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Internet, Social Media and Conflict Studies: Can Greater Interdisciplinarity Solve the Analytical Deadlocks in Cybersecurity Research?

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In recent years, computational research methods, digital trace data and online human interactions have contributed to the emergence of new technology-oriented sub-fields within International Relations (IR). Although the cybersecurity scholarship had an initial promise to be the primus inter pares among these emerging fields, the main thrust of this new methodological innovation came through the ‘digital conflict studies’ sub-field. By integrating Internet and social media research tools and questions into its core topics of sub-national violence, terrorism and radical mobilization, digital conflict studies has recently succeeded in addressing some of the data validity and methodology problems faced by the cybersecurity scholarship. This article begins by briefly reviewing some of the persistent data and method-oriented hurdles faced by the cybersecurity scholarship. Then, it moves onto a more detailed account of how digital conflict studies have been addressing some of these deadlocks by focusing individually on the literature on onset, mobilization, targeting, intensity/duration and termination phases of conflicts. Ultimately, the article concludes with the suggestion that the cybersecurity scholarship could move past its own deadlocks by building more granular and dedicated research datasets and establishing mechanisms to share event data with the scientific community.
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Internet, Social Media and Conflict Studies: Can Greater Interdisciplinarity Solve
the Analytical Deadlocks in Cybersecurity Research?
Preprint · May 2019
DOI: 10.31235/
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Hamid Akın Ünver
Ozyegin University
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Internet, Social Media and Conflict Studies
Author(s): H. Akın Ünver
St Antony's International Review
, May 2019, Vol. 15, No. 1 (May 2019), pp. 101-124
Published by: St. Antony's International Review
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I, S M 
C S:
C G I
S  A D 
C R
H. Akın Ünver, Kadir Has University
In recent years, computational research methods, digital trace data, and
online human interactions have contributed to the emergence of new technol-
ogy-oriented sub-elds within International Relations (IR). Although cyber-
security scholarship had an initial promise to be the primus inter pares among
these emerging elds, the main thrust of this new methodological innovation
came through the ‘digital conict studies’ sub-eld. By integrating Internet
and social media research tools and questions into its core topics of sub-na-
tional violence, terrorism, and radical mobilisation, digital conict studies
has recently succeeded in addressing some of the data validity and methodol-
ogy problems faced by cybersecurity scholarship. is article begins by briey
reviewing some of the persistent data and method-oriented hurdles faced by
cybersecurity scholarship. en, it moves on to a more detailed account of how
digital conict studies have been addressing some of these deadlocks by focus-
ing individually on the literature on onset, mobilisation, targeting, intensity/
duration, and termination phases of conicts. Ultimately, the article concludes
with the suggestion that cybersecurity scholarship can move past its own
deadlocks by building more granular and dedicated research datasets, and also
by establishing mechanisms to share event data with the scientic community.
e long-touted theoretical slumber of International Rela-
tions (IR) as a discipline1 was markedly disturbed by the advent of
cybersecurity scholarship. Described by many scholars as the ‘real
fourth domain,’ even surpassing the importance of space, digitisa-
tion of human power relations, and their competition across an
entirely new ground, cyber opened up the way for the ‘revival’ of
IR.2 Pre-cyber IR was deadlocked for two main reasons. First, in
the aftermath of the Cold War the eld had lost its connection
to the very origins of its existence—likelihood of large-scale glo-
balised war. With no pressing global threat to study and theorise,
the eld was split across deconstructivist and post-positivist sub-
strands that ran into their own set of limitations.3 Second, the
post-9/11 turn in IR had lowered the analytical lens of the bulk
of the discipline into terrorism and sub-national violence, making
IR more of a surrogate mother of a comparative civil war or rebel
dynamics ospring. e eld of conict studies has exploded so
much in the last decade that it has ended up almost swallowing up
H. , Akın Ünver “Internet, Social Media and Conict Studies: Can Greater
Interdisciplinarity Solve the Analytical Deadlocks in Cybersecurity Research?,”
St Antony’s International Review 15. no. 1 (2019): 101-124.
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102 IR. Yet, it focused more on insurgency and the micro-dynamics of
violence, as well as on dyadic socio-political interactions between
state and non-state actors, none of which are the central thrust of
IR as a discipline.
Cybersecurity promised salvation to IR from being sucked
up into the vortex of conict and terrorism research. It oered
scholars a truly global network of state and non-state interactions
(both benign and malicious), made some of the more classical con-
cepts of the eld (such as bandwagoning, hedging, deterrence, re-
taliation) relevant again, and oered a new research agenda that
went beyond conict and violence. Attribution problems neces-
sitated a more international and cooperative approach to cyber-
security and brought a new cyber-institutionalist tradition.4 ‘At-
tacker’s advantage’ in cybersecurity re-introduced the question of
alliances, balancing, and condence-building measures.5 e uid
and largely uncharted nature of cyberspace reminded scholars of
the importance of the anarchy and hegemony debate, as well as
the centrality of the rules and norms literature in IR. While cyber
hasn’t yet inuenced the eld as much as either conventional or
nuclear weapons did back in the Cold War, it has undoubtedly in-
troduced a new wave of issue-broadening nudges, briey widening
the discipline’s obsession with sub-national violence.
However, cyber research also ended up in a cul-de-sac of
sorts. Due to the sheer magnitude of ‘events’ in cyber research,
it raised a range of conceptual and measurement problems. ese
problems have led to some unforthcoming answers to essential
questions about how to study the eld: What constitutes a cyber
‘attack?’6 How do we disentangle oensive and defensive capabili-
ties in cyber?7 How do we acquire and catalogue event data, given
the sheer magnitude and near-impossibility of reliably measuring
cyber competition? How do we verify the accuracy of attribution?
Given attribution problems, how do we reliably establish norms
and minimise commitment problems in compliance? Who are we
establishing norms for, and who are we rallying against? On the
other end of the debate is the ‘megafauna’ argument that criticised
the eld’s over-emphasis on a small number of politically critical
cyber events (usually with physical implications), overlooking the
importance of the large volume of ‘smaller events’ that don’t have
a measurable or visible impact on infrastructure or systems.8 Both
ends of the debate present us with a dierent hurdle facing cyber
research: do we have too much, or too little measurable data to
work with? All of these data availability and quality issues of cyber
haven’t prevented theorising about it in IR, but made empirical
tests of those claims highly dicult.
