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Social Media Warfare Strategies

Warfare strategies are always in place and ready, they are not just pulled out of a box when conflict begins. The nature of any type of warfare requires preparation and readiness. That doctrine has been followed without fail since World War II.

Table 1.1 Types of Organizations in Social Media Warfare


Coalitions of nations (military and civilian)

Nations (national governments)

Aligned political entities (non-nations)

Military services (army, air force, naval, space, cyber)

Business and commerce

Industry groups and consortiums


Ideological groups

Religions, sects, and sacred orders

Special focus and interest groups


Aligned entities of different organization types


Insurgent groups

Alliances of insurgent groups

Rogue lone wolves

Preparation and readiness require ongoing activity; adding social media as an element or means of warfare does not reduce the need for ongoing relationship building and force maintenance. It is foolish to think differently, even though many elected officials are ready to cut budgets and reduce military personnel when the threat is not at the front gate. They are not known for their intelligence, just their blustery rhetoric.

New social media warfare strategies are emerging, and with every conflict, no matter how small, lessons are learned about the effectiveness of strategies and tactics. The same thing has happened in the short history of cyber warfare. Traditional warfare, with its merciless slaughter of military forces and civilian populations, has proved to be nothing but destructive and expensive to implement and even more expensive to recover from. One of the most effective deterrents in traditional warfare is maintaining a state of readiness and capability. That state of readiness needs to be so high that the cost to an attacker is even higher in terms of financial and human resources. This strategy may work well when facing the threat of traditional warfare, but insurgents are still capable of inflicting serious damage especially at the far edges of a territory or to the weakest members of an alliance.

Defensive social media warfare strategies can be analyzed in the same light. Alliances are not built in a day and allies are not influenced just once; there must be a level of influence that is constantly maintained. Thus, defensive social media warfare strategies, like any other strategy or tactic, must be nurtured over time.

They are also dependent on maintaining mutual defense alliances and international cooperation to track offenders through cyberspace.

Among aligned entities, awareness, preparation, and training in the use of social media weapons and how social media weapons can be used against them is essential to prevent opponents from gaining a significant advantage in social media. This can be said for virtually every type of organization or types of organizational relationships.

Maintaining influence over aligned entities is an ongoing process, as is gaining leverage vis-a-vis non-aligned entities. Social media warfare is the class in a warfare curriculum that all parties should take to maintain a strong defensive posture. Social media warfare, and how such warfare can be used against alliances or individual entities, must be understood to reduce the possibility of opponents gaining an advantage through their own use of social media. How this relates to military organizations is discussed further in Chapter 3.

Industry groups, consortiums, and corporations face some of the same challenges as government entities when it comes to being prepared for social media warfare. It has taken over 20 years to prepare private sector organizations for cyber warfare attacks, including rogue hackers and insurgent organizations. The philosophy that supports defensive strategies of preparedness and readiness in the governmental realm applies equally to the business realm. This is especially true for critical industry sectors where information sharing is an important factor in successful defensive strategies.

Since the events of September 11, 2001, many governments have supported the implementation of stronger security measures in their country and in allied and trading partner countries. In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has provided leadership in promoting threat analysis and security efforts [1]. The DHS and the Executive Office of the President of the United States have identified 16 critical infrastructure sectors whose assets, systems, and networks are important to sustaining the national interest, including economic stability and sustainability. Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-21 lists the critical industry sectors and assigns responsibility for monitoring threats and improving security to specific federal agencies or departments [2]. The sectors and corresponding federal agencies are shown in Table 1.2.

Corporations also face threats outside of the realm of national and infrastructure threats that governments and military organizations do not necessarily face. There are many people and groups that oppose specific types of corporations or specific corporations because of what they do or do not do as a business entity. This puts corporations in a uniquely perilous position and gives them a unique perspective on social media warfare. Corporations may also have enemies that have little if any interest in confronting national governments or alliances of governments. Corporations are especially vulnerable to the damaging slander and harassment social media campaigns that most governments have little interest in addressing and may not violate any national security laws.

Table 1.2 Critical Industry Sectors and Federal Agencies Charged with Security Leadership

Critical Industry Sector

Sector-Specific Agency


Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Commercial facilities




Critical manufacturing




Defense industrial base

Department of Defense (DOD)

Emergency services



Department of Energy (DOE)

Financial services

Department of the Treasury

Food and agriculture

Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)

Government facilities

DHS and General Services Administration (GSA)

Healthcare and public health


Information technology


Nuclear reactors, materials, and waste


Transportation systems

DHS and Department of Transportation (DOT)

Water and wastewater systems

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Industry sectors and companies within the sectors face a long list of ideological groups that oppose just about everything. Animal rights, child labor, imports and exports, equal pay, racial discrimination, sexism, and social responsibility toward the environment are just a few of the issues of interest to these ideological groups. This is covered in more depth in Chapter 4: “Corporate Efforts to Deploy or Respond to Social Media Warfare Strategies.”

Groups or movements with an ideological foundation include religious groups, politically motivated groups, or loosely knit collectives drawn together by a shared belief system. In fact, many insurgent groups also maintain cohesion based on philosophical or religious beliefs. Mainstream religious organizations may need both defensive as well as offensive retaliatory social media warfare capabilities. Whereas fringe or radical groups, with little if any physical facilities, may focus their social media warfare strategies more on an offensive capability. The following chapters cover the social media warfare activities of ideological groups:

  • ? Chapter 5: Special Interest Groups’ Use of Social Media as a Weapon
  • ? Chapter 6: Social Media Warfare in the Political Electoral Process
  • ? Chapter 7: Social Media Warfare for Support of Social Causes
  • ? Chapter 8: Mercenaries and Activists of Social Media Warfare
  • ? Chapter 9: Social Media as a Weapon to Recruit and Inspire Violent Extremists

There are also a variety of hybrid groups that are difficult to categorize under the previously mentioned types of organizations. They are a mixed alliance of various other types of groups or splinter groups. Finally, self-defined social media wars are commonplace in the world of celebrity and pop culture. These can be vicious and at times damaging to reputations and egos, even though it may be of interest to very few people. Law enforcement or civil litigation may be involved if laws are broken or damage can be proved. There does not seem to be a great deal of strategy applied to such conflicts, but there are several relevant tactics. Chapter 10: “Social Media Warfare for Celebrities and Famous People,” covers this type of conflict.

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