POINT OF VIEW
The rise of mobile broadband and advances in social media are reshaping how war is fought
Russian aggression against Ukraine is the first major interstate war of the smartphone era. New information and communication technologies are reshaping how the war is fought. The Russian government is fighting on three fronts: a kinetic war in Ukraine; a war within Russia, where antiwar protesters want to force Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw from Ukraine; and a war for global public opinion.
On all three, information technology matters. Within Ukraine, smartphones record both war crimes and movements of Russian troops. Within Russia, remaining social networks help organize protests and coordinate sending lawyers to support the detained. In the global information battleground, videos from both sides try to persuade third countries to accelerate or decelerate the delivery of weapons and to introduce (or help circumvent) unprecedented economic sanctions.
The idea that information and the lack of it matter in war is not new. In his posthumously published treatise On War, the famous military theorist Carl von Clausewitz emphasized the importance of the “fog of war.” War disrupts normal media reporting, greatly increasing uncertainty; thus, information that reduces—or augments—this uncertainty may substantially affect a war’s outcome.
While the importance of information for war has always been understood, the recent dramatic rise of mobile broadband internet and advances in social media have radically transformed how information is collected and disseminated. According to the International Telecommunications Union, in 2007 the world had only 0.04 active mobile broadband subscriptions per capita. In 2021, there were 0.83, 20 times …