Ultimately, IR’s cybersecurity scholarship ran into two dif-
culties: rst, an inability to grow beyond the connes of tradi-
tional IR and second, dangerously treading on ‘purely theoretical’
territory. Even when thinking solely in terms of the disruptive ef-
fects of cyber, the nuclear analogy ran into a number of problems.
After all, nuclear weapons had a binary nature—they are either
detonated or not detonated. eir deterrent nature came from the
possibility of detonation. Cybersecurity, on the other hand, is any-
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thing but binary. DDoS, MitM, spear phishing, SQL injection, and
XSS are dierent attack types that serve a dierent purpose. Of-
ten, the target learns about the fact that it was attacked weeks af-
ter the actual incident. More sophisticated forms of cyberattacks
are also hard to notice, measure, and turn into event data, and are
even harder to attribute to an actor. Its twists and turns, intensity,
and type all require a much more nuanced understanding of the
engineering aspects of the eld compared to nuclear weapons. It
also rendered a truly multi-method approach, through combining
the forces of computer engineers, data scientists, and IR special-
ists, but this kind of sustained interdisciplinarity is still rare in
the scholarship. Furthermore, persistent problems in generating
a statistically meaningful, let alone representative, dataset make
cybersecurity theories dicult to test empirically.
As cybersecurity scholarship dealt with these structural
problems, Internet and social media studies began solving some
of those persistent problems in harvesting trace data to help build
new theories on technology and IR. e power of social media,
both as a form of real-time communication and also as a network-
ing hub, has been demonstrated most visibly during the Arab
Spring demonstrations in the MENA region and in the Occupy
movements across Europe and North America, as well.9 en with
the onset and intensication of the Syrian, Iraqi, and Ukrainian
civil wars, the power of digital interconnectedness as an enabler
of mobilisation, resource generation, propaganda, and issue fram-
ing has been further bolstered.10 e highly interactive and public
nature of social media platforms not only increased the speed of
communication between actors, but also rendered this communi-
cation visible to the broader social media community all around
the world. Social media has become a new marketplace of ideas,
equally disliked and needed, by politicians, diplomats, interna-
tional institutions, civil society groups, and violent groups alike.
Compared to cybersecurity, where data is both uncontrol-
lably large, elusive, and fast, Internet research has rendered the
study of human interactions in digital space more manageable. Al-
though data size and speed can still be an issue, social media data
is less elusive compared to cybersecurity data, and depending on
the platform and topic, scraping entire sets of public data can be
far easier compared to cataloguing cyber event data. e secrecy
and covertness of cybersecurity research can be a deterrent fac-
tor for social scientists, which might explain why more of them
are switching to the open source nature of social media research.
Furthermore, although cyber research is signicantly important
for IR theory, it lies distant to the wider empirical debates on sam-
ple size, representativeness, measurement, causal eects, and be-
havioural variances.11 Ultimately, until cybersecurity researchers
solve the riddles of data extraction, dataset sharing, and meas-
urement, cybersecurity research risks the danger of remaining an
elite-focused, small-N eld, compared to the large-scale ‘social’
scope of social media research. is has led to a rapidly developing
eld of computational social science: the use of coding and pro-
gramming tools to study social dynamics, behaviour, and choice.12
Despite enriching other sub-elds in IR, however, Internet and so-
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104 cial media studies have primarily beneted the conict and politi-
cal violence discipline. To that end, when exploring how Internet
Communication Tools (ICTs) aect IR, the bulk of the scholarship
again comes from the conict studies camp.
e remainder of this paper will discuss how the ‘digital con-
ict studies’ eld has incorporated the ‘technological turn’ in IR
into its main theoretical thrust, by building upon and expanding
the framework used by Lars-Erik Cederman and Manuel Vogt13 on
the main phases of conicts: onset/initiation, resource mobilisa-
tion, target prioritisation, duration/intensity, and conict ter-
mination, peacebuilding, and re-integration. Although a similar
phasing or periodisation is hard to model exactly on cybersecurity
scholarship, this review aims to provide a more structured frame-
work for the empirical study of cybersecurity. Furthermore, this
periodisation may help future cybersecurity scholars to structure
their data observation, extraction, and sharing mechanisms to
test existing IR-related cybersecurity theories and build new ones.
Internet, Social Media, and Conict: Primary Analytical
As outlined in the critical review articles by Anita Gohdes14
and omas Zeitzo,15 there is quite a rapid development of ro-
bust, empirically sophisticated studies on how digital interconnec-
tivity impacts contentious politics and human conict. e earlier
studies inspired by the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement fo-
cused on the eect of digital media on protests, focusing mainly
on onset and state responses against digital mobilisation.16 As pro-
tests evolved into deadlier conicts, the eld has also evolved into
explaining how ICTs aected violence in civil wars like in Syria,
Iraq, and Ukraine.17 Important studies, some of which will be ex-
plored in this paper, have primarily focused on conict initiation,
recruitment, propaganda, terrorist attacks, narrative-building,
branding/marketing of armed groups, and state responses.
