Militarisation and the Social Media Presence of Arms Manufacturers

Dr Natalie Jester, Lecturer in Politics and Sociology, University of Gloucestershire

This work began with a thought: “that’s weird”.


A few years ago, I was browsing Twitter and saw an account belonging to Lockheed Martin. Working in critical security studies, I knew they were an arms manufacturer. Anna Stavrianakis argues that secrecy is common within the arms trade, yet here was Lockheed Martin, available for any member of the public to observe. It struck me that there was a tension between the oft observed secrecy of the arms trade and the location of arms manufacturers on social media: these are, after all, hyper public.


I sat with these thoughts, deciding that they warranted further investigation. The result is a recent journal articles, titled: ‘Accessible, Transparent, Progressive: Conceptualising the Militarisation of Digital Space Through the Social Media Presence of Arms Manufacturers’*. I start with the premise that we must pay more attention to the political work performed within digital spaces. What does it mean that companies like Lockheed Martin have a Twitter account? When they are able to position themselves as simply another brand?


To answer questions like this, we can turn to works within secrecy and transparency studies. Lisa Stampnitzky makes the case that it is fruitful to examine the messy, amorphous grey area between what we know (exposure) and what is socially and politically acknowledged (revelation). This is not linear or binary. It is known that arms cause harm and, therefore, that those who make them derive profit from the potential for harm. Despite this, the arms trade continues apace.


International Security happens in many places, including the Internet. In this article, I argue that the very location of these arms manufacturers within social media spaces produces a tension between exposure and revelation. Arms manufacturers position themselves as accessible through the use of public social media accounts, followed by hundreds of thousands of people. They also provide high volumes of information. They tweeted multiple times a day, which was more than I was expecting going into this project (other high-profile brands go days without tweeting). Though information like this, we are able to know arms manufacturers.


What about their products? Do these social media feeds move us to a place of recognition? Not quite. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these companies do not discuss possible harms their products might cause; instead are representations of human progress. This distracts from the violence of the arms trade by emphasising the social, environmental and technological advancement that these companies have made possible. They make – and showcase – weather monitoring equipment, or elements for space rockets, as well as positioning themselves as good employers for women (a subject I have discussed more fully elsewhere).


It is this tension between exposure and revelation that creates a gap for militarisation – the social and political effort to normalise war – to occur. I argue that this enables society to “look away” from the violence of the arms trade, making it possible to continue. Through portraying themselves as accessible, transparent and progressive, these companies obscure the violence of their products.


*This article was developed as a result of my involvement in the SPIN Network. I am grateful for the nurturing environment and the comments various members provided at different times.



Image source: John Hersch –