Methods: computational methods and ethnography (NLP and DSNA, interpreted with domain specialist)

Period: January 2024 to January 2026

Resulting in two academic articles about diginetworks in war, and one methodological article

The Sahel has a history of mobility, where traders, nomadic pastoralists and moslim scholars created contacts over long distances. Since 2000 this mobile space has gradually become digitized. The mobile phone, that enabled people to call from person to person has been replaced by the smartphone. Digital communication via smartphones enables not only to make calls, but also to use social media platforms, gather information, and connect with various groups. Parallel to the digitization and increased usage of social media, numerous conflicts in the Sahel have developed: 2009 – Northern Nigeria, Niger Tchad with the advancement of Boko Haram; 2012 – the rebellion of Tuareg in Northern Mali that has led to the actual situation of violent chaos in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. In this sub project we concentrate on the role of the digital communication in this war. We follow the ideas developed in the book Radical War (Ford and Hoskins 2022) who link the participatory element of the smartphone, i.e. as hailed in the literature that it would open to digital democracy, participatory society, to warfare. Warfare has as well become participatory. We will unravel the ways the different Social Media platforms allow for such participation in warfare. Our questions are: 1. What is the relation between the growth or intensification of the uses of social media platforms and their mediation, and the development of war/conflict?; 2. Can we establish a link between information flows about war and the use of social media?; 3. How does the digital sphere of the war relate to other explanations of conflict and war?

Our approach will be primarily quantitative following computational methods, such as Dynamic Social Network Analysis (DSNA) and Natural Language Processing (NLP). We will establish the Sahel networks for Telegram, Facebook, Tik Tok, and WhatsApp social media platforms. The starting point will be the data that are already available through ethnographic research on the ground. Through social media analysis, we will look how information on conflict flows, is used and is reported. In the last step we will try to establish the linkage between social media use and conflict.