However, there are several fundamental conict dynamics
that are still understudied, such as conict duration, bargaining/
negotiation and conict termination, group disbanding, and po-
litical transition of violent conicts. Furthermore, although there
are ample studies on how social media radicalises individuals,18
there is an insucient body of empirical investigation on how
digital interconnectedness de-radicalises or moderates users. is
section is divided into ve sub-sections that deal with some of the
main works in their respective sub-elds, and the current analyti-
cal limitations of those respective sub-elds. ese are namely:
conict onset; resource mobilisation; target selection; intensity/
duration; and conict termination, peacebuilding, and reintegra-
Onset: Grievance/Greed Framing
Social media has expedited the dissemination of frames relat-
ed to sustained political grievances and opportunities.19 Its scope
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and speed led to the emergence of non-geographical communities
of grievance, all receiving information about repression, disenfran-
chisement, and oppression respective to their areas of concern.20
Similarly—this strategy best employed by ISIS—opportunity
structures in conict, such as wealth, prestige, and social accept-
ance are now transmitted across the world, leading to the mobili-
sation at an unprecedented level of diversity in recruits.21 Much of
the digital recruitment tactics popularized by ISIS were later used
en masse across the world, including Western far-right groups. Of
course, social media is not the only medium through which such
frames have been disseminated in the past. Newspapers, novels,
and motion pictures have all helped communicate grievances and
greed narratives in the past. What makes social media novel, how-
ever, is its speed and size. Compared to older forms of media (per-
haps, with the slight exception of live broadcasting technologies),
social media and the Internet oer real-time dissemination of nar-
ratives to a far larger audience. Some of the time-lag and media ac-
cess (urban/rural, rich/poor) constraints that were the hallmarks
of older examples of grievance/greed narratives’ diusion are less
relevant in the case of social media. Owing to the lowered barriers
of entry, digital communication thus increases the speed and size
of both the responses to framing stimuli and also the materialisa-
tion of counter-narratives.
In addition to speed and scale, ICTs also oer a permanent,
non-physical, and omni-accessible archival function for users.22
is is especially valid for grievance diusion,23 which is a crucial
driver of early mobilisation. By both spreading and permanently
recording events and narratives in digital space, users bestow an
archival power to digital media. is, in turn, allows grievances to
be not only communicated more quickly, but also consumed in a
sustained and at-will manner. In addition to enabling masses to
mobilise quickly, this sustained grievance eect of ICTs also inten-
sies existing social, ethnic, and religious tensions, through daily
access and consumption of grievance-related content.24 is does
not only impact the likelihood and frequency of conicts but also
determines the size and social support for these conicts. In a way,
the real-time archival utility of social media both drives violence
onset likelihood, as well as how intense these acts of violence be-
come. is is true both for the digital content disseminated by a
single source to multiple individual users (propaganda and infor-
mation cascades), and also content sought and acquired by the us-
ers themselves (information-seeking).
ICTs and conict onset are relatively well-studied as a dyad.
Currently, some of the frontiers in this sub-eld are the use of
fake news, trolls, and bots—deliberate information manipula-
tors—and identifying how they impact greed/grievance dynamics
dierently than the ow of accurate information.25 Does disinfor-
mation, for example, enable the spread of emotional and mobilis-
ing content better than deliberate and accurate information?26 Do
non-state actors use disinformation as part of their extensive stra-
tegic logic, or do they nd disinformation as a potentially trust-
mitigating factor?
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106 Much of these research questions were tested overwhelm-
ingly with ISIS, rendering the group as a litmus test of some of
the most prominent political communication theories in digital
space.27 Yet, the scholarship that lies at the intersection of politi-
cal communication and computer science elds does try to address
a broader range of cases beyond ISIS. Purohit (et al.)28 and Karuna
(et al.)29 use text-mining tools to look at how digital frames on
gender-based violence are disseminated online, using a corpus-
based latent Dirichlet analysis (LDA). Both studies nd a greater
collaboration between grievance campaigns in geographically
distant communities and discover a signicant degree of ‘digital
cross-pollination’ between physically disconnected online cam-
paigns. De Choudhury (et al.),30 on the other hand, explore how
images and videos on social media contribute to the intensication
or de-sensitisation of emotions in Mexico, related to cartel-based
violence. ey focus on sub-district level digital content across two
years and nd that both the state and cartels strategically deploy
images to deter and assert psychological dominance against each
other, as well as the local populace, in a methodical way. Similarly,
Monroy-Hernandez (et al.)31 dissect to what extent ‘civic bloggers’
(locals who document cartel violence on weblogs and social me-
dia) have any eect on conict awareness and mobilisation. ey
discover that districts that contain more public media bloggers,
and are thus exposed to greater volumes and frequency of conict
reporting, have a greater tendency to be desensitised and are less
likely to participate in violence.
Wang (et al.),32 on the other hand, explore the digital impact
of the Sandy Hook shooting on users’ sentiments on gun control,
discovering that anti-violence (pro-gun control) sentiments linger
on much longer compared to anti-gun control content in the after-
math of the shooting. ey also demonstrate that these pro-gun
control sentiments linger on longer in Connecticut (the incident
state), compared to other states in the United States, invalidat-
ing the main premise of the ‘terror management theory.’ In the
same vein, Ayers (et al.)33 conduct large-scale scraping of websites,
forums, social media sites, and online advertisements in the US,
revealing that online awareness-building campaigns and tailored
ads on digital platforms could measurably mitigate gun-related
deaths. While most of the ‘images and frames’ literature rely on
text-based methods, Won (et al.)34 focused on images shared on
social media websites to draw a causal link between emotions that
those images trigger and the actual intensity of the relevant pro-
test event. Drawing on more than 40,000 geotagged protest imag-
es, the researchers nd that greater protest duration and intensity
are correlated with the emotional triggering capacity of the images
shared from the protest area. Finally, Muller and Schwartz dem-
onstrate a causal relationship between anti-refugee sentiment in
German-speaking Facebook and physical anti-refugee violence in
Germany at the municipality level,35 while Patton (et al.)36 draw di-
rect links between ‘Internet bragging’ and the tendency to exhibit
gang violence-related behaviour in Chicago. Building a predictive
model, Patton (et. al.) demonstrate a high level of reliability in
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enabling social workers to recognise gang violence-related themes
and engage in better targeted preventive action.
ese studies push the eld strongly into the domain of au-
tomated-recognition and prediction foci. Most of these studies are
also heavily concentrated on the US or the UK, requiring a sig-
nicant broadening of the cases beyond the Global North. Some of
the untapped research questions include how regional inequality,
linguistic or ethnic fractionalisation, and regime type inuence
the ICT-onset literature.
