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.
The project aims to answer some of the fundamental questions regarding the impact of social media, a new means of political communication, on the dynamics of conflict escalation. The most obvious of these questions, and the starting point for this research; can twitter cause an international conflict?
In order to examine this question, several other assumptions need to be tested and concepts defined. The project tests concepts in order to allow an accurate assessment of the role that social media might play in shaping the pathways to international conflict. Further, the Twitter wargame allows for the testing of these concepts and the examination of the problems and risks posed to political decision-makers using social media for signaling or political communication leading up to and during crises.
This project contributes to both academic understandings of an emerging and little understood facet of modern escalation dynamics and to policymakers seeking to understand the benefits and risks posed by the usage of social media as a communications platform. For academics, this project portfolio will fill in gaps of understanding that previously have been based on assumptions or expectations with little direct research. Its use of both data analysis and simulation will provide testable conclusions and inform further research on this area. The policy recommendations generated by these two conjoined projects will allow political actors to control for escalation risks that previously will have gone unnoticed, preventing or at least minimizing the risks of unintentional escalation between interstate actors.
Workshops & Simulations
In May 2019, we held a one day workshop bringing together experts and practitioners from across a range of countries, from Estonia, to Russia, the United States, and China. This workshop delivered a series of panel presentations outlining current academic and policymaking thoughts regarding the role of social media within conflict scenarios.
In May 2019, we also ran the first of two simulations to test the impacts of social media and digital diplomacy on conflict escalation pathways. Three groups of Master's students took part in the first simulation. Each group was paired with expert facilitators from academia, industry, or politics to inform and lead discussion. This simulation was used to refine and further inform a follow-on simulation, held in May 2020.
Escalation by Tweet: Managing the New Nuclear Diplomacy (see full report in Outputs tab)
Can a tweet start a nuclear war? Or can Twitter de-escalate a crisis? This report explores the impact of Twitter on geopolitical crises from 2018 through 2020 and offers policy recommendations for the US Government. It demonstrates that the US is asymmetrically vulnerable to disinformation via Twitter and it could exacerbate various crisis scenarios.
Ultimately, mitigating the risks of Twitter requires pre-crisis planning, such as an inter-agency plan and building resilience to disinformation. During crises, leaders should refrain from tweeting and instead rely on coordinated messaging. In 280 characters or less: To manage escalation during crises, stop tweeting.
Funding Body: U.S. Department of Defense
Amount: $175,000 (USD) - Total funding with Carnegie Corporation
Period: September 2018 - April 2020
Funding Body: Carnegie Corporation of New York
Amount: Combined funding with U.S. DOD
Period: September 2018 - April 2020