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Social Media as a Force Multiplier

30 August 2021

Australian Army Occasional Paper No. 6

A red target marker of social media icons appearing like a porta, on a blue mesh futurist landscape.

In this paper, Associate Professor Kevin Foster of Monash University examines how the Australian Army’s engagement with, and use of, social media compares to that of allied and comparator militaries. Drawing on historical examples drawn from the First Gulf War, Somalia and Kosovo as well as Afghanistan and the Second Gulf War, the paper examines how militaries in the US, Britain, Israel and Australia have met (or have yet to meet) the challenges posed by the changed nature of conflict and the increasingly central role that social media plays in it. 

In the first part of the paper, Foster analyses the development of military–media–public communication from the First Gulf War to Afghanistan. The paper considers the evolution of information from target to weapon to platform.  It advances reasons why conventional militaries moved slowly into the information space and the painful lessons learned in the First Gulf War, Somalia and Kosovo about the power and efficacy of effective messaging. It discusses how, in the Second Gulf War and in Afghanistan, military structures, systems and cultures shackled the militaries’ capacity to execute information warfare.  

In part two, Foster examines US, British, Israeli and Australian military endeavours to respond to the challenges of social media, including efforts to adapt their structures, systems and cultures so that they might accommodate and weaponise it. The paper considers the history of military engagement with social media; the policy, organisational, recruiting and training reforms that have been undertaken or that will need to occur; the outcomes of efforts to date; and how these compare with the advances made by non-state actors and other competitors.

Foster finds that a number of core factors continue to affect the military’s capacity to adapt to change. Despite the establishment of Information Warfare Division, Foster contends the Australian Army remains ill adapted to achieving the level of participation that underpins the social media and the digital landscape. In response, he makes several recommendations to overcome remaining impediments to change.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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