Resource Mobilisation
Not all successful cases of greed/grievance communication
lead to violence. Without pre-existing social forces and trust rela-
tions, purely digital networks have a low level of success of mo-
bilising or remaining mobilised for an extended period.37 One of
the main drivers of the staying power of movements is how well
they mobilise resources.38 is mobilisation is not just limited to
manpower or nancial resources, but also includes sustenance of
frames, attention, alliances, commitment, and organisational co-
hesion. To that end, the advent of Internet and social media are
primarily thought as positive drivers of resource mobilisation. Af-
ter all, this was one of the main reasons why the early works on the
Arab Spring and the Occupy movement were quick to call them ‘so-
cial media revolutions.’39 When dissidents discovered their latent
power through digital interconnectivity, they were able to come
together and challenge hegemony, or so the logic went. However,
later studies have proved that this was not always the case.40 Social
media was a signicant development but was also exaggerated in
its eect on social movements. ICTs did drive attention and aware-
ness, but these two variables had a mixed eect on actual mobili-
sation, commitment, and staying power. Rather, ICTs’ eects re-
lied on pre-existing traditional networks and trust relations.
is necessitates a greater empirical focus on the analytical
sweet spot that delves into how traditional social networks use
and deploy ICTs to generate sustained framing and identity-build-
ing resources. Mostly, studies omit this context and try to draw
a straightforward causal link between how much movements use
social media and how well they mobilise as a result. Furthermore,
past the onset and mobilisation mark, few studies explore how
movements sustain both ideological and material resources, espe-
cially when the rival actor is also a non-state actor.41 To that end,
most scholarship focuses on how protestors, rioters, militias, and
terrorist groups utilise ICTs against state actors, but not as much
on how this interaction materialises between and within non-
state actors themselves. Some of the most novel ways of studying
mobilisation dynamics can be seen in Gahot (et al.)42 where the
authors use epidemiological modelling to visualise the diusion
and sustaining of the 2005 French riots. is is one of the bet-
ter experiments in bringing greater interdisciplinarity into social
research, as the authors pay specic attention to social dynamics
(neighbourhood relations, district social networks, and protestor
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108 community proximity) in their contagion model. In a similar vein,
Davies (et al.)43 explore how the 2011 London riots have been
mobilised against police crackdown, using digital communication
tools to build a contagion dataset of both onset and sustained re-
source-generation dynamics. Ultimately, the authors discover that
there is a Pareto-optimal level of police presence per each riot dis-
trict that deters rioter resource mobilisation; any less or more po-
lice deployment causes greater protest mobilisation and resources
deployed in the riot.
e ICT-religion nexus is a potentially helpful disciplinary
link to conict studies, especially in terms of exploring how loose
belief networks retain membership, income, and resource-gen-
eration practices in digital space. Heidi Campbell demonstrates
how Christian congregations that are geographically distant can
retain ‘online congregations’ through live-feed sermons and chat
groups.44 ese online congregations not only build awareness and
disseminate frames, but also play a signicant role in the material
domain, in terms of fundraising and mustering numbers for pro-
tests and social responsibility projects.45 In the same vein, Ellison
and Boyd illustrate how this ‘online congregation’ dynamic can be
observed in Islam and Judaism as well, as individuals discover and
often at times identify with their digital congregations more than
their physical ones.46 Mellor and Rinnawi focus specically on the
Islamic use of ICTs and exemplify how digital congregations are
more important drivers of resource mobilisation in diaspora Is-
lamic communities in Europe and the United States, whereas in
predominantly Muslim countries too, the eect of social media
leads to the emergence of diverging loyalties.47 Such diverging loy-
alties create an ‘à la carte Islam’ where the pious can choose from
dierent sermons and fatwas issued by the online or oine imams,
demonstrating hybrid loyalties based on which congregation or
imam supplies the version of theological interpretation they re-
quire. In the case of Judaism, Nathan Abrams demonstrates how
social media leads to ‘post-denominational Judaism,’ where iden-
tity construction and mobilisation dynamics display the similar
congregational hybridity that we see in Islam.48
Target Prioritisation
Once movements attain critical mass and are directed in uni-
son towards a common goal, the next step becomes target selec-
tion. In the case of non-violent movements, this target becomes
a key building, central square, or a historic site to occupy or con-
duct a sit-in at, whereas in violent movements these range from
military installations/checkpoints, critical infrastructure, or (with
terrorist groups) civilian areas. What is the role of social media
on how groups pick their targets and guide their followers to that
target? Some of the earlier works on this question had a slight
reporting bias around areas of high Internet connectivity,49 al-
though newer forms of scholarship have begun developing unique
ways to disentangle violence occurrence from violence reporting.50
Some of the most prominent studies on violence targeting empha-
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sise four trends: strategic area/zone focus, critical infrastructure
focus, political focus, and intimidation focus. ere is currently
no major work on how ICTs aect any particular focus. Rather,
most target-related studies explore how social media sustains and
intensies ongoing conict dynamics, evidenced best in omas
Zeitzo’s work on the 2012 Gaza Conict.51 Also, Jibon Naher and
Matiur Rahman Minar look at how social media posts drive chat
groups or page followers to particular types of violence, including
the target(s) of such acts in Bangladesh.52 ey demonstrate how
ICTs not only impact the speed and size of violent mobilisation,
but also drive users towards key ethnic or religious targets.
Targeting presents a very specic causal problem in the ICT-
conict nexus. e majority of existing studies can explain how
ICT use can guide mobilisation, intensity, polarisation, and radi-
calisation, but there is not much robust evidence on whether the
popularity of particular target types on ICTs really aect targeting
behaviour on the ground. is is a challenging puzzle to solve, be-
cause it is hard to disaggregate targeting choice as a result of its so-
cial media popularity, from its choice as the order of a command-
ing superior.53 Further problems arise in determining whether
ICTs inuence commanders or troops on the ground in hand pick-
ing a particular set of targets. Especially with regard to communal
violence, the role of ICTs in instigating certain ethnic or religious
groups using targeted messaging and imagery is under-explored.
Similar to military targeting, there is much to be done on exploring
whether the decision to attack a particular target or community
follows a strict hierarchy (i.e., communal elders or propagandists)
or to generate a mob mentality (autonomous crowd behaviour).
Some tangential journalism work on this is done through What-
sApp-related gang violence in India.54 Some of the most relevant
ndings on this line of inquiry are that digital targeting practices
through text or images contribute substantially to the unearthing
of dormant social tensions, leading to attacks on women speci-
cally. is gender dimension in violent group targeting prioriti-
sation is an important avenue for further research and connects
somewhat to another strand of literature on digital shaming and
harassment.55 Furthermore, due to the real-time eects of ICTs,
the time gap between designating a target in digital space and the
actual mobilisation of the masses around the designated target is
much less.
