Critical security studies have recognized that everyday practices such as CCTV operations have increasingly embedded security concerns into everyday life (Huysmans 2011). Social media has escalated this process dramatically, “democratizing” the individual’s ability to “speak” confidently and to become producers of speech acts, which is central to the elite-centered work of the Copenhagen School (Buzan et al. 1997) and the generations from security scientists who inspired them. As we become more immersed in the age of social media, it is increasingly important that critical security studies and international relations delve more fully, more thoroughly and more critically into the theoretical and empirical challenges arising from the digital communications revolution.
This is particularly important for the discursive turnaround in security studies, since, although individuals still have little material control over the security environment, they increasingly have the opportunity to shape the security debate. The constructivist turn in security studies began with the elite-centered Copenhagen School (Buzan et al. 1997). Here the elites competed to structure security debates and threats and to shift issues between emergency and non-emergency policy. The hierarchical nature of this work, however, leaves little room to understand how “non-elites” discuss, redefine, and dispute security narratives. Hence, the Copenhagen School cannot offer a conceptualization of how constructivist ideas of security apply outside the context of the elite.
A contemporary response has been domestic security studies (Bubandt 2005; Jarvis 2019) that take into account the voice of non-elite actors in security debates. This brings “laypeople” into the equation and provides insight into the construction of safety through local idioms. However, this does not allow conceptualization of the tension between the democratized landscape of social media, which is also full of hierarchies of influence. While social media provides important insights into slang safety language, it is not completely “flat” and some slang languages are becoming “more equal” than others. Social media offers constructivist security scholars a theater of study that lies somewhere between the “flat” level of colloquial language and the hierarchical terms of the Copenhagen School, while theoretically anyone security can “speak” on social media, but few become influential with it. This article contributes to the understanding of constructivist security by analyzing the results of social media to understand who is influencing the security debate and how. It works at the interface between the “flat” vernacular and the “hierarchical” understanding of security of the Copenhagen School and identifies mechanisms with which security influencers gain in importance. The reality of the social media landscape is addressed, in which security is neither radically flat nor rigidly hierarchical. This allows for the inclusion of notions of non-elite actors speaking safety in a way that enables novel theoretical insights for both schools of critical safety.
In marketing, influencers are primarily viewed as independent third-party endorsers who influence audience attitudes through shared online content. Although there were significant academic influencers (Bakshy et al. 2011) and quantifying influences (Anger and Kittl 2011), typologies are hardly taken into account. These are important areas in which we can consider how individuals influence important security debates. We used an innovative mix of discourse and social media analysis to understand the contours of the social media landscape and how influencers emerged on Twitter in the 48 hours after the Manchester bombing.
Figure 1: Visualization of the 4 most influential subnet structures.
Social Network Analysis Social network analysis of Twitter data provides insight into “impact” as it identifies who is central to safety in a given context. The SNA also shows how little conversations by influencers interact with others: the conversations analyzed remain discreet and challenges / matches take place within certain clusters without spreading, although they appear thematically and are empirically similar in the message. However, it should not be mistakenly assumed that “influence” is synonymous with “agreement” as there is a significant amount of engagement that brings a person or hashtag (#) to the fore on social media, in the form of competitions or neutral Engagements takes place. Our paper noted this in the security context as we applied both discourse and sentiment analysis to all tweets within the four influential networks. This enabled us to understand not only how tweets were handled, but more importantly, the terms on which they were involved in a particular security debate.
Our results identified a typology of four types of security influencers within the discussion of Muslims after the Manchester bombings.
Figure 2: Typology of security influencers
These four types of influencers demonstrate the ripples and complexities of the security hierarchies talked about on social media. The first type of influencer is the “security broadcaster”. This type of security influencer simply sends a message that becomes influential without further intervention from the influencer. This is interesting because this is how critical security studies conceptualize the security discourse generated by the elite. The Copenhagen School sees the elite in a position of power in which they present their safety narratives to the public (Huysmans 2011). However, this person does not have to have previous forms of social media influence. As such, they do not even belong to the “elite” of social media, but rise to prominence for no particular reason other than the meaning of their message at that moment and then fall back into darkness. This shows the unpredictability of the social media landscape and poses challenges for scientists on which to build a theory. Even so, the other type of “passive” broadcaster that was identified had some “elite” credentials on social media – but from an entirely security-sensitive domain as a superfan of a particular pop star. Thus, the cross-platform broadcaster has available influencer capital in a non-security-relevant area in which the security discussion is discussed. Both types of broadcasters reveal some interesting aspects of the increasing immersion in security debates by non-elites and how confident they are of voicing opinions on security issues.
Other influencers are much more active and follow their first messages with further engagements with other social media users, especially those who challenge their first messages and disagree with them. The security forces do not simply behave like traditional security elites conceived by the Copenhagen School (Buzan et al. 1997) and “send” their message to the audience, but continue to deal with responses to their messages on social media. However, we again find that this process is unpredictable as one of the security broadcasters has neither social media capital nor security data and is gaining momentum only to fall back into darkness. However, the cross-platform engager differs in that it incorporates the existing influence of social media from a non-security-relevant area into the security discussion. In this case, a Manchester United fan account with significant sports influence is spinning to join the security debate. This shows the increasing intertwining of security with everyday social and cultural issues, with forms of identity based on football teams being established as important for expressing discursive resistance against the so-called Islamic state (Downing 2020).
A broader issue also emerges within the security aspects that affects both active security guards and passive security transmitters. This is the difference in the balance between contestation and agreement, which depends on how the broadcasters portray Muslim / Islam in the context of the Manchester bombings. Increasing arguments were noted as influencers structured their security and talked about defending Islam as an abstract global religion. Such a process made other social media users more likely to disagree with their messages and respond with tropes of Islam, which by nature were prone to violence and extremism. However, if the defense focused on defending Muslims as a social group, users were more likely to agree with Muslims as a social group, distinguishing them from terrorism and violent extremism. This is important as this is where social media users connect Muslims directly to the local Manchester context. This shows discursive processes of the “banalization” (Downing 2019) of Muslims as a social group through their connection to everyday social roles instead of the extraordinary episodes of religious and political violence.
Social media is clearly undervalued in critical security studies almost at every turn. The Copenhagen School, which is about two decades old, looks increasingly limited in terms of understanding safety languages on social media, with a few exceptions from “safety elites” like President Trump who used social media to produce speech acts for this purpose and to spread . However, the Copenhagen School offers an opportunity to conceptualize important hierarchies when we consider competing safety narratives in a particular situation that still exists due to differences in influence among social media users on social media. This calls into question the prevailing belief that the communications revolution fueled by social media is generally democratizing. We can see in Manchester that there is no formula for deciding who is gaining prominence on social media as a security influencer in any given context, and the security influence in this case is short-lived and short-lived.
The newer colloquial language in CSS is not used adequately in view of the social media landscape. Local voices for safety come from a number of unexpected backgrounds – like soccer or music fans – and so we need to consider how the increasing intertwining of safety with the everyday twists and turns of safety narratives is happening in unexpected ways. However, there remains a dominant distinction between narratives about Muslims as relatable people in a particular social context and the more abstract discussions about Islam as a global religion, in which social media users are clearly literature in dominant debates about relationships between terrorism and religion. Within this area, the “local” “banal” Muslims differ slightly from those who commit mass violence, while Islam as a religion is treated with great suspicion.
This article builds on an open access publication in New Media & Society
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