The British Army Is Going to Start Fighting in the Social Media Trenches

A British soldier tracks cadets at the Royal Military Academy.

Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

With groups like ISIS using social media platforms for offensive tactics, the British army is building a dedicated unit, the 77th Brigade, to take charge of alternative digital warfare.

It’s not going to be a ragtag group of hackers, though. The Guardian reports that the army will begin recruiting 1,500 soldiers in April from both active and reserve duty, plus people with media and social media experience, like journalists. The goal is to craft narratives and spread specific information.

A spokesperson said that the “77th Brigade is being created to draw together a host of existing and developing capabilities essential to meet the challenges of modern conflict and warfare. It recognises that the actions of others in a modern battlefield can be affected in ways that are not necessarily violent.”

It’s a logical next step, and along with the British army, many countries are developing their own initiatives. The United States Army says on its website, “Social media is an integral part of Army and Department of Defense operations.”

Similarly, the Israeli Defense Forces have been experimenting with social media campaigns for years. Captain Eytan Buchman of Spokesperson’s Unit told Fast Company in 2012 that, “Initially, it was very grassroots inside the military. … [But] in the space of only a couple of years, it blossomed into a full-size branch with people who deal with all different forms of mediums—interactive mediums on a variety of platform and a variety of languages.”

The 77th Brigade is named in honor of a British World War II guerrilla force that fought the Japanese in Burma. It was a small unit, but used innovative and unusual methods under Major Gen. Orde Wingate to confuse Japanese commanders and achieve unexpected success. Social media may not seem very strange or novel anymore, but it’s still certainly an unpredictable element in warfare.