“Social Media, Violence, Conflict, and War,” Encyclopedia of Technology & Politics, Forthcoming.
This piece presents an overview of recent publications on social media and its uses by belligerants.
“How Foreign Information Campaigns Shape US Public Pronouncements About Civil Wars” with Benjamin T. Jones, Journal of Peace Research, Journal of Peace Research, 60.5 (2023): 839-852. DOI: 10.1177/00223433221095887
Abstract: Governments involved in civil wars often seek to shape foreign perceptions of the conﬂict and of the government’s role in the conﬂict. To this end, for example, many such governments have engaged in public diplomacy campaigns (PDCs) in the United States since the end of the Cold War. Speciﬁcally, these governments have hired US PR ﬁrms to present favorable narratives of themselves and their role in the conﬂict, so as to shape US public pronouncements about the governments and the conﬂict itself. Are PDCs effective tools to reach this goal? We argue that the effect of PDCs is divergent. PDCs help mobilize both supporters and opponents of the sponsoring governments, increasing both positive and negative public statements from US ofﬁcials toward the government. We compile data on PDCs in the US after the end of the Cold War. Our results have implications for research on foreign inﬂuence in foreign policy, combatants’ moral hazard, and international norms about combatant behavior.
“Atomic Ambiguity: Event Data Evidence on Latency and Cooperation” with Rupal N. Mehta and Rachel Elizabeth Whitlark, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 66.2 (2022): 272--96. DOI: 10.1177/00220027211036926
Abstract: How does dual-use technology influence cooperation? This study explores how the development of nuclear latency (the technological precursors to nuclear weapons) affects U.S. cooperative overtures toward its possessors. We argue that the ambiguous nature of nuclear latency creates uncertainty about the intentions of its possessors and impacts cooperation. Using event data, we find that a state’s possession of overt lab-scale enrichment and reprocessing facilities is significantly correlated with greater cooperative overtures from the United States toward that country. These overtures may serve as effective tools to counter nuclear proliferation among these states. Yet, when latent states engage in a concerted effort to keep their facilities secret, both at the lab and a more advanced ‘pilot’ stage, this relationship is reversed. These results carry important implications for the impact of emerging, dual-use technologies on international security broadly.
“How Issue Salience Shapes Global Policy Choices,” Global Studies Quarterly, 1.3 (2021): 1--12. DOI: 10.1093/isagsq/ksab026
Abstract: What prompts countries to pursue their objectives on the international arena by simultaneously employing both “carrots and sticks”? Research has shown when and why countries abandon one policy instrument in favor of another. But we know less about when countries decide instead to combine multiple tools at once, thus diversifying their policy portfolio. Focusing on nuclear issues, I posit that nuclear issue salience increases the appeal of diversifying the counterproliferation portfolio by pushing nuclear issues closer to the top of the political agenda and stoking fear. The article tests this theoretical statement leveraging original data. Results suggest that the decision to combine different policies responds less to international strategic considerations than previously thought. In showing the role that domestic contingencies play, these results highlight the challenges countries might face trying to sustain strategies combining carrots and sticks over time. In so doing, these results raise questions on the implications of such unintentional fickleness for both these policies’ actual outcomes and countries’ credibility in international politics.
“Restoring Legitimacy: Public Diplomacy Campaigns During Civil Wars” with Benjamin T. Jones, International Studies Quarterly, 64.4 (2020): 739--61. DOI: 10.1093/isq/sqaa065
Abstract: Governments involved in civil wars often gain a strategic advantage from intentionally killing civilians. However, targeting civilians might also tarnish perceptions of the government’s legitimacy abroad, increasing the risk of foreign actors punishing the government. How can governments attempt to navigate this dilemma? Focusing on the United States as one of the most frequent interveners in civil wars after the Cold War, we examine one particular strategy governments might employ: public diplomacy campaigns (PDCs) targeting both the public and elites in the United States. PDCs can help governments restore perceptions of their legitimacy abroad in the face of civilian targeting by mobilizing coalitions of support and undermining critics. When governments can achieve plausible deniability for civilian deaths via militias, PDCs enable governments to reduce the damage to foreign perceptions of their legitimacy. When rebels engage in civilian targeting, PDCs allow governments to publicize these actions. We compile data PDCs in the United States by governments engaged in civil wars. Our results have important implications for current understandings of civil war combatant foreign policies, foreign interventions, and international human rights laws and norms.
