Salience of Social Media in Hybrid Ops – Col Dheeraj Kumar, Senior Research Fellow

Future battle space would be extremely complex, multi-dimensional, and non-traditional in both kinetic and non-kinetic form. Based on the study of recent conflicts, it may be inferred that future competitions and conflicts would occur in ‘VUCA Environment’ encompassing exploitation of myriad instruments of power to wrest control over the battle space and attain competitive edge over the adversaries. In the contemporary scenario, the world has witnessed involvement of all types of instruments of power and state & non-state actors in Ukraine-Russia conflict racing to seize physical, cognitive, economical and cyber battle spaces in a hybrid environment. In Indian context, the security establishments have been contesting the adversarial forces prosecuting their nefarious designs in kinetic and non-kinetic domains. Thus, the emerging scenario merits that Security Forces align their tactics & strategies to changing character of modern warfare i.e. Hybrid Warfare. Some common tools and tactics of hybrid warfare include Information operations, Cyber-attacks, Political Subversion, Conventional military actions, proxy forces, and economic & political subversion. Recent trends have revealed social media being exploited extensively to further the objectives of hybrid wars. Evidently, owing to its wider access, affordability and ambiguous nature, the social media emerges as an effective tool which would have relevance in all stages of hybrid conflict scenario. Social Media has proved to be a powerful tool in modern-day warfare, to spread propaganda, disinformation and manipulate public opinion so as to destabilize societies. The major incidents include 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, Arab Spring revolution of 2010, Yemen Crisis, Doklam Standoff in 2017, Ukraine Crisis and US Presidential Election of 2016. It is imperative to undertake a holistic study to assess the potential of social media as an effective tool under the ambit of hybrid operations to shape the opinion of target population and achieve the operational objectives. This research aims to discern the emerging trends of exploitation of social media in perception management, narrative building & influencing the decision making of stake holders and recommend measures to counter threats posed by social media to national security in hybrid threat scenario.