Social network centric warfare – understanding influence operations in social media

FFI-Report 2019

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Report number

19/011194

ISBN

978-82-464-3229-8

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2.8 MB

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Arild Bergh
Since the early 2010s there has been a steady increase in the use of social media by states or terror organisations for the attempted manipulation of opinions and actions among people that are outside their legal control. Examples of this that have been reported in the media include the Russian hybrid warfare in the Ukraine and foreign interference in the US presidential election in 2016. For Norway, as well as other NATO countries, these developments represent a problematic new trend that requires different tools and skills to handle than what one has traditionally associated with influence operations. Although there is a large amount of documentation on these and other social media-based influence operations, little, if anything, has been done to try to explore how such campaigns might have an effect. The aim of this report is to support the Norwegian Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence to develop a better understanding of issues around social media-based influence operations. This is done by going beyond a mere summary of influence activities that have taken place in social media. Instead this report takes a socio-technical approach to examine various aspects of social media-based influence and contextualise them within studies of online social behaviours and general sociology and ICT-related research. For this purpose, the report uses secondary data from several cases of social media manipulation, both state-organised and smaller, more organic attacks. From this base the report develops a conceptual chain that enables us to understand how an influence operation uses native aspects of social media to achieve its goals. In short, a planned influence operation is executed by active operators and relies on social media affordances (characteristics that facilitate certain activities). These affordances aid influence operations’ amplification and reach so that the content is spread widely and is added to the continuously aggregated and accumulated content stored by social media services. This vast content collection is referred to as the online information sediments. This metaphor is used to emphasise the long-term, cumulative approach of social media where information never disappears but will fade in and out of view depending on what a user is interested in, what they are searching for, and so on. New content is affected by the online information sediments as existing posts will provide material for framing and understanding any new information. Alternatively, new posts may affect existing content by providing new ways of interpreting old posts. Either way, the information from influence operations competes for individuals’ and groups’ attention in an attempt to enter into and manipulate their meaning making processes. The aim would be to get targeted social media users to do something that is beneficial to the actor behind the influence operation. Based on these new insights, the relevant authorities can start developing new approaches and procedures to detect, assess and possibly counter social media-based influence operations.

About publication

Report number

19/011194

ISBN

978-82-464-3229-8

Format

PDF-document

Size

2.8 MB

Download publication

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