Monday, 15 October 2018

A military expert explains why social media is the new battlefield

After the 2016 US presidential election, social media came under scrutiny like never before, and what’s since come to light hasn’t been pretty: widespread consensus that foreign government-backed groups used platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook to spread discord and division among the American public. In their new book, P. W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking make the argument that what we witnessed was a new form of global conflict, in which there are no bystanders.
LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media is a look at the role social media plays in modern conflict. Singer has written extensively about the future of warfare, looking at robotics (Wired for War), cybersecurity (Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What You Need to Know), private military companies (Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry), and even speculative fiction (Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War). Now, he turns his attention to what warfare looks like when information can spread around the world instantly. Singer and Brooking look at how groups like ISIS have used platforms like YouTube and Twitter to spread their message around the world, taunting their opponents and enticing new recruits, while bad actors like Russian-backed groups found ways to game Facebook’s design to spread misinformation and lies.
The telegraph and then the telephone allowed us to connect personally from a distance at a speed not previously possible. Radio and then TV allowed one to broadcast out to many. What social media has done is combine the two, allowing simultaneous personal connection as never before, but also the ability to reach out to the entire world. The challenge is that this connection has been both liberating and disruptive. It has freed communication, but it has also been co-opted to aid the vile parts of it as well. The speed and scale have allowed these vile parts to escape many of the firebreaks that society had built up to protect itself. Indeed, I often think about a quote in the book from a retired US Army officer, who described how every village once had an idiot. And now, the internet has brought them all together and made them more powerful than ever before.

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