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Social Media Warfare Presents a New Field of Academic Research

Several academic disciplines can make considerable contributions to the study of the use of the Internet and social media. However, academic disciplines are often slow to initiate research streams in new areas primarily because of a lack of funding for such research. The lack of funding is unfortunate because there is much to be researched. It is unlikely that funding will increase in the near future given the increasing feeling of disdain for science and academia that the conservative electorate has brought to the legislative process.

As discussed in Chapter 1, “A Framework to Analyze Emerging Social Media Warfare Strategies,” a review of academic programs listed by the National Center for Education Statistics in its 2000 edition of Classification of Instructional Programs shows several academic disciplines that can and will eventually provide more insight into social media warfare. Academic disciplines that can contribute to the understanding of social media warfare include mass communication/media studies; political communication programs; social psychology and sociology.

The small amount of research on social media that was reviewed for this project indicates that there is an interest in developing methods to mine social media content to explore how people use social media to interact about specific subjects. It will take time for academic disciplines to develop reliable data collection methods that take the research beyond just discovering and compiling anecdotal data.

One hint on the future directions of social media warfare research is that the Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA) has an interest in understanding how social network communication affects events on the ground as part of its mission to prevent strategic surprise. The general goal of DARPA’s social media in strategic communication (SMISC) program is to develop a new science of social networks built on an emerging technology base. Through the program, DARPA seeks to develop tools to help identify misinformation or deception campaigns and counter them with truthful information, reducing adversaries’ ability to manipulate events [13].

There are multiple forms of Internet research, some of which may include elements conducted through the Internet, for example, using a social media application as a recruitment tool combined with traditional research methods and spaces;

Table 14.3 Internet Research Where Human Subjects May Be Involved

• Research studying information that is already available on or via the Internet without direct interaction with human subjects (harvesting, mining, profiling)

• Research that uses the Internet as a vehicle for recruiting or interacting, directly or indirectly, with subjects (self-testing websites and survey tools)

• Research about the Internet itself and its effects. which could include use patterns or effects of social media, search engines, e-mail, evolution of privacy issues, information contagion, and so on

• Research about Internet users, what they do, and how the Internet affects individuals and their behaviors

• Research that utilizes the Internet as an interventional tool, for example, interventions that influence subjects' behavior.

• Recruitment in or through Internet locales or tools, for example social media, push technologies [14]

some research can only be conducted on the Internet, for example, an ethnography of an online-only forum that has no corresponding geo-physical location; or, the Internet may be a tool underlying data collection. The range of Internet research involving human subjects is shown in Table 14.3.

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