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Big Tech and the Futures of Conflict

There has been an understandable amount of discussion in the past two weeks about the role that social media and big tech are playing in the war in Ukraine. People have been discussing everything from whether or not this is the first “tik tok” war to how tech companies will shape future warfare.

Technology in the hands of individuals is clearly playing various roles in the conflict today. And the social media platforms are playing the more central role they have increasingly had in armed conflicts since before the Arab Spring. So, yes, these technologies and applications will impact future war, yet it is unlikely to be a universal change.

Particularly in the case of the big tech companies, yes, they can play roles we like in a given conflict… if it suits their leadership at the time. How these platform companies respond to conflict and the roles they decide to take will vary based on the conflict. In our contemporary landscape, with our complex interdependencies and power dynamics, this is a very important point when considering the futures of conflict.

As a quick thought exercise, what position do we think these same companies would take if the CCP chose to invade Taiwan? What about in the event of a vicious, but underreported (in the US) proxy war between major powers that plays out in South America?

Right now, with the invasion of Ukraine we see a variety of potentially important new characteristics of future conflict playing out. It is best to think of all these characteristics not as future constants of warfare, and rather as elements of a broadening array of tools, tactics, and strategies that future actors will have to call upon to pursue their conflicting goals.

While certain constants of human warfare appear to be holding constant in Ukraine (things still come down to people on the ground with guns, logistics and training still matter, fighting spirit still matters, etc…), we anticipate that conflicts in the future will be more diversified in the make up of their participants, tactics, and global impacts.

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