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2023 | Book

Critical Security Studies in the Digital Age

Social Media and Security

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About this book

This book demonstrates that the disciplinary boundaries present within international relations approaches to security studies are redundant when examining social media, and inter- and multi-disciplinary analysis is key. A key result of the analysis undertaken is that when examining the social media sphere security scholars need to “expect the unexpected”. This is because social media enables users to subvert, contest and create security narratives with symbols and idioms of their choice which can take into account “traditional” security themes, but also unexpected and under explored themes such as narratives from the local context of the users’ towns and cities, and the symbolism of football clubs. The book also explores the complex topography of social media when considering constructions of security. The highly dynamic topography of social media is neither elite dominated and hierarchical as the Copenhagen School conceptualises security speak. However, neither is it completely flat and egalitarian as suggested by the vernacular security studies’ non-elite approach. Rather, social media’s topography is shifting and dynamic, with individuals gaining influence in security debates in unpredictable ways. In examining social media this book engages with the emancipatory burden of critical security studies. This book argues that it remains unfulfilled on social media and rather presents a “thin” notion of discursive emancipation where social media does provide the ability for previously excluded voices to participate in security debates, even if this does not result in their direct emancipation from power hierarchies and structures offline.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter
Chapter 1. Introduction to Social Media and Critical Security Studies in the Digital Age
Abstract
This chapter introduces the key debates about critical security studies and social media that will frame the discussions in the rest of this book. Key in this is challenging simplistic and unidirectional assumptions about social media and its role in the sphere of politics and security. To do this, this introduction sets out three key assumptions that underpin the rest of this book. The first takes up the call within critical security studies to shatter disciplinary boundaries when we examine security in the unregulated space of social media. Secondly, related to this expansion of disciplines, scholars need to “expect the unexpected” when examining security on social media as the range of idioms, symbols, narratives and ideas used to re-frame, subvert and contest security on social media is breath-taking. Thirdly, scholars also need to be aware of the fickle nature of social media, and the constantly changeable nature of platforms, data sources and locations of security on social media which requires significant and ongoing methods and methodological innovations. Fourthly, the emancipatory burden of critical theory, and by extension critical security studies, weighs heavily also on broader discussions of social media’s political potential. The results are extremely mixed, with social media being enmeshed in relations of control, commodification and emancipation. This book argues that social media offers only a “thin” form of discursive emancipation, where it gives previously unheard voices a platform, but the potential of this to change power relations in the “real world” are unclear.
Joseph Downing
Chapter 2. Conceptualising Social Media and Critical Security Studies in the Digital Age
Abstract
This chapter sets out with an ambitious goal—to situate a discussion of social media and critical security studies in its broader conceptual and theoretical context. A key take-home is that the critical turn in security studies has a lot of gain from an increased focus on social media. The deeply hierarchical Copenhagen school’s notion of elite actors being those that can, and do, securitise situations (Buzan and Wæver in Review of International Studies 23:241–250, 1997) needs significantly revisiting if we are to take account of both the greater range of voices taking part in security debates on social media, and indeed how, if and when security elites use social media to deploy this kind of security speak. The Welsh school, with its focus on emancipation (Wyn Jones 1999), did not consider the possibilities for both progress and impediment made possible for “discursive emancipation” by social media platforms. The Paris school has insights as it argues for the broadening of the field and the destruction of disciplinary which specifically argues for the incorporation of criminology and sociology into the security studies lexicon. The vernacular security studies (Bubandt in Security Dialogue 36:275–296, 2005; Jarvis in International Studies Review 21:107–126, 2019; Jarvis and Lister in International Relations 27:158–179, 2012) agenda aims to take account for the ever multiplying range of security speak “from below” that their exciting theoretical work entails. The same can be said for the daunting possibilities that critical terrorism studies (Jackson in European consortium for political research) opens up for understanding the constructions of terrorism on social media. However, examining the literature on critical security studies only takes this book so far, and it is also required to examine the plethora of excellent work on a range of technology and security intersections from other disciplines, such as information systems and criminology. While the relationship of technology and security goes back to antiquity, the growth of hacking and cybercrime (Alexandrou in Cybercrime and information technology: The computer network infrastructure and computer security, cybersecurity laws, Internet of things (IoT), and mobile devices. CRC Press, 2021) are also important areas that have received, and no doubt deserve to receive, only ever more and more attention from a range of security scholars because of their enormous range of applications.
