Neil Ashdown is a PhD student in the Centre for Doctoral Training in Cybersecurity for the Everyday at Royal Holloway University of London. His PhD examines the relationship between intelligence and cybersecurity in the UK public and private sectors. He is a member of the steering committee of the Offensive Cyber Working Group. Neil previously worked as an analyst for the UK defence intelligence company Jane’s, where he was the deputy editor of the magazine Jane’s Intelligence Review.
James Barr is a PhD student in the Centre for Doctoral Training in Cybersecurity for the Everyday at Royal Holloway University of London. His PhD explores the relationship between information technologies and violence in Mexico, analysing how tools of communication and interconnectivity interact with, and in some cases shape, acts of violence. Prior to joining the CDT, James completed a BA in Politics and an MSc in Defence, Development and Diplomacy at Durham University with a focus on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems and their impacts on modern warfare.
History repeating itself: how news media templates frame reporting on cyber conflict
Cyber conflict is a challenging subject to cover – it is often intangible or covert, and always complex. For all these reasons, reporting on cyber conflict in the mainstream news media often relies on ‘templates’ to frame its coverage.
These templates are references to historical events or hypothetical scenarios that have come to serve as rhetorical shorthands in news coverage. They emerge from a complex and iterative interaction between different communities of knowledge production – academics, practitioners, governments, and journalists – and events.
Through this interaction, cases such as ‘Estonia’, ‘Stuxnet’, and even hypothetical scenarios such as ‘Cyber Pearl Harbor’, come to form templates. These templates are used to simplify, contextualise, and shape news reporting, making the unfamiliar familiar.
In this paper we draw on literature on media, war, and conflict, specifically theories around framing and media templating – applying this body of work to the coverage of cyber conflict.
Through an analysis of reporting in two major English-language newspapers, our article traces the history of several significant media templates related to cyber conflict, showing how they shape coverage of later events and how their meaning can change over time.
We also examine the influence of academic and practitioner discourses on the framing of cyber conflict, considering how this could influence the emergence of templates.
We apply the insights from this analysis to media coverage of the war in Ukraine. Finally, we consider how the cyber conflict in Ukraine may come to act as a media template in the future.