You send and receive them all the time: friend requests, tweets, wall posts, etc. For most of us, our regular routine of Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites doesn’t seem particularly dangerous. Few would even consider such activities as part of a larger conflict. In Wiki at War, Heritage’s James Carafano argues that conflict does not end at the edge of the Internet and social media sites. All types of conflict—business competition, international rivalry, social unrest, and even military conflicts—are continued on the Internet.

The Arab Spring is a great example. When governments across the Middle East failed to respond to the demands of their citizens and cracked down, many of these citizens turned to the Internet to organize their opposition. Carafano maintains that the cyber realm is like a jungle—in battle, it favors neither the protestor nor the government but the one who knows how to use it wisely. When governments are savvy enough to manipulate and use the Internet to their own ends, it can become a tool of oppression and propaganda, such as in Iran. When the opposite is true, the Internet is a tool for revolution like in Egypt.

Other conflicts continue in the cyber realm. Terrorists often rely heavily on social networking sites for recruiting, propaganda, intelligence, and organizing. The U.S. and allies respond by tracking terrorists through their Internet connections. Indeed, one of the factors that made Osama bin Laden so difficult to find was his complete avoidance of the Internet. Online, competition with nations such as Russia and China manifests itself in cyber attacks and espionage.

Greater research is needed to figure out how the U.S. can use tools like social networking to our advantage. James Carafano has taken a first step with Wiki at War, and he will discuss his findings at noon on March 2 at The Heritage Foundation.