Joseph Downing
Chapter 3. Social Media, Digital Methods and Critical Security Studies
Abstract
This chapter has two main parts. The first part of this chapter delves into the intersection between methods, methodologies, critical security studies and social media analysis. This is a large undertaking that undoubtedly warrants more attention as time passes, critical security studies advances, social media continues to proliferate and new social and political events unfold. As such, while international relations and critical security studies have made significant strides in recent decades to not only diversify methods and approaches within a highly conservative discipline such as international relations, much more needs to be done to recognise that social media studies, communications technology-based methods “count” (Aradau, Huysmans et al. in Critical security methods: New frameworks for analysis, Routledge, 2015) as valuable research subjects. However, approaching social media analysis is far from simple. The populations sampled are highly unrepresentative and the enduring “digital divides” (Ali in Harvard Human Rights Journal 24:185–220, 2011; Cullen in Online Information Review 25:311–320, 2001; Dijk in Poetics 34:221–235, 2006) present some specific questions for critical security studies and its much troubled “emancipatory” commitments and potential. This chapter also seeks to shed some light on the changeable and vexing question of data access as much important and insightful data that could shed important lights into evolving areas of security on social media are off limits to researchers, or disappear before they can be captured. The second part of this chapter sets out some methodological notes on the operationalisation of some key methods for examining critical security questions with a range of digital methods. Many of these are results of the to and fro “methodological “bricolage” (Aradau, Huysmans et al. in Critical security methods: New frameworks for analysis, Routledge, 2015) familiar to critical security studies where methods require experimentation and re-balancing to better tailor them to specific critical security questions. This examines social network analysis, netnographic approaches and the intersection of social media and the discursive turn in security studies, including the application of thematic analysis to critical security questions. None of this, however, should be interpreted as the final word on digital methods and critical security as the ever-increasing range of platforms, approaches and intersections of security and technology will require scholars to constantly work to develop their own method and methodological approaches.
Joseph Downing
Chapter 4. Social Media, Security and Terrorism in the Digital Age
Abstract
This chapter examines the question of critical approaches to terrorism and social media, literature on terrorism and social media. The work on the electronic jihad (Laytouss, 2021; Prothero, 2019) and right wing extremists (Davey & Weinberg, 2021) is vital in substantiating the importance of social media platforms in questions of terrorism. However, there is much further to go especially in the light of the critical terrorism studies’ approach that has emerged in the last decade (Gunning, 2007; Herring, 2008; Jackson et al., 2007). This is especially true of the critical terrorism that considers the leaching of “terrorism” into many aspects of daily life (Breen Smyth et al., 2008). Of particular interest from the constructivist perspective for social media are the observations that terrorism has become the subject of a range of popular culture products, including TV shows (Erickson, 2008; Holland, 2011) and comic books (Veloso & Bateman, 2013). Thus, terrorism becomes a broader cultural artefact that blends in with a range of other themes and questions that go far beyond the obvious questions of counter terrorism. To further this work, however, requires taking seriously the integration of sociological approaches into security studies advocated by the Paris school (Bigo & McCluskey, 2018).
The two examples used here are of Twitter responses to a threat to attack Marseille, and in the wake of the Manchester bombings both offers insights into the range of various ways the local context can play a role in constructions of terrorism, and indeed a role in resisting discourses of terrorism. In the case of Marseille, city landmarks, as well as the crime and violence within the city, were themes used by social media users to resist the ISIS threat to the city. In Manchester, a different process occurred where social media users used the local context, its Muslim residents and their acts of kindness in the aftermath of the bombing to resist narratives around Muslims in the UK being synonymous with terrorism. Additionally, in both contexts sport, and in particular football, featured in different ways in these discourses of resistance. In Marseille, as well as the themes of the local city landmarks and crime being subverted, so were the themes and discussions of the local football team. In Manchester, the team’s symbols were not used per se, but a team fan account on Twitter was central in spreading narratives about Muslims being important in helping in the aftermath of the attack.
