Cover: PLA Social Media Warfare and the Cognitive Domain

PLA Social Media Warfare and the Cognitive Domain

Published in: China Brief, Volume 23, Issue 16, pages 9-16 (2023)

Posted on rand.org Feb 2, 2024

by Jackson Smith, Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has come to recognize the important role of social media in modern conflict and peacetime operations. As such, PLA researchers have begun using the term "social media warfare" (社交媒体战) to describe the extension of non-kinetic military activities onto social media by two or more opposing sides. This term is part of an ongoing conceptual expansion of the scope of warfare in Chinese military thought in which social media is viewed as another space for conflict and not just another channel for distributing propaganda. While the term "social media warfare" does not represent PLA doctrine, its emergence does indicate that the Chinese military finds these activities important enough to raise awareness of them amongst its rank and file. Together with other evidence, this suggests the PLA is working to better incorporate social media into its operations. This article provides an overview of PLA thinking on social media warfare, including its emergence in PLA literature, its theoretical basis, and PLA lessons derived from observations of foreign examples of social media's role in modern warfare. This article does not seek to provide a comprehensive review of PLA thinking about social media's role in military operations, but outlines one part of this conceptual view.

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