social media

How can social media contribute to counter-terror operations?

The Indian army’s counter-terror operation in Rajouri’s Kalakote, Jammu and Kashmir, resulted in the deaths of five soldiers, including two young Indian army officers and a highly-trained ‘commander’ and his associate. The incident highlights the importance of Indian army leaders leading by example and the need for the Army to modify its tactics and planning. The use of social media platforms, particularly WhatsApp, during counter-terror operations has been a sensitive issue, with adverse consequences.

Social media is often used by terrorist outfits for recruitment and disinformation purposes. However, the use of social media by ordinary people during counter-terror operations can be counterproductive, especially during natural disasters. In the recent Kalakote incident, WhatsApp messages provided real-time, unofficial information about the ongoing gunfight between troops and terrorists, including unit names, locations, and casualties. These details were unofficial and against the norms of stealth and secrecy in tactical military operations.

Adverse fallouts from such messages during counter-terror operations can compromise operational security by revealing tactics and allowing proxies to deduce the operational plan of their forces. This real-time information allows terrorists to adapt their strategies, compromising the overall security of the operation. The Army will need to be cautious in using social media platforms during counter-terror operations to avoid negative consequences.

Social media (SM) updates can create panic among the public and hinder authorities’ ability to manage situations effectively. This can lead to exaggerated accounts of losses, inflaming passions and impacting the morale of security forces. The reaction of common people, who are oblivious to facts, may manifest in extreme contingencies, leading to anger from locals instigated by sympathizers of terrorists.

The proliferation of irresponsible messages on social media platforms like WhatsApp and X (formerly Twitter) negatively affects the families of soldiers involved in operations. As per military protocol, next of kin of a soldier is informed about the loss through proper channels, but information about demise through social media is not preferred by suffering families.

The risks of compromising security and jeopardizing operations due to irresponsible messaging during such events are highly problematic. The 26/11 Mumbai attacks demonstrated this trend, with terrorists continuously changing their actions after receiving status updates from real-time media coverage. The proliferation of messages on SM platforms like WhatsApp and X is more challenging to control.

The army has also been resorted to using SM platforms for routine functioning, mirroring civil society. The everyday functioning of military units is increasingly dependent on the reliance on Social Media (SM). To mitigate adverse fallouts, military planners should take information leaks through social media as the new normal and implement adequate measures to mitigate the adverse effects. Proactive steps should be planned to prevent information voids from being filled up by dis-information. Decentralizing the information management structure may help dilute the ill-effects of half-baked messages that swarm social media platforms during critical times when lives are at stake.