My co-author and I have discovered this targeting eect of
ICTs when exploring the mobilisation dynamics during the failed
coup in Turkey in July 2016.56 Sharing videos, images, and text in
large numbers, anti-coup protestors were extremely quick in mo-
bilising and overwhelming checkpoints, military installations, and
other hotspots of conict. In most cases, it is possible to draw di-
rect linkages between the emergence of a particular hotspot or tar-
get on social media, and the masses of crowds gathered around it
within an hour or less. We also, however, warn against the existing
social network dimension of these targeting preferences. It is not
only ICTs that guided people to specic locations—rather it is the
dissemination of these targets by family members, friends, or re-
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110 ligious congregation channels (all trusted pre-existing networks)
through ICTs that created the trust network required to march to-
wards designated spots. Future ICT-targeting studies have to take
this digital-physical interaction into account.
Intensity and Duration
Scholarly research on conict intensity and duration has
grown increasingly popular in the last decade, owing to new data-
sets and measurement types that allow greater analytical focus.
e primary thrust of the conict intensity/duration literature has
been to inform policy on the ways of shortening conicts.57 By re-
ducing conict duration, as the conict literature asserts, conict
intensity would also be reduced.58 However, premature freezing of
conicts due to external pressure(s) also frequently leads to a re-
escalation of those conicts once international attention wanes.59
erefore, the causal relationship between duration and intensity
is still being negotiated in the literature, as this link works dif-
ferently in various political contexts. Although conict intensity
(measured as casualties) and duration (measured as months) have
been explained most popularly through combatant motivation,
nancing, public commitment, capacity, and external support,60
the role of ICTs has been a relatively nascent inquiry. e com-
mon consensus in the conict literature is that ICTs make conicts
more intense.61 is nding is being increasingly challenged by a
new scholarship that focuses on the availability bias and measure-
ment level problems of these ndings. Nils Weidmann, for exam-
ple, asserts convincingly that access to ICTs creates a reporting
bias.62 is reporting bias is related both to the communication of
violent cases that would remain uncommunicated without ICTs,
and to the oversharing of violent events over non-violent events
that occurs among those with access to ICTs in conict zones. is
highlights the need for interdisciplinarity to solve some of the
availability bias and data-gathering problems related to proximity
to ICT infrastructure.
Guo (et al.),63 for example, demonstrate how betweenness
centrality can oer a better explanation on why certain geogra-
phies become more conict-prone than others. ey emphasise
cities as hubs of communication, and thus bestow greater impor-
tance on the cities for their narrative and frame-dissemination
capacity that in turn inuence conict intensity and duration pat-
terns. In their view, conict intensity and duration are both pro-
portional to their distance to major cities, and also the between-
ness centrality measure of major cities themselves. Walther (et
al.),64 on the other hand, focus on the Sahel-Sahara to aggregate
digital and pre-digital communication and archival data, generat-
ing a militant attack database. Using this database, they are able
to infer which national communication and counter-insurgency
policies worked better in terms of mitigating the intensity and du-
ration of Al-Qaeda in Mali (AQIM)’s violence in the Sahel region.
However, with the exception of these few examples, the ICT-dura-
tion or intensity literature is still very young. A potential analyti-
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cal eld to approach the intensity/duration problem would be to
engage more with the digital political communication literature.
Echo chambers and polarisation are proper proxy measures
to solve this deadlock. Barberá (et. al)65 demonstrate how politi-
cal preferences are disseminated across accounts that are similar
in political ideology, but that such similarity disappears in non-
political issues. is could be an inspirational point of departure
for conict studies as the dissemination of conict-related infor-
mation along ideological or identity lines would potentially have
a signicant inuence on conict intensity. Del Vicaro (et al.),66
on the other hand, demonstrate how the dissemination patterns
of disinformation is especially contingent upon network ideol-
ogy. Focusing on how conspiracy theories ow on Facebook, the
authors demonstrate that polarisation becomes more observable
in the dissemination of false narratives rather than accurate in-
formation. Bastos (et al.)67 test the same hypothesis in the Brexit
campaign and discover that both accurate and inaccurate types of
content were shared across a more dense and central network in
the Leave camp, and followed a looser and less dense network in
the Remain camp. is nding is important as it hints at the role
of political ideology in the dissemination of accurate and false-
type conict-related content. In a more recent study, Cota (et al.)68
looked at a large dataset of Twitter messages from Brazil related
to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousse and discovered
that more extreme content was disseminated across a broader au-
dience, compared to less extreme and more moderate content that
had a lower level of spread. is study sheds some light on po-
tential conict communications literature on the degree to which
extreme versus moderate content becomes popular during emer-
gencies, escalations, and critical political moments.
Termination, Peacebuilding, Re-integration
How do ICTs impact the decision to end a conict? e lit-
erature is skewed so much on the initiative and sustaining dynam-
ics of ICTs on conict that the analytical ‘wave’ hasn’t yet reached
the nal stages of the violence cycle. is is due partly to the fact
that recent years have witnessed much more conict initiation
and escalation compared to conict termination.69 Most conict
termination scholarship focuses on tangible factors, such as the
decline of manpower, funds, or other resources to explain de-es-
calation and termination dynamics.70 Other studies explain how
external interventions, inghting, leadership change, and social
shifts might lead to similar outcomes.71 However, there have been
no empirical studies yet on how ICTs impact the de-escalation and
termination aspects of conicts.
