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Turning Cyberpower into Idea Power: The Role of Social Media in US Strategic Communications

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Technical Report

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Air University School of Advanced Air and Space Studies Maxwell AFB United States

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The United States is currently engaged in a struggle to counter the effects of violent extremist ideology. Heavy use of the military component of national power eliminated the immediate danger but also validated the threat ideology. Initial US actions failed to address the underlying causes and some argue increased the pool of individuals susceptible to violent extremist ideology. Strategic communications supports other national instruments of power in this struggle but can also attack the underlying ideology. The US communicates with multiple audiences through various forms of media, both traditional and emerging. Social media may present an opportunity for US strategic communications efforts to reach an expanding audience, from which violent extremists are also trying to recruit. Like any other instrument, effective use of social media requires a thorough understanding of the capabilities and limitations. Determining the role of social media in the overall US strategic communications efforts requires identifying methods to use and assessing the effects of the medium.

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