July 23, 2019 —
Jeffrey Lewis’s recent novel, The 2020 Commission Report on North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States, includes a scenario in which the North Korean leadership misinterprets a tweet from U.S. President Donald Trump that leads to nuclear war. While the 2020 Commission Report is fictional, it highlighted real-world questions about the impact of social media on international security and nuclear policy. Can a tweet lead to war? How does social media interact with traditional concepts of nuclear escalation? Are some tweets more escalatory, or more “mean”, than others?
For the past year, King’s College London has been leading various studies to address these questions, to include an international multidisciplinary workshop and “Twitter wargame.” This presentation will present initial findings from the research which suggest that social media is not as escalatory as often portrayed by the media and international think tanks. Escalation is a complex web, rather than a ladder, and social media messages are typically interpreted through pre-existing narratives and perspectives, rather than serving as game-changers. The presentation will include a brief overview of the project methodology, a summary of findings to-date, and recommendations for how nuclear policymakers can ensure Twitter remains in the category of “cheap talk” and the scenario in the 2020 Commission remains fictional.