Earlier hypotheses on how ICTs might inuence conict of-
fered promising notes. Most of them thought greater intercon-
nectedness and on-hand information availability have a normalis-
ing eect on violent interactions. Importing from more traditional
theories on media and conict, the early ICT literature suggested
that warring factions or mobilised masses could be ‘convinced’ to
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112 stand down and attain greater mutual understanding with rival
groups (or governments) by digital messaging (i.e., ICTs), resulting
in conict termination.72 Most of the peacebuilding initiatives in
the 1990s thus emphasised ‘greater communication’ and frequent
socialisation between the opposing sides, and by the 2000s most
of these initiatives welcomed the idea of digital communication
as a peace enabler.73 However, the evidence yielded a more com-
plex and nuanced picture. One main misjudgement about the ICT-
peace link was the fact that ICTs grew into multi-directional media
systems, as opposed to the uni-directional nature of television,
motion pictures, or the radio. is meant that ‘feeding content’ to
warring factions, in the same manner that propaganda dissemi-
nation worked in the past, was impossible.74 Content consumers
are now also content producers and curators, causing far too many
narratives to spread online for any single actor to dominate the
mainstream media.75 e prevalence of multiple and competing
narratives, along with the ever-present shadow of disinformation,
also have the potential to intensify existing divisions, rather than
heal them.76 To counter these eects, along with attempts to skew
these discussions by combing out ‘unwanted content,’ govern-
ments have also become increasingly reliant on censorship, Inter-
net restrictions, and the strategic deployment of bots and trolls to
further contaminate the information ecosystem.77 However, these
tools are still not in dominant use in most conict-prone countries
as instability prevents the establishment of functioning Internet
infrastructure. is severs the link between ICTs and aected
communities in rural areas or poor urban districts, rendering any
uni-directional move towards mediation inecient.
From existing empirical evidence, it is hard to hypothesise
whether ICTs will have any standalone eect on conict termina-
tion and peacebuilding, without interacting with material factors
on the ground. Some of these material factors are already well-
covered by the non-ICT conict termination literature: external
intervention, combatant resolve, leadership change, resource de-
pletion, social change, and so on. ICTs may indeed bolster peace-
keeping eorts, provided that the material resources of peace-
keeping are suciently in place.
e nal link in the conict chain is attaining sustained non-
violence and community-building in the aected territories. Cur-
rently, there is no signicant work in the eld of how ICTs impact
peacekeeping and community-building, leaving a sizeable analyti-
cal gap in the literature. is originates from the overwhelming
focus on the earlier onset/mobilisation aspects of violence, leaving
a plethora of untapped topics on the later phases of violence. Yet,
the literature will inevitably gravitate towards the more positive
and constructive aspects of ICTs on conict. Community-building
and re-integration phases of the conict cycle have a higher likeli-
hood of being impacted by purely ICT-led eorts. When willing-
ness to ght is diminished and the societal-political consensus is
in place, then ICT tools can work through a multitude of ways to
help bolster peace agreements and their enforcement. e most
direct and visible use of ICTs in this phase has been the monitor-
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ing of ceaseres and other commitment violations, enabling all
parties to keep an eye on the other in a more direct way.78 When
the speed and scale advantages of ICTs are deployed after peace
is attained, then these assets can signicantly bolster condence-
building measures and render community-building and re-inte-
gration eorts more robust. In other words, ICTs will work when
there are ‘physical’ attempts towards reconciliation, and will re-
main ineective without any social consensus or driver towards
is article has sought to trace some of the current analytical
fronts of digital conict studies to oer a framework for IR’s cyber-
security scholarship on how it can escape some of the short-term
methodological and conceptual deadlocks. Specically, the cyber-
security eld suers from an absence of granular and representa-
tive (or even indicative) data generation, and a sharing mechanism
for the purposes of the scholarly community. is prevents an
empirical testing of the majority of the claims made in cybersecu-
rity theory, as well as impairs how much we can import from the
oft-mentioned ‘nuclear analogy’ in IR for the purposes of cyberse-
curity scholarship. One of the main reasons why the digital con-
ict studies discipline could surmount most of the hurdles posed
by the emerging technologies is that the eld has been building
granular and representative event datasets since the 1960s. From
the founding blocks of the Correlates of War Project in the 1960s,
UCDP/PRIO and START-UMD datasets emerged, leading the way
for the emergence of many other dataset projects, including the
ICEWS, ACLED, ViEWS, and GDELT projects. Multiple long-term
open source scientic research datasets have helped to advantage
the conict literature as it adapts to the requirements of the tech-
nological turn in IR. e absence of a long-term scientic event
dataset has steered cybersecurity researchers of IR to work with an
ambiguous sample of cybersecurity events that will remain struc-
turally insucient for robust theory-building and theory-testing.
A second major dierence is that digital conict studies has
developed far more interdisciplinary and collaborative ties than
cybersecurity scholarship has. By focusing on human trace data
to infer human conict dynamics, digital conict literature has
largely retained the social and human prerogatives of the eld. In
contrast, cybersecurity scholarship is still largely distant to the
core questions of political and social fundamentals of digitalised
human interactions, so far refraining from directly dealing with
the role of psychological, sociological, and ethnographic aspects
of cybersecurity. One recent exception is Nadiya Kostyuk and Yuri
Zhukov’s exploration of how cyber-attacks inuenced conict dy-
namics on the front lines in Ukraine.79 is article provides one
of many potential trajectories for cybersecurity scholarship in ad-
dressing the data availability and validity issues.
ICTs bring a set of welcome challenges and opportunities
for conict research. However, the most immediate task for IR in
general is to escape yet another conict studies entrapment when
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114 successfully adapting to the question of how emerging technolo-
gies impact world events. ICTs bring a wide array of analytical op-
portunities to test IR’s existing mainstream theories, as well as de-
velop new ones, as digital communication enables the harvesting
of both more abundant and more granular data types. ese data
types will not only improve our understanding of how states inter-
act with their societies and other states in the digital domain, but
will also lead the way to the formulation of more advanced types of
international institutions and cooperation architectures. Regard-
less, conict studies will likely continue to spearhead IR’s broader
disciplinary focus on the ICTs.
While there is quite an abundance of attention on the earlier
phases of social movements and violent events, there is currently
a gap in the more advanced phases of such phenomena. e eld
is still burgeoning in explaining how ICT use aects target selec-
tion, intensity/duration, and peacebuilding eorts, but holds a
relatively more robust set of ndings on the onset and mobilisa-
tion phases. To remedy this gap, digital political communication
literature seems to be the most apparent linkage for the conict
studies community. Some of the most prominent works in PolCom
already have theoretical answers to how violence aects attention,
emotion, and mediation in critical political events and debates.
Yet, the bulk of that literature focuses on American or Euro-
pean contexts, where both Internet penetration and social media
use are signicant enough to yield robust results.80 e challenge
of the conict studies literature is two-pronged: rst, tackle data
availability and parity issues in comparative works on countries
with uneven access to ICTs, and second, disentangle conict re-
porting frequency from conict occurrence frequency. Both prob-
lems may eventually solve themselves as global interconnectivity
widens and ICT data becomes more representative and compara-
ble. However, studies can still benet signicantly from explor-
ing how yearly, generational, or geographical changes in ICT use
impact all ve phases of conicts discussed above. Rather than
waiting for ICT data to become eventually representative, scholars
may nd a plethora of topics to dig into across cases in areas with
dierent levels of digital access. Greater interdisciplinarity across
the elds of computer science, physics, biology, and complexity
elds will enable conict researchers to generate more sophisti-
cated models and more robust ndings on this emerging frontier.
Another largely untopped topic is the role of technology
companies in driving/mitigating conict. Platform architecture, as
well as the increased relevance of big tech companies during crises
and emergencies, render them de facto actors in all conicts.81 Di-
rect eects of platform inuence on conicts, such as the decision
to censor and emphasise certain types of content, or decisions to
partner with governments or certain civil society actors will have
an increasing inuence on all phases of conicts. However, indi-
rect eects, such as algorithmic bias,82 attention economy,83 and
rent-generation structures of social networks84 will also impact
conicts and conict actors signicantly. Given the fact that plat-
forms run on advertisement revenue and those advertisements
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target engagement metrics, it will be inevitable for platforms to
push more extreme content that elicits an emotional response,
thus generating more revenue.
e success of the emerging eld of digital conict stud-
ies can oer three main lessons for the developing cybersecurity
eld. First, ‘cyber IR’ has to prioritise building event datasets that
strike a balance between data size and quality. Given the fact that
conict studies has several important datasets and data process-
ing projects unique to the eld (UCDP/PRIO,85 ICEWS,86 ACLED,87
UMD-START,88 or ViEWS89), the eld is better-suited to incor-
porate digital media and communication-related data types. Al-
though the Center for Strategic and International Studies90 and
the Council on Foreign Relations91 have their IR-specic ‘major
events’ data, the cases are a very unhelpfully small fraction of
cybersecurity events that happen on a daily basis. Furthermore,
both datasets bring in the question of ‘major event according to
whom?,’ given the heavy bias in favour of attacks against Ameri-
can infrastructure. Even data from Norse Corporation, FireEye,
Kaspersky, Fortinet, or similar cybersecurity companies, are by
no means representative or transparent in terms of the method-
ology behind data generation. Furthermore, their full datasets
aren’t available for public use, which brings its own set of replica-
tion problems. Second, cyber IR scholarship has to reach beyond
the connes of traditional IR theories and begin engaging more
with the techno-sociology and techno-politics literature. How do
states and societies perceive and prioritise the dangers of threats
originating from the cybersecurity/defence domain? What is the
impact of organisational, political, and social dierences between
and within countries in politicising and securitising cyber threats?
How do we incorporate disinformation, information overload, and
digital distraction into IR’s threat spectrum? How do the ‘modes of
production’ of digital hardware, software, and data impact balance
of power between countries and alter state-society relations on a
global scale? Should the eld deal primarily with the threats faced
by states (infrastructure damage, national secrecy, and conden-
tial data hacking), or society (surveillance, data capitalism, private
data protection)? Finally, cybersecurity scholarship will have to
broaden its focus of interest beyond what the major powers are
doing and study the impact of major power rivalry on the rest
of the world, with specic emphasis on inter-state and sub-state
inequalities. Given the fact that access to advanced cybersecuri-
ty technology is a distinct privilege of only the wealthiest of na-
tions, it is expected to create another form of hegemonic balanc-
ing and counter-balancing behaviour. How do we study regional
and systemic inequalities in access to cybersecurity hardware and
software infrastructure and how do these inequalities shape state
behaviour and state-society relationships across dierent regimes
and security cultures?
Ultimately, ICTs will occupy a more important place in the
media-conict nexus compared to the historical eects of the tele-
gram, radio, television, or motion picture. is is because access to
ICTs are more intimate (i.e., through smartphones that are always
nearby), real-time, multi-directional, and at-will compared to all
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116 previous forms of mass communication. is will also render ICTs
a key analytical topic in all aspects of human relations, including
conict. More focus on the communicative aspects of mobilisa-
tion, movements, and violence will ultimately unlock new ideas
and theories of human behaviour. To do this, however, this article
argues in favour of the analytical value of greater interdisciplinar-
ity and more risk-taking across elds.
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9 Nahed Eltantawy and Julie B. Wiest, "e Arab Spring: Social Media in the
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20 Sebastián Valenzuela, Arturo Arriagada, and Andrés Scherman, “e So-
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org/10.1177/2056305115603080; Jean-Christophe Plantin et al., “Infrastructure
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Digital Conflicts in Human Resources Management
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This paper investigates the link between social media and hate crime. We show that anti-refugee sentiment on Facebook predicts crimes against refugees in otherwise similar municipalities with higher social media usage. To establish causality, we exploit exogenous variation in the timing of major Facebook and internet outages. Consistent with a role for “echo chambers”, we find that right-wing social media posts contain narrower and more loaded content than news reports. Our results suggest that social media can act as a propagation mechanism for violent crimes by enabling the spread of extreme viewpoints.
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Abstract Echo chambers in online social networks, in which users prefer to interact only with ideologically-aligned peers, are believed to facilitate misinformation spreading and contribute to radicalize political discourse. In this paper, we gauge the effects of echo chambers in information spreading phenomena over political communication networks. Mining 12 million Twitter messages, we reconstruct a network in which users interchange opinions related to the impeachment of the former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. We define a continuous political leaning parameter, independent of the network’s structure, that allows to quantify the presence of echo chambers in the strongly connected component of the network. These are reflected in two well-separated communities of similar sizes with opposite views of the impeachment process. By means of simple spreading models, we show that the capability of users in propagating the content they produce, measured by the associated spreading capacity, strongly depends on their attitude. Users expressing pro-impeachment leanings are capable to transmit information, on average, to a larger audience than users expressing anti-impeachment leanings. Furthermore, the users’ spreading capacity is correlated to the diversity, in terms of political position, of the audience reached. Our method can be exploited to identify the presence of echo chambers and their effects across different contexts and shed light upon the mechanisms allowing to break echo chambers.
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Social Networking Site (SNS) is a great innovation of modern times. Facebook, Twitter etc. have become an everyday part of peoples' life. Among all SNSs, Facebook is the most popular social network all over the world. Bangladesh is no exception. People of Bangladesh use Facebook for social communication, online shopping, business, knowledge and experience sharing etc. As well as the various uses of SNSs, people sometimes find themselves involved in real life violence, provoked by some social media posts or activities. In this paper, we discussed some case studies in which real life violence is originated based on Facebook activities in Bangladesh. Facebook was used in these incidents intentionally or unintentionally mostly as a tool to trigger hatred and violence. We analyzed and discussed the real-world consequences of these virtual activities in social media. Lastly, we recommended possible future measurements to prevent such violence.
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Employing original, on-site EuroMaidan Protest-Participant Survey data collected by the author in Kyiv between November 26, 2013, and January 13, 2014, triangulated with interview, focus group, and documentary data, the article contextualizes who was the average EuroMaidan protester and what did they want? Yet, the main focus is on the question of how the protest participants were mobilized. Making a contribution to several ongoing debates regarding the micro-level foundations of protest, the article elucidates that while social media and internet news sites played an important role in diffusing information and framing protest claims, they are not in themselves mobilizing. The author argues that social media can compound and facilitate the role of pre-existing social network ties that are more influential in the mobilization process.
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We develop a novel visual model which can recognize protesters, describe their activities by visual attributes and estimate the level of perceived violence in an image. Studies of social media and protests use natural language processing to track how individuals use hashtags and links, often with a focus on those items' diffusion. These approaches, however, may not be effective in fully characterizing actual real-world protests (e.g., violent or peaceful) or estimating the demographics of participants (e.g., age, gender, and race) and their emotions. Our system characterizes protests along these dimensions. We have collected geotagged tweets and their images from 2013-2017 and analyzed multiple major protest events in that period. A multi-task convolutional neural network is employed in order to automatically classify the presence of protesters in an image and predict its visual attributes, perceived violence and exhibited emotions. We also release the UCLA Protest Image Dataset, our novel dataset of 40,764 images (11,659 protest images and hard negatives) with various annotations of visual attributes and sentiments. Using this dataset, we train our model and demonstrate its effectiveness. We also present experimental results from various analysis on geotagged image data in several prevalent protest events. Our dataset will be made accessible at
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This study explores the geographic dependencies of echo-chamber communication on Twitter during the Brexit referendum campaign. We review the literature on filter bubbles, echo chambers, and polarization to test five hypotheses positing that echo-chamber communication is associated with homophily in the physical world, chiefly the geographic proximity between users advocating sides of the campaign. The results support the hypothesis that echo chambers in the Leave campaign are associated with geographic propinquity, whereas in the Remain campaign the reverse relationship was found. This study presents evidence that geographically proximate social enclaves interact with polarized political discussion where echo-chamber communication is observed. The article concludes with a discussion of these findings and the contribution to research on filter bubbles and echo chambers.
As seen in Wired and Time A revealing look at how negative biases against women of color are embedded in search engine results and algorithms Run a Google search for “black girls”—what will you find? “Big Booty” and other sexually explicit terms are likely to come up as top search terms. But, if you type in “white girls,” the results are radically different. The suggested porn sites and un-moderated discussions about “why black women are so sassy” or “why black women are so angry” presents a disturbing portrait of black womanhood in modern society. In Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble challenges the idea that search engines like Google offer an equal playing field for all forms of ideas, identities, and activities. Data discrimination is a real social problem; Noble argues that the combination of private interests in promoting certain sites, along with the monopoly status of a relatively small number of Internet search engines, leads to a biased set of search algorithms that privilege whiteness and discriminate against people of color, specifically women of color. Through an analysis of textual and media searches as well as extensive research on paid online advertising, Noble exposes a culture of racism and sexism in the way discoverability is created online. As search engines and their related companies grow in importance—operating as a source for email, a major vehicle for primary and secondary school learning, and beyond—understanding and reversing these disquieting trends and discriminatory practices is of utmost importance. An original, surprising and, at times, disturbing account of bias on the internet, Algorithms of Oppression contributes to our understanding of how racism is created, maintained, and disseminated in the 21st century.
Recent years have seen growing concern over the use of cyber attacks in wartime, but little evidence that these new tools of coercion can change battlefield events. We present the first quantitative analysis of the relationship between cyber activities and physical violence during war. Using new event data from the armed conflict in Ukraine—and additional data from Syria’s civil war—we analyze the dynamics of cyber attacks and find that such activities have had little or no impact on fighting. In Ukraine—one of the first armed conflicts where both sides deployed such tools extensively—cyber activities failed to compel discernible changes in battlefield behavior. Indeed, hackers on both sides have had difficulty responding to battlefield events, much less shaping them. An analysis of conflict dynamics in Syria produces similar results: the timing of cyber actions is independent of fighting on the ground. Our finding—that cyber attacks are not (yet) effective as tools of coercion in war—has potentially significant implications for other armed conflicts with a digital front.
The role of the Internet in contemporary violent conflicts is receiving increasing scholarly attention. In this article, I review some of the pioneering studies that investigate how the emergence and penetration of modern communication technology across the world influences violent conflicts. Building on these important findings, I propose four entry points for future research. First, research on the link between the Internet and violent conflict needs to account for the profound changes the Internet has undergone in past decades, as well as the extent to which its nature is becoming increasingly endogenous to local contexts. Second, little is currently known about the effects of communication technology in violent conflict that move beyond initial mobilization. Third, architectural and algorithmic designs of social media platforms heavily influence the possibilities and constraints of human interactions on the Internet, but to date remain understudied. Fourth, further studies are needed to understand how the Internet has changed how violent conflict is communicated and portrayed both online and offline.