This study analyzes the book published by Sarah Kreps in 2020 under the title Social Media and International Relations. It can be seen that the book in question describes with striking examples how social media can turn into a weapon of war in the hands of malicious actors and its different effects on countries according to regime differences. The book is considered to be an important resource for researchers who want to learn the power of social media in the field of international relations.
The book focuses on the use of social media as a social and political force, the use of social media as a tool of war, its disadvantages in democratic societies and its advantages in autocratic societies, its use as a tool of manipulation, and the desire of national governments to ensure digital sovereignty. In addition, the book is one of the rare and qualified studies in which social media, which constitutes a significant part of today’s popular culture, is examined in depth and with striking examples in the field of international relations.
In the first chapter, the author provides superficial but valuable information about the subject headings on the following pages in the introduction section and provides the reader with an excellent mental framework in the context of preparation.
In Chapter 2, the author outlines in general terms how media theoretically function in democratic markets of ideas and points out how social media differ from traditional media in terms of quantity and quality. The author describes social media, its scale, how it works, and the forms of contrast with traditional media and its role in providing news. In addition, the author presents the findings of the study to the reader as evidence, claiming that the two largest social media organizations that Americans use as news sources are YouTube and Facebook.
Chapter 3 outlines the mechanisms through which social media can be used as a weapon of war and the extent to which the internet can be weaponized. In this chapter, the author focuses on the ongoing interest of international actors in using information to build support for their own political causes and obstruct those of their opponents, arguing that social media is central to the process of information acquisition. She argues that the media in an autocratic government can shape a number of political issues that are considered appropriate for discussion by setting the agenda, and claims that social media can increase democratic participation when used for well-intentioned purposes, while the effect can be distorting when used for malicious purposes.
Chapter 4 provides the reader with valuable insights into how the mechanisms by which social media can be used as a weapon of war affect foreign policy differently depending on the regime type of a country. The author states that authoritarian leaders can provide a media environment that tries to hide the basis of controversial information for the survival of the regime, and in this context, they can cut off or censor internet access to eliminate the potential for online organizations. However, the author argues that such actions are a sign of the weakness of the regime, and blocking access is tantamount to admitting defeat.
In Chapter 5, the author provides valuable empirical evidence on public attitudes toward “declining trust in social media.” In this chapter, the author refers to various studies and findings she has made and states that social media triggers emotional contagion. In her research, the author observes the attitudes and behaviors caused by artificial intelligence-generated stories in readers, and as a result of these studies, she has come to the conclusion that news produced by synthetic media technologies may be more effective in changing attitudes compared to others.
In Chapter 6, the author highlights the importance of governments’ ability to regulate social media and provides insight into the requirements of this regulatory capability. The author claims that social media, which provides information and also provides news that distorts or strengthens individuals’ policy preferences, poses threats, especially to democratic administrations, and these threats are becoming more and more obvious every day. Defining digital sovereignty as “the idea that internet users can decide how their data will be used and distributed” (p. 84). The author states that many countries are building their own form of digital sovereignty to protect their populations against malicious actors. At the same time, the author notes that the worldwide network (World Wide Web) has evolved over time into many local networks with different types of control mechanisms. The author also claims in this section that the number of countries using social media strategically is increasing day by day and presents findings that 35 countries conducted disinformation campaigns in 2017, this number doubled in 2019.
It is clear that most political issues are complicated and contentious. In this context, the public is not provided with enough transparent political information, which can lead to a great lack of information. Indecision occurs in people who lack information, and to eliminate this and facilitate the making of good decisions, people seek clarification from media circles by pursuing information. In this process, the information that people are trying to access can be manipulated by malicious actors via social media, and people may be deceived about the accuracy of the information they receive. The proliferation of this manipulated information on social media can polarize societies, undermine trust in other citizens and institutions, and thus reduce the country’s ability to solve its political problems. In these cases, democratic governments may be at a disadvantage in terms of defense against external interventions compared to autocratic administrations. To avoid this problem, governments can build their own local networks with a control mechanism at their core, and with this construction, they can have digital sovereignty. However, it is important to keep in mind that digital sovereignty will manifest itself in varied ways in different regime types. Although the fact that the author did not address intercultural differences, did not make cross-country comparisons, and limited the study to the U.S., in general, may seem like a shortcoming, the valuable information she provides to the reader on the effects of social media in the field of international relations more than makes up for this deficiency.
Finally, in today’s world where the world axis has shifted almost entirely to technology, social media can be used as a great marketing tool for the smallest organizations to the largest ones; access to information provides people, groups, and organizations with great competitive advantages, and the fact that the research is one of the rare studies that develops a theoretical framework for the impact of social media on international relations makes this study both up-to-date and qualified.