Joseph Downing
Chapter 5. Social Media and Vernacular Security in the Digital Age
Abstract
This chapter has set out to contribute to one of the most exciting developments in the critical security studies field in recent years—the emergence of vernacular security studies that seeks to give voice to the experiences and constructions of security to those who inhabit non-elite. The vernacular studies open commitment to theoretical “emptiness” (Jarvis in Int Stud Rev 21(1):107–126, 2019, p. 110) “allows for greater fidelity to the diversity of everyday stories” (Jarvis in Int Stud Rev 21(1):107–126, 2019, p. 110) and thus offers significant potential to offer a way to examine the plurality of articulations of security on social media.
Joseph Downing
Chapter 6. Social Media, Security and Democracy in the Digital Age
Abstract
This chapter questions the relationship of critical security studies and security through the prism of democracy. It does this by examining two examples from the French presidential election of 2017 that demonstrate the complicated relationship between social media, democracy and security and the unexpected ways that these are constructed online. Both of these examples are also hashtag campaigns and thus bring the dimension of hashtags that enable users to index their posts and connect them to broader debates on social media. The first example #MacronLeaks seeks to push analysis of this classic “hack and leak” operation further than examining the contents of the leak but by examining the broader construction of the leak on social media. The coverage on Twitter is dominated by anti-Macron sentiment that delves into anti-semitic conspiracy theories, connecting Macron to terrorism and the “Islamisation” of France and refuting Russian involvement in the leak. This demonstrates that the critical discursive turn in the security studies enables us to go furthering in examining how the social media environment can construct democracies, and indeed direct threats to them, in connection with other key themes in contemporary security and politics, like conspiracy theories and terrorism.
Joseph Downing
Chapter 7. Social Media, Security and Identity in the Digital Age
Abstract
This chapter examines social media and critical security studies in tandem with examining questions about identity. Identity was highlighted as a key area that required attention in the post-Cold War area as identity-based conflicts emerged onto the political scene. However, since then identity concerns have mushroomed and social media has become a key area where they are discussed, contested and subvert, such as with the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. This chapter examines these questions through the prism of two specifically security-related examples. The first example examines the #JeSuisAhmed hashtag and specifically how within it French national identity and its relationship to Muslims is contested on social media. As such, Ahmed dying as a responder to the Charlie Hebdo shooting was covered on social media as an example of Muslims laying down their lives for the values of the French republic, and that Muslims died in the service of France as a defender of the free speech values. The second example examines that security debates become internationalised on social media, interconnected with discussions of Muslim identity and its broader place in the global context. The two examples, Twitter responses to the Grenfell tower fire and the Manchester Arena bombing, also demonstrate that at any given time, users can become “security elites” within particular debates, but in fleeting and ephemeral ways.
Joseph Downing
Chapter 8. Conclusions on Social Media and Critical Security Studies in a Digital Age
Abstract
Concluding on social media and security seems premature as the field is likely only going to grow and mutate in the coming years. However, some initial reflections are possible. In particular, the need to challenge disciplinary boundaries, to expect the unexpected, and take account of the undulating topography of social media have helped to highlight how diverse security is on social media. Added to this, the chapters in this book have shed light on a, although limited, aspect of “discursive emancipation” where social media clearly does give voice on security questions to users that previously would have been excluded from security discussions. The range of actors that have been shown to have been influential in security debates in this book is important, from a football YouTuber to a pop music fan and individuals thousands of miles away from the UK who shape British security debates on Twitter. Additionally, this book has demonstrated the paradoxical and unexpected narratives, discourses and symbols that emerge to subvert, challenge and construct security debates on social media. These have included the use of football songs to contest ISIS security threats, many local themes of urban identity intertwined with local and international security concerns and a range of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. As such, the important work to come from future scholars would do well to maintain an open mind and entertain a wide range of viewpoints and articulations of security in the digital age.
Joseph Downing
Backmatter
Metadata
Title
Critical Security Studies in the Digital Age
Author
Joseph Downing
Copyright Year
2023
Electronic ISBN
978-3-031-20734-1
Print ISBN
978-3-031-20733-4
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-20734-1

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