Swense Tech

Best Solution For You

Social Media Is Impacting Military Performance And Changing The Nature Of War

The conflict in Ukraine truly is the “first social media war,” as it is the first time that nearly everyone on the ground can serve as a de facto war correspondent, and share their experiences from the frontlines. Social media is also changing the modern war experience not only for military personnel, but also for their families and even the world at large.

Col. John Spencer, U.S. Army (Retired), is the author of the forthcoming book, Connected Soldiers: Life, Leadership, and Social Connections in Modern Warfare, and he explained to this reporter that social media is also impacting military team performance.

As a combat veteran, who led a platoon of soldiers into battle and learned firsthand the importance of unit cohesion, Spencer said that just five years later social media had changed that dynamic. While social media platforms and apps, including FaceTime and Zoom can help soldiers stay connected to love ones, it has its pros and its cons.

“Like my experiences in Iraq in 2008, we are seeing platforms and apps like FaceTime, text, and Zoom connecting soldiers with their families daily and hourly,” said Col. Spencer. “Yes, having this ability to talk to loved ones helps morale. Soldiers, no matter their rank/years of experience are complex social organisms; they desire to talk to their loved ones, their children, wives, girlfriends, husbands.”

Yet, this ability to connect daily with family comes with its downsides.

“Because there is no divide in space or time between the soldier and their families, both the soldier and the family live in two worlds – the war and home,” Spencer continued. “The soldier has a foot in both worlds, fighting a war while also potentially receiving the stresses of home on a daily basis. The family experiences war, receiving sometimes real-time updates of the horrors of war, or at least updates unlike any other time in history – ‘don’t worry mom, I’m ok’ takes on a new meaning.”

Feelings Of Isolation Rather Than Connection

A late call, or a slow response just causes worry for both the soldiers and the families. Likewise, while talking to the family can still be a good thing, another drawback is that it may hurt the connection with others who are deployed.

“A major possible downside is the more time the soldier spends updating their loved ones away from the frontlines, the less time they are spending with their fellow soldiers, bonding, forming cohesion and coping with their shared experiences,” Spencer noted.

Likewise, those who aren’t able to have those connections with family could possibly harbor resentment. This could be far worse than not getting a letter at mail call. Being the one who isn’t constantly on social media or Zooming with loved ones could even cause isolation.

Loose Lips In The 21st Century

During the Second World War, the United States military took secrecy very seriously – thus it was common to see propaganda posters that warned, “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” but in the day of social media, it is far too easy to over share. That can put warfighters in harm’s way.

“Ukraine is showing that important operation security aspect of having a cell phone or posting videos and messages to social media like Facebook, Telegram, etc. Both Russians and Ukrainians have seen soldiers killed for using social media, often because the signal of the cellphone used to post it was intercepted and fired on,” warned Spencer.

How The War Is Experienced

Another way that social media can change the military experience is that everyone on the ground is now a battlefield reporter.

“The Ukraine war has furthered past evolutions of the wars people at home can see on TV,” said Spencer. “Now people around the world can watch live feeds in combat zones. See videos or photos of battle days before it is reported on news channels. This impacts all three populations – the military, the politicians, and the populations – involved in a war and impacts local, regional, and global perceptions, support, and non-support to military actions.”

It may be increasingly impossible for information to be contained. Russia found that out almost immediately as reports were posted, and trended on social media. It has tried to suggest that the war is going as planned, but the photos of destroyed tanks posted on Twitter and Instagram certainly tell another side. For now, it may be able to control the message back in Russia, but throughout the world social media is providing a near real time report from the ground.

“One of the lessons from the war in Ukraine about social media is that there is no control of information. Russia tried that and failed,” added Spencer. “Militaries and governments will have to fight wars, beyond the ‘TikTok’ war concept, in the full view of the world.”