Two defense experts explore the collision of war, politics, and social media, where the most important battles are now only a click away.
Through the weaponization of social media, the internet is changing war and politics, just as war and politics are changing the internet. Terrorists livestream their attacks, “Twitter wars” produce real‑world casualties, and viral misinformation alters not just the result of battles, but the very fate of nations. The result is that war, tech, and politics have blurred into a new kind of battlespace that plays out on our smartphones.
P. W. Singer and Emerson Brooking tackle the mind‑bending questions that arise when war goes online and the online world goes to war. They explore how ISIS copies the Instagram tactics of Taylor Swift, a former World of Warcraft addict foils war crimes thousands of miles away, internet trolls shape elections, and China uses a smartphone app to police the thoughts of 1.4 billion citizens. What can be kept secret in a world of networks? Does social media expose the truth or bury it? And what role do ordinary people now play in international conflicts?
Delving into the web’s darkest corners, we meet the unexpected warriors of social media, such as the rapper turned jihadist PR czar and the Russian hipsters who wage unceasing infowars against the West. Finally, looking to the crucial years ahead, LikeWar outlines a radical new paradigm for understanding and defending against the unprecedented threats of our networked world.
Social media is not just a rancorous gabfest but a literal "battlefield... with real-world consequences," according to this overwrought jeremiad. Singer (coauthor of Ghost Fleet), a contributing editor for Popular Science, and Brooking, a former research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, rehash alarming internet phenomena, including the Islamic State's use of social media to recruit followers and post beheading videos, the Russian government's exploitation of social media to manipulate American politics, and the white nationalist movement's dissemination of pernicious ideas. The authors' survey is wide-ranging, but doesn't really support their argument that "online information itself a kind of weapon" posing dire threats to democracy. Their scattershot brief bundles serious issues, like the Chinese government's arrests of online dissidents, with trivialities like the "memetic warfare" of Pepe the Frog cartoons; mostly their evidence just illustrates the banal truth that, like every communications technology, social media is used to spread propaganda. Worse, the authors' militarized rhetoric underpins their calls for "legal action to limit the effects of poisonous super-spreaders" and for companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to "police" the "dangerous speech" on their platforms and act as "the arbiters of truth." Readers who value free speech may be dismayed at the authors' conflation of words with warfare.)\n