Social Media and Artificial Intelligence as Main Tools in Hybrid Strategies

Mikhail Guzhev
School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University;

Elizaveta Khasanova
School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University;


Conventional means of warfare such as coercion, oppression, and violence on the battlefields no longer play a decisive role in the fight against the enemy. Most modern conflicts are regarded as hybrid wars, the main instruments of which include cyber - attacks, disinformation campaigns and have even more devastating effects. This paper focuses on the role of social media and artificial intelligence as the key instruments of hybrid conflicts in the global narratives. In this context, hybrid warfare is regarded as the combination of conventional and unconventional tactics used to achieve strategic goals. The article tests the hypothesis that due to the emergence of AI technologies social media have become a crucial element of influence on people’s minds. Therefore, its groundwork consists of empirical and comparative analyses. Together, the results indicate that social media are not a single hybrid warfare’s form. Economic coercion is another significant way of manipulation and coercion. The article also points out that social networks are designed in various social and political spheres where fake news and propaganda can be easily spread among people. The conclusion supports the conventional wisdom of studying “information wars” as a rampant method of confrontation among difficult states. Consequently, hybrid warfare presents a myriad of tools to affect the states and spread misinformation. The tools of hybrid warfare are viewed as destructive methods tailored to become a new weapon of the 21st century.


In the modern era people almost do not fight on the battlefields, hybrid wars represent new forms of confrontation. They consist of different modes of warfare, such as conventional capabilities, irregular tactics, terrorist acts including indiscriminate violence, and criminal disorder.

New forms of hybrid warfare such as cyber - attacks, disinformation campaigns, and economic coercion are emerging. These tactics are used to undermine the legitimacy of governments, disrupt critical infrastructure, and make chaos in societies.

As the Internet develops, it is becoming much easier for state and non-state actors to spread disinformation and propaganda. These ways of information distribution can be used to manipulate public opinion or create confusion during times of crisis.

Indeed, social media has become a powerful tool for hybrid warfare, which is the combination of conventional and unconventional tactics to achieve strategic objectives. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have been used to spread disinformation, generate differences and manipulate public opinion, encouraging people to behave in a certain way.

New forms and tools of hybrid warfare

Nowadays hybrid warfare presents a myriad of different practices such as, irregular tactics, terrorist acts, indiscriminate violence and criminal disorder. Obviously, new well-developed forms of hybrid warfare threaten the existing world order and may drastically change it in the near future. 

Thanks to the increasing power of social media, state and non-state actors have acquired efficient tools for creating fakes and disseminating propaganda. Moreover, new channels of news distribution can be used to manipulate public opinion, rig the voting, interfere in the political processes and inner affairs of other states. These methods of struggle become widely disseminated especially during the times of crisis escalation. Many experts believe that social media have already become a significant tool of hybrid warfare as the impact of modern technologies has transformed the media landscape into a new dimension of maneuvering. 

For instance, social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are widely applied to influence people’s viewpoints and manipulate them. Belarusian protests against the results of presidential elections in 2020 are a great example of the exercise of social media to build political communications between the opposition and the protesters. Telegram, a messaging service launched by a Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, was the main platform where political activists created chats to post information about the upcoming strikes and describe action plans to attract new followers.

The role of AI in hybrid warfare

When it comes to assisting human decision making, artificial intelligence (or AI) is one of the most important technologies. Driven by data and algorithms, AI can affect almost every aspect of daily life starting from the development of more efficient ways to educate people to the tools that change their minds and behavioral patterns.

Many political and social scientists single out the following advantages of Artificial Intelligence. Firstly, it provides the government with the personalized training, fair assessments and promotion used to automate many tasks done by human beings, including fraud detection, surveillance operations and quality control. In some cases, AI can perform them much better than humans. Secondly, the use of Virtual Reality (VR) techniques facilitates many processes and completes them with relatively few errors. Artificial Intelligence gives many companies new insights into the operations they might not have been aware of. Thirdly, AI helps to overcome many risks such as human errors. AI robots may provide accurate work with greater responsibility and increase the operations’ precision.

However, despite the rapid development of AI, there are still serious drawbacks. It should be noted that AI technologies require extremely high costs to be launched by the government. It takes a lot of time and resources to meet the largest requirements. This approach also lacks creativity, as the AI models cannot think outside the box, so no alternative actions are expected to solve burning issues both in the political area and military zone. Another serious problem of AI is a massive spread of disinformation. Deepfakes are used for targeted campaigns in the future, threatening the democratic processes and causing societal polarization.

Obviously, social media increases the number of possible threats created by AI. Due to these operations various effects in the cognitive domain can be achieved by using AI technologies to create fake news. Their goals can be different. For example, fake news can provide people with misleading and deceptive information. In the future we are expected to get new forms of manipulation and psychological influence on people’s minds. Their presence may become one of the major challenges that will take place in the 30s of the 21st century.

Social media as an instrument of hybrid wars

The term “Internet wars” appeared in Kosovo in 1999, then it was practically implemented during the “Arab Spring” and other conflicts in Northern Africa and Middle East. Nowadays Internet wars reached their apogee in current conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. Social media perform several crucial functions that make them the key instruments in today war conflicts. These instruments have become an integral part of state and non-state actors’ policies and influence people`s thoughts, emotions and finally acts.

There is a constellation of different social media studies and classifications of social media functions. The article focuses on the one that was suggested by Danish political scientist Elkjer Nissen, who advanced 6 main functions of social media, namely intelligence collection, targeting, information and influence (psychological warfare), cyber operations, defense, command and control. All these functions have a stunning impact and can even change the outcome of any conflict in a different way. The article concentrates on informing and influencing as one of the powerful functions of social media as it affects values, people`s belief system, perceptions, motivation and behavior.

If we use military terminology, social networks are designed to form, inform, mobilize, coerce and convince. Social networks have both overt and covert influence. The obvious influence can be attributed to the creation of special websites, accounts in social networks, hype around the news. Implicit methods are the distribution of fake news, fake pages, stuffing and bots. But in reality a combination of these means is used for archiving the greatest effect.

American political scientist Dr Rebecca Goolsby identifies "social cyberattacks" as deliberate actions to disinformation by spreading rumors and unverified information aimed at creating panic. The “customers” of such attacks can be both state and non-state actors, since most often the real author wishes to remain anonymous. Moreover, competent "social cyberattacks" require quite a large number of human resources, so this is not a cheap tool.

Methods of influence and manipulation include a set of certain techniques, namely an increase in the information presence of the message that implies sending a large number of the same type of messages with the same gist, namely spam, use of hashtags and popular geolocations, "saturation" of the information environment by covering the largest number of social networks and various platforms. Moreover,  targeting, retargeting and distracting the enemy includes buying advertising from bloggers or websites of a special target audience, targeted advertising on social networks, emphasis on unimportant information, "social engineering" that implies psychological and sociological techniques and methods that allow you to obtain confidential information.

Cybercriminals often resort to social engineering to discover information needed to access the system, fraud, or other attacks. However, these methods can be used for military purposes, such as espionage and information gathering. An example of social engineering is the "stalking" of soldiers in Afghanistan. The Taliban created fake profiles of attractive women to make Facebook friends with Australian soldiers and extract information that could later be used for their operations. Most of the soldiers did not realize that people using fake profiles, possibly masquerading as school friends, could record their personal information and movements.


"Information wars" are the most common method of confrontation among states today. In order to prevent total casualties, destruction of infrastructure and military losses, the international community resorts to information as a method of influencing and achieving its political and economical goals. Within the framework of hybrid wars, the range of information warfare tools is quite wide, including media wars, cyberattacks, the spread of disinformation, network wars, etc. At the same time, such tools are also destructive in nature and fundamentally affect a state itself, being a "new" type of weapon of the XXI century.


  1. Bogart, N. How the Role of Social Media Has Evolved since Egypt's Last Upheaval. URL:
  2. Hoffman, F. Hybrid warfare and challenges: national defense university Washington DC, Institute for national strategic studie.
  3. Kadi, I. URL: Social Media as Tool of Warfare. 15 12, 2018,