“A Manifesto, in 140 Characters or Fewer: Social Media as a Tool of Rebel Diplomacy in the Libyan Civil War” with Benjamin T. Jones, British Journal of Political Science, 49.2 (2019): 739--61. DOI: 10.1017/S0007123416000612
Abstract: Can rebel organizations in a civil conflict use social media to garner international support? This article argues that the use of social media is a unique form of public diplomacy through which rebels project a favorable image to gain that support. It analyzes the Libyan civil war, during which rebels invested considerable resources in diplomatic efforts to gain US support. The study entails collecting original data, and finds that rebel public diplomacy via Twitter increases co-operation with the rebels when their message (1) clarifies the type of regime they intend to create and (2) emphasizes the atrocities perpetrated by the government. Providing rebels with an important tool of image projection, social media can affect dynamics in an ever more connected international arena.
“Keeping Vigil: The Emergence of Vigilance Committees in Pre-Civil War America" with Jonathan M. Obert, Perspectives on Politics, 16.3 (2018): 600--16. DOI: 10.1017/S153759271800107X
Abstract: What explains the emergence of organized private enforcement in the United States? We study the formation of vigilance committees—that is, coercive groups organized in a manner not officially sanctioned by state law and with the purpose of establishing legal and moral claims. We argue that these committees were primarily intended to help create civic political identities in contexts of social ambiguity and institutional instability, what we call social frontiers. Relying on quantitative and qualitative analysis, we find that these committees were more likely to form in contexts where levels of ethno-nationalist heterogeneity were high and where political institutions had recently changed. Contrary to common wisdom, vigilance committees were much more than functionalist alternatives to an absent state, or local orders established by bargaining, or responses to social or economic conflict. They constituted flexible instruments to counteract environments characterized by social and political uncertainty.
“Food Scarcity and State Vulnerability: Unpacking the Link Between Climate Variability and Violent Unrest” with Bear F. Braumoeller and Benjamin T. Jones, Journal of Peace Research, 54.3 (2017): 335--50. DOI: 10.1177/0022343316684662
Abstract: Increased scholarly focus on climate variability and its implications has given rise to a substantial literature on the relationship between climate-induced food insecurity and violent conflict. In this article, we theorize this relationship as contingent on the institutional and structural vulnerability of the state. States’ institutional and structural capabilities and constraints – such as the strength of the agricultural sector and domestic regime type – influence the probability that climate-induced food insecurity will translate into conflict, because they determine the degree to which countries are able to successfully address insecurity. We estimate the effect of food insecurity and state vulnerability on the occurrence of violent uprisings in Africa for the years 1991–2011. We find that these effects are interactive, with state vulnerability moderating the impact of food insecurity on the likelihood of violence. We also find that capable governance is an even better guarantor of peace than good weather. We conclude that a two-pronged approach that both combats the impact of climate variability on food insecurity and strengthens government institutions would be a much more effective strategy for preventing violent uprisings than either policy would be in isolation.
“(Nuclear) Change of Plans: What Explains Nuclear Reversals?” with Benjamin T. Jones, International Interactions, 42.3 (2016): 530--85. DOI: 10.1080/03050629.2016.1115760
Abstract: What explains a state’s decision to give up its nuclear weapons program? While instances of nuclear reversal figure prominently in international politics, evidence in the literature has been largely piecemeal. We offer a novel conceptualization of the proliferation process as nonlinear, potentially including instances of reversal, as well as pursuit of a nuclear program and acquisition of nuclear weapons. Employing this theoretical framework, we consider states’ cost-benefit calculations in each phase of the proliferation process, and we test our theory using a multi-state model. Two counterintuitive findings emerge from this framework. First, nuclear latency increases the likelihood of pursuit and acquisition but also increases the likelihood of reversal by reducing the costs of restarting a program in the future. Second, the nonproliferation regime discourages states without a nuclear program from pursuing and acquiring nuclear weapons while at the same time making states with nuclear programs less likely to reverse course.