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Ethan Burger delivers Capitol Hill lecture on “The Weaponization of Social Media”

On April 8th, 2019, The Institute of World Politics Cyber Intelligence Instructor Ethan S. Burger Esq. presented a lecture in the Longworth House Building adjacent to the U.S. Capitol building. Mr. Burger’s lecture, entitled “The Weaponization of Social Media,” examined how state and non-state actors employ social media as tools of misinformation, propaganda, and more. Mr. Burger’s lecture delved deep into the malicious tactics employed by these malign entities, identifying ways that attacks through social media online can have resounding political and national security ramifications in the physical world.

Mr. Burger first reviewed a variety of contemporary situations in which social media has been employed by foreign powers to influence recent political developments. The speaker revealed how online actors with ties to the Russian Federation worked to influence the U.K.’s recent vote on “Brexit,” or departure from the European Union, as well as the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections. Instructor Burger described the mechanisms through which Russia prosecutes these campaigns of influence, including the now-infamous “Internet Research Agency,” a Russian company based in Saint Petersburg that has been identified as a key source of Russia’s online dissemination of politically polarized social media content.

Mr. Burger also reviewed the limits of modern international law in dealing with this widespread but nebulous threat. The lecturer explained how employing social media as a duplicitous tool of propaganda and manipulation is difficult to deter or counter, as it is not actually illegal under international law.

Ultimately, Mr. Burger illustrated the intricate and challenging “gray area” that faces the United States, as both state and non-state actors continue to weaponize social media for their own malign ends and strategic objectives. These countries employ our own freedom of information and expression against us, seeking to increase social division and political polarization. While social media may operate exclusively online, Mr. Burger revealed that these virtual acts can have very real effects on the strategic objectives and political decisions of the United States and its allies.

This lecture was part of the IWP Capitol Hill Speaker Series.

To learn more about the IWP Cyber Intelligence Initiative, please visit