As the war in Ukraine has become the “first social-media war”, nearly every person on the ground is able to act as a correspondent and post their stories from the frontlines. Not only is social media changing modern warfare experience for military personnel but their families, and the entire world.
Col. John Spencer of the U.S. Army (Retired) is the author. Modern Warfare: Connected Soldiers: Leadership, Life and Social ConnectionsHe explained that the impact of social media on military teams is being felt to this reporter.
Spencer, a veteran of combat, was able to lead a platoon with soldiers into battle, and learn firsthand how important unit cohesion is. He said that social media changed this dynamic just five years after. Although social media apps and platforms like FaceTime, Zoom, and Zoom are great for soldiers to stay in touch with loved ones, there are pros and cons.
Col. Spencer stated, “Like in Iraq, 2008, we’re seeing platforms like FaceTime and text as a way to connect soldiers and their families each day, hourly” It is true that it helps with morale to be able to speak to family members. No matter what rank or years of experience, soldiers are socially complex organisms. They want to communicate with their family members, including their wives and children.
But, it is not without its drawbacks.
“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. Spencer said that the soldier is able to have one foot in both of these worlds. He can fight in war, but also receive the stressors of home every day. 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.”
Anger and isolation are more common than connection.
Both the families and soldiers will be worried if they are not contacted promptly or when it is too late. Talking to your family is a great thing. However, it can also be detrimental to your connection with other deployed soldiers.
Spencer pointed out that there is a major downside to the fact that soldiers spend more time updating loved ones off the frontlines than they do with each other, which can result in less time spent bonding with fellow soldiers and cohesion, as well as coping with shared experiences.
Resentment can also arise from those who don’t have the ability to connect with their family. It could even be worse than receiving a mail call or not being able to get a letter. Isolation could be caused by being the person who doesn’t use social media regularly or Zooming with family members.
Lose 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. It can be dangerous for warfighters.
Ukraine has demonstrated the importance of having a mobile phone and posting messages on social media sites like Facebook, Telegram and Twitter. Russians and Ukrainians both have witnessed soldiers being killed because they used social media. Sometimes, it happened due to an intercepted signal on the phone that was posted. Spencer warned.
What the War is Like
One way social media has the potential to change military experiences is by making everyone on the ground a battlefield reporter.
Spencer stated that the Ukraine war “has advanced past evolutions in wars people can see on television,” Live feeds from the combat areas are now available to viewers around the globe. You can see photos and videos of combat scenes days before the news networks report it. 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.”
Sometimes it may prove difficult for information to remain contained. Russia quickly discovered that as soon as the reports came in and were trending on social media, it was. While Russia may have tried to pretend that all is well, photos posted by Instagram and Twitter of tank destruction clearly reveal a different side. While it might be able in Russia to keep the message under control, social media provides a nearly real time update from the ground.
One of the most important lessons learned from the conflict in Ukraine regarding social media was that information is not under control. Russia attempted it and failed,” Spencer said. “Militaries, governments, and other actors will need to wage wars in view of all the people and places around the globe, not just the TikTok concept.”