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Capability in the digital: institutional media management and its dis/contents

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This paper explores how social media spaces are occupied, utilized and negotiated by the British Military in relation to the Ministry of Defence's concerns and conceptualizations of risk. It draws on data from the DUN Project to investigate the content and form of social media about defence through the lens of ‘capability’, a term that captures and describes the meaning behind multiple representations of the military institution. But ‘capability’ is also a term that we hijack and extend here, not only in relation to the dominant presence of ‘capability’ as a representational trope and the extent to which it is revealing of a particular management of social media spaces, but also in relation to what our research reveals for the wider digital media landscape and ‘capable’ digital methods. What emerges from our analysis is the existence of powerful, successful and critically long-standing media and reputation management strategies occurring within the techno-economic online structures where the exercising of ‘control’ over the individual – as opposed to the technology – is highly effective. These findings raise critical questions regarding the extent to which ‘control’ and management of social media – both within and beyond the defence sector – may be determined as much by cultural, social, institutional and political influence and infrastructure as the technological economies. At a key moment in social media analysis, then, when attention is turning to the affordances, criticisms and possibilities of data, our research is a pertinent reminder that we should not forget the active management of content that is being similarly, if not equally, effective.
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Keywords: communication studies; identity; military; politics; research methodology; social media

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Sussex, MFM, Sussex House, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 9RH, UK 2: School of Media and Communication, Leeds University, Clothworkers' Building North, 2.06, Leeds, UK

Publication date: November 2, 2015

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