Defence and military practice increasingly incorporates media into the planning, delivery and management of strategic and tactical defence activities. This is evident in the evolving doctrine and philosophy of Strategic Communications through which defence actors attempt to harness, and mitigate against ‘Now Media’ – the term used to describe the effect of the media rather than its character. Social media in particular, by virtue of its immediacy, mobility, and networked capabilities, is positioned as having particular utility in this regard. Yet, simultaneously, there is recognition of ‘risk’ emanating from the use of social media platforms in Strategic Communications practice. This is articulated in a number of ways; the unpredictability of both users and information emerging through (and in) social media that can reconfigure public, political and institutional perceptions of defence activities on an ongoing basis; the ‘unknowability’ of users and their engagement (‘hostile’, ‘friendly’, target audiences and internal personnel) which can impact upon the ‘effect’ of the communication in terms of its viability and success; and the risks of social media engagement to operational, institutional and political security, and particularly for military personnel. Throughout the Strategic Communications’ philosophy and doctrine then – which, among other things, attempts to map the pervasiveness of digital technology with a pervasive strategy – are the inherent contradictions of opportunity and risk that characterize the ambiguity of the role of social media within (and beyond) the defence sector.
The D.U.N Project directly speaks to the foregrounding of these concerns and the uncertainty in defence as a result of rapid technological developments. Our main objective is to offer a comprehensive understanding of social media as both a tool for strategic communication and a tool for uncertainty. It will do this by interrogating the ways in which social is perceived, organized, managed and responded to by defence actors operating within the strategic environment. In short, in the context of evolving social media use in defence, the project asks what lessons have been learnt, and should be learnt, in order to avoid strategic surprise.
The D.U.N Project is funded by the ESRC and Dstl and is managed by: