The British Army is to engage in social media warfare, according to an announcement by its top commander.
“We need to develop our asymmetric edge and bring focus to the orchestration of intelligence, information operations, cyber, electronic warfare and unconventional warfare,” Lieutenant General Ivan Jones, the commander of Britain’s field army, said as he announced the formation of a cyber warfare unit to fight “above and below the threshold of conventional conflict.”
The United Kingdom’s new special cyber operations unit, 6 Division (6 Div), will move beyond the typical cyber capabilities within the military sphere, i.e. dealing with traditional cyber attacks, and digital surveillance. The new unit will instead delve into a new form of online combat: Social media warfare.
This is of course a major addition to Britain’s cyber defense strategy, but hardly comes as a surprise in an age so deeply influenced by Facebook, Twitter, and the other major social media platforms. According to local expert Philip Ingram, a defense analyst who spent years with British Military Intelligence, the new initiative spearheaded by 6 Division “is the first step in the British Army recognizing and countering how the information sphere can be and is weaponized.”
On the top of the list of adversaries in this regard is certainly Russia. Over the past several years, the Russians have turned the dark art of peddling fake news and political propaganda across major social media platforms into a tactic that any reasonable government must view as a national security risk. But Moscow is far from the only concern. The cyber arena attracts many asymmetric actors that would otherwise find it difficult to inflict damage on stronger opponents. Iran, for instance, has almost certainly been systematically engaging in social media-based propaganda as part of building up its cyber repertoire.
The importance of social media in every facet of the modern world is only increasing. No where is this more true than when it comes to national security issues. In time, the social media “front” will become an even more coordinated effort between major partners, including NATO and the United States.