Social media can 'tip the balance' in conflicts, UAE expert warns

UAE-based professor, Dr Jean-Marc Rickli, warns of the impact of social media on politics and conflicts and says it is something governments cannot ignore.

Powered by automated translation

DUBAI // Social media is becoming an inherent part of international conflict and cyber security, according to a UAE expert.

The impact of people's online interactions on global security and the so-called information war was highlighted at the GCC Government Social Media Summit last week by an expert from Abu Dhabi's Khalifa University.

Dr Jean-Marc Rickli, assistant professor at the university's Institute for International and Civil Security, said expressing political ideas and exposing scandal and wrongdoing was helping to shape the course of conflict.

This widespread, or "viral", dissemination of information is something governments cannot ignore, particularly in times of conflict or crisis, Dr Rickli warned.

"Sometimes individuals can post things that go viral and this can completely tip the balance, but it is impossible to know what things will be picked up in this way," he said.

Dr Rickli believes that given the amount of information posted online every day, social media has become a powerful tool to shape perceptions and define values.

Social media is said to have a "multiplier effect" on the spread of information, meaning a particular piece of media can be quickly spread to millions regardless of their location.

This connectivity not only allows for positive interactions, but also poses a threat to governments, institutions and the individuals it targets if the ideas expressed are conflicting or malicious, Dr Rickli explained.

"The most important impact of social media on international security is that a single individual can have a strategic effect over the course of a conflict," he said.

Dr Rickli cited as an example the pictures of torture being carried out by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib during the war in Iraq, which were released on social media and in the press.

"These pictures completely undermined the legitimacy of the American war effort," he said.

Dr Rickli also highlighted the importance of the revelations about the US surveillance programme, PRISM. Information was leaked to the mainstream media exposing a widespread online spying network set up by US intelligence agencies.

"What PRISM revealed was that with many of us being constantly connected online, the technology and the intention exist to track individuals' movements and monitor not just our online lives, but our physical whereabouts or confidential information," Dr Rickli said.

"The only person immune to this would be a caveman, someone completely unconnected to the online world who leaves no digital print."