential of social media.
One year ago I was hugely fortunate to take command of the Australian Army’s 1st Brigade located in Darwin, at the top end of Australia. It is a formation with a proud history stretching back to its service throughout the Gallipoli campaign, both World Wars, Vietnam and in the contemporary struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Recently, James Carafano wrote a though-provoking article based on the premise that American leadership has lost the ability to think deeply and well. This is not an uncommon refrain, nor is the solution he proposes — improved education — but, in elucidating his point, he makes the following argument: