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Social Media and Conflict Escalation

Can a tweet start a nuclear war?

President Trump’s use of Twitter has garnered attention in media and public consciousness about the potential threats from social media. Scholarship on escalation can offer insights into how social media might impact crisis dynamics. While it is assumed social media will play an escalatory role, there may also be opportunities for it to provide transparency during a crisis and communicate with a wider audience. The CSSS research team was one of the first to address these questions, drawing on expertise from Sir Lawrence Freedman on escalation theory, and continues to explore the implications of social media on escalation, potentially to nuclear use. This research will result in a policy paper for a Department of Defense Study, a book chapter, and a journal article framing questions about social media and escalation. 

Additionally, the CSSS research team has developed one of the first “Twitter wargames” to test the impact of social media during crises. The original game design allows for testing for different variables, such as the timing, ambiguity, and author of tweets. Multiple iterations of the Twitter wargame will be played with different groups to generate original data on the impact of social media during crises. The results of these wargames will contribute to a policy paper and numerous government briefings in order to help policymakers evaluate the impact of social media on escalation and signalling, especially during crises.

Project: Twitter Escalation

This research project seeks to answer an increasingly prominent and important question – how does social media influence the dynamics of conflict escalation between nation states? By engaging in innovative, data-driven research on a chosen platform (Twitter) and its impact on a series of case studies, CSSS is providing effective, workable policy advice to governments while contributing to the academic discourse. The data also informs an original and innovative Twitter wargame to observe the impact of social media messaging during crises across multiple actors.

Twitter Escalation

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