ORLANDO, Fla. — The refugee crisis in Europe. The Paris attacks. The fight in Iraq and Syria.

Social media like Twitter and Facebook have played a major role in each, and it's being acknowledged more and more that it is an integral part of the battlespace where US forces fight. And it will continue to be strongly influential in the future.

"The early example most people are aware of, we are taking down Osama Bin Laden and someone tweets out, 'Hey, there are helicopters flying overhead,' and suddenly there is a mob in the street. Were people monitoring that and did they expect that mob to show up based on those tweets? If not, shame on us," William Toti, president of Cubic Global Defense, told Defense News at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) in Orlando, Florida.

But this kind of thing happens every day, Toti said.

"It happened in Paris, it happens in Syria. The entire migrant crisis that is occurring right now was the result of a Facebook page, so if we weren't able to monitor and predict that, shame on us," he said. "There are terrorists living in Kim Kardashian's world."

This is why Cubic, a leader in training and simulation solutions for the US military, has developed a training tool that teaches war fighters how to use social media to their advantage in shaping and interpreting the battlefield.

"It's real world dynamic," Toti said. "I call it the new physics of social media. When you have an action that causes a reaction, for me, that is physics, and social media reacts like physics in the real world on human beings and so the ability to monitor, exploit it, use it to predict behaviors and then adapt your operating schemes to social media influencers before they actually manifest behavioral changes within the population is an extremely important skill that has not been focused on by most of our customers."

Cubic has created a closed social media environment that allows those in training to play around in that space, Amy Kruse, Cubic's chief technology officer, said.

"The problem is playing in the real social media space is people think you are taking over Texas," she joked.

The Social Media Replication Toolkit System, as Cubic calls it, was originally designed for work that Cubic was doing with the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, "but now it is turning into a capability that can be integrated into exercises, Kruse said.

The tool creates what Kruse calls a social media "haystack" where "a needle" is hidden. "We can actually scrape in enough noise to sort of make it chaotic and busy like the real social media environment, and then what we do is hide the needle in the haystack and that needle then relates to the exercise or the training objectives or whatever they are working on," she said.

Kruse said it's not like people haven't been analyzing social media — it's something that people have been exploiting, but mostly within the intelligence community, producing reports on observations months later.

But there could be a huge impact in getting forces to understand at the small unit level how social media can be a war fighting tool, Kruse said.

"As important is teaching them, getting them to understand the importance of it and helping them establish policies, ownership, who owns the responsibility and how do we filter the information derived from social media into the operational planning cell," Toti said.

The tool is also scalable from the small unit level to the "public affairs strategic messaging aspect of a larger exercise or scenario," Kruse said.

Cubic was able to give its social media toolkit system a workout at I/ITSEC as part of the conference's Operation Blended Warrior, a live, virtual, constructive exercise conducted on the showroom floor where about 30 companies integrated their training and simulation tools to work together to respond to a fictional humanitarian disaster featuring 15 vignettes spanning over 7.5 hours over the course of four days.

"It's gone really well actually. It's a bit of work, right, and that is one of the things we are working on as we productize it. There is some writing to be done, there is some creative work in it," Kruse said.

And so far, Cubic is alone in the defense social media training space.

Special operators have been the first to adopt the tool into training, according to Toti, and are actively using it. Parts of the toolkit were recently incorporated into Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2015 in South Korea by the Korean Battle Simulation Center media center.

The system incorporated regular media and social media to create challenging narratives during the fictional conflict playing out in the exercise including creating fictitious CNN news reports for them, "a little blogging, a little commenting," Kruse said, all in real time.

Toti said he'd like to see the toolkit incorporated in military training at every level: "Have they agreed that every rotation ought to include social media content? We haven't gotten there yet, but we are going to get there."

Email: jjudson@defensenews.com

Twitter: @JenJudson

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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