Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media


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I finished Likewar last night. I learned a ton of stuff from this book. Singer and Brooking are experts on their subject. According to the dust jacket bio, Singer is a consultant for the U. S. Military and the intelligence community. Brooking is a research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Together, this two heavy weights, outline some recent history and have some clear ideas about what needs to be done in response to their topic.

All the folderol surrounding the Mueller investigation and the public handwringing about Russian interference in our elections pales next to their incisive history and analysis of how  countries and factions have been using social media in their wars and terrorist activity.

I am ambivalent about how to share the information I have gleaned from this book. I did put up a Facebook post in which I recommended it.

I’m thinking that instead of writing up my reading notes  privately, I might put some info here beginning today. There is a ton of information in this book, both historic and current affairs.

I think I will begin at the end of the book.

Three rules of LikeWar.

1.For all the sense of flux, the modern information environment is becoming stable.

“With all this talk of taking responsibility, it’s important to recognize that this is the appropriate moment in both the internet’s and these [social media] companies own maturation to do so. As internet sociologist Zeynep Tufekci has reminded us, ‘Facebook is only 13 years old, Twitter 11, and even Google is but 19. At this moment in the evolution of the auto industry, there were still not seat belts, airbags, emission controls or mandatory crumple zones.'” link to footnoted source of this 1918  quote

2. The internet is a battlefield.

“Like every other technology before it, the internet is not a harbinger of peace and understanding. Instead it’s a platform for achieving the goals of whichever actor manipulates it most effectively.”

3. This battlefield changes how we think about information itself.

“If something happens we must assume that there’s a likely digital record of it… however, an event only carries power if people also believe that it happened… a manufactured event can have real power, while a demonstrably true event can be rendered irrelevant.”

4. War and politics have never been so intertwined.

And both borrow techniques from each other. “… politics has has taken on elements of information warfare, while violent conflict is increasingly influenced by the tug-of-war for online opinion.”

5. We’re all part of the battle.

“In this new war of wars, taking place on the network of networks, there is no neutral ground.”

There’s much more. I will probably put some of it up here in future posts. But for now I would like to echo their conclusion that “if we want to stop being manipulated, we must change how we navigate the new media environment.”

To illustrate this, they cite a Stanford U study which gauged three groups’ ability to evaluate the accuracy of online information. The three groups were divided into college undergraduates, history PHDs, and professional fact checkers.

The first two fared badly despite their education. The fact checkers used the internet itself to verify stuff. They “understood the Web as a maze filled with trap doors and blind alleys, where things are not always what they seem. So they constantly linked to other locales and sources, seeking context and perspective. In short they networked to find out the truth.”

In the next paragraph the authors use my favorite story, the one about the blind men and the elephant. Then they put this advise:

When in doubt, seek a second opinion—then a third, then a fourth. If you’re not in doubt, then you’re likely part of the problem!

2 thoughts on “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media

    1. You shouldn’t encourage me. I think I’ll put some more of my notes up today from it. It’s important stuff.

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