In a rather interesting reinterpretation of the 'rules of war,' a blog entry by Chloe Diggins, a research & analysis officer at the Australian Army's Land Warfare Studies Centre asks the question, "Are social media users now legitimate targets?"
Natalie Sambhi, in a related blog posting, said (in relation to a recent Social Media in Defence Forum) "This doesn't mean there aren't answers for some of the questions raised by the Israel Defence Force-Hamas case. It means we're still working out how social media fits into warfare and what the legalities are." Sambhi added, "At the conference, one audience member suggested during question time that the Geneva Convention might even apply."
Diggins takes up this theme, "one of the more pertinent ethical questions arising from this case is whether engaging with or contributing to a militarised social media space constitutes an act of war. If that's the case, this might mean that those using social media in support of military operations are now legitimate targets."
This, clearly, is focussed upon 'objects' of military interest; however aside from a brief definition of "Armed Forces" in Article 43 and a matching outline of the rights of civilians in Article 50, the entire Convention is silent on the status of actors who are not aligned with either party to a conflict yet will appear to step into and out of the field of battle with the publication of Tweets, Blogs, Facebook posts etc.
The only possible link is via Article 79 which affords journalists the status of 'civilians,' but only if they have the status of accredited war correspondent. One would doubt that Tweeters, Bloggers and Posters have this status. Perhaps they might be better described as "spies" or "mercenaries" (which also have their own definitions in the Convention).
Diggins agrees with the difficulties here, noting "We're now entering the murky waters of the civilian/combatant divide. And the complex way in which war is waged today means we find militants hiding in plain sight disguised as innocent civilians. The use of technology in warfare is further shifting the civilian/combatant divide online. My colleague Clint Arizmendi and I have recently discussed the issue of unsanctioned non-state cyber actors (UNCAs) and the role they might play in future conflict. Social media users should consider the same. If a country can declare war over Twitter, who's to say that Twitter users can't fight in the information space of that war? Moreover, who's to say they shouldn't reasonably expect to become legitimate targets themselves?"
Of course the Geneva Convention is still predicated upon the broad concept of war between gentlemen; one might be forced to suggest that modern conflicts no longer fit this description, and thus the Geneva Convention is becoming more and more sidelined.
And the Convention had never heard of the Internet, either!