LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Mediaby Published 02 Oct 2018
|LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media.pdf|
|Publisher||Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
Social media has been weaponized, as state hackers and rogue terrorists have seized upon Twitter and Facebook to create chaos and destruction. This urgent report is required reading, from defense expert P.W. Singer and Council on Foreign Relations fellow Emerson Brooking.
"LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media" Reviews
Massively overhypes the relevance of social media in real world conflicts and conflates every online interaction with "war". A shallow mass of anecdotes with no bigger picture or real desire to quantify the problems of social media manipulation. Occasional insights and a comparably competent overview of the current counter measures that Facebook, Google, etc. employ, keep it from being a total waste of time.
I'd like to think that since the 60's, governments can't get as many people to fight in wars, so there are fewer of them. I don't know if the facts would bear that out, but I don't think many people in Western countries would cheer for war the way the crowds did for World War One. (See pic below.) Actually, one of the historical tidbits in this book is that both the Kaiser and the Czar were afraid not to declare war then because they feared the people's reaction. But I don't think people see war as glorious anymore. Then again, I lived through 9/11 and the Iraq War, so I have seen people get whipped up for the cause of revenge.
The corollary to people's lessened glorification of war is that the power-hungry leaders who benefit from it then have to find other ways to amass power that don't sacrifice as much human life. Why commit murder when you can just commit theft? That's what the current global crime syndicate under Putin, Trump, and who knows who else is all about. Brexit was orchestrated by people who shorted the British pound and stand to gain a fortune. Meanwhile, the average British citizen will suffer, but he won't die.
And then there's cyberwar, which is the topic of this book. If you can fight for control of people's minds and votes, you don't have to kill or sacrifice anyone to achieve your goal. It's insidious and evil, but it still beats war. It's Likewar.
Those were my assumptions going into this book, but guess what? I was wrong. War is not outmoded, at least not according to this book, and the authors are probably right. The cyberwar and disinformation explained here are often a precursor to violence, terrorism, and war.
If you've been paying attention to any news other than Fox, the greater themes of this book won't be new to you. You already know about Russian sockpuppets and bots. You might not know some of the smaller details in the book, though. For example, General Michael Flynn is eerily similar to Benedict Arnold in the way he sold out our country. He had a bruised ego and a taste for wealth. Similarly, you might already know that Twitter played a big role in the Arab Spring, but did you also know that use of social media was central in the Mumbai massacre? I didn't. Those little tidbits made the book interesting, and the overall theme is important enough that it can stand frequent repetition anyway.
This book will make you want to reduce your use of social media. It also acknowledges that we're all a bunch of addicts who can't stop ourselves. So just like the answer to hate speech is reasoned speech, the answer to social media is thoughtful social media. And that's why I stay here on Goodreads. Hardly any flame wars or manipulated outrage. Just smart people saying intelligent things about good, old-fashioned books.
"There is a war... for your Mind!"
That's the slogan of InfoWars, the incendiary conspiracy news network and nutritional supplement marketing firm. And while Alex Jones is wrong about almost everything, he's right about that. In LikeWar Singer and Brooking ably synthesize a sophisticated picture of information warfare in 2018, drawing from sources as diverse as Taylor Swift, Donald Trump, and ISIS, to argue that the internet has lead to a blurring of lines between consumer, citizen, journalist, activist, and warrior which threatens the foundations of liberal democracy. The tech companies which built these platforms and profited from them must grapple with the politics of their technologies, before we all reap the whirlwind.
Computer networks and smart phones connect billions of people, allowing ideas to flow faster than ever before in history. Sometimes, the results can be impressive. The Chiapas Zapatista movement in 1994 was a dial-up and fax version of a network insurgency that managed to bring enough international opprobrium on Mexico that the government blinked, and reached some kind of political accord (Chiapas is complicated). More recently, Eliot Higgins and a team of open source analysts at Bellingcat managed to track down the exact BUK missile system and Russian soldiers responsible for shooting down MH 17 in 2014.
But there are a lot of dark sides. When people connect, the emotion that spreads most rapidly is anger. Lies spread five times faster than truth. Musicians can use social networks to directly connect with their fans, and ISIS uses it to connect with alienated Muslim youths worldwide. Social networks sort diverse citizens into filter bubbles of people who think alike. Eliot Higgin's careful open source intelligence has a paranoid fun-house mirror version in the QAnon conspiracy, where Qultist decoders find hidden messages from an alleged 'senior white house source'.
And then there is the matter of information war, an area that even now, after years of offensive cyber operations, liberal democracies still don't understand. Hostile propaganda slips into Western news networks and major platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are infested with bots. LikeWar can even take a personal toll. Over the course of writing this book, General Michael Flynn went from forward looking full-spectrum commander to head Trumpist conspiracy cheerleader to indicted and plead out felon. Flynn's fall is complex, but it can't be separated from the internet. If the trolls got him, what chance does your idiot cousin stand? The counters, 'citizen truth teams' and senior emissaries to groups vulnerable to recruitment, seem like thin reeds against the coming maelstrom of noise.
LikeWar starts with Clausewitz's dictum that war is a continuation of politics by other means, and there are clear links between cyberspace and physical space. Intensity of hashtags impacted the subsequent intensity of Israeli airstrikes during attacks on the Gaza strip. ISIS used propaganda to create an aura of invincibility that outflanked the defenders of Mosul, while Russia denied that its 'little green men' were even in Ukraine. But the difference is that cyberspace is constructed space rather than natural space. The networks are built, maintained, and owned by real corporations and real people. The internet grew from an anarchic specialized scientific network to a major engine of commerce and communicate with little deliberate government oversight. Section 230 absolved American companies of responsibility for policing content, with major carve outs for copyrighted IP and pornography. Yet as concerns over cyberbullying and counter-terrorism rose, major networks adopted digital constitutions that were permissive towards speech and censorious towards erotica. Policing content is and was possible, but always took a back seat to growth and engagement, the guide stars of Silicon Valley.
The future is if anything, darker. Advances in machine learning and AI allow ever more realistic bots, computer generated DeepFakes where a politician can be programmed to say anything, and personalized targeting of people with exactly the propaganda they'll believe. There are defensive counters, but if I might draw military analogies, what we saw in 2016 was armored warfare circa 1918: clearly the future, but not yet a mature system. Given the pace of technology, we only have a few years before digital blitzkrieg.
I'm extremely online, and I've been following this space for years. I've presented at multiple conferences on this topic, including Governance of Emerging Technologies and Association of Internet Researchers. LikeWar is the book I wish I'd written. Cognizant, forward looking, and deeply researched, it is vital reading for anyone interested in technology or politics.
My only reservation is that I wish the sources were better linked in the text, instead of being buried in static endnotes. Maybe the next edition will push an update.
I wish this book had had its recommendations implemented before 2016. But closing the barndoor might keep a few remaining horses inside. Social Media that dumpster fire that we can't escape has become the nervous system of the body politic of most nations and is a theater of offensive and defensive warfare although the offense has the upper hand. Social media is used by a huge swath of humanity and is subject to new forms of manipulation more powerful than its predecessors. The election of Donald Trump is exhibit A for the damage this technology can inflict. As we attempt to salvage our political system in the aftermath of 2016 social media is also attempting to take measure against the kind of manipulation that hate groups and extremists have used so well to trash our democracy. The book lays out how social media is subject to manipulation and the techniques involved. It is good at diagnosis and has a few medicinal recommendations. Lessons for the gobsmacked.
This book is both fascinating and terrifying. I could not put it down. A perfect book to be my first read of 2019.
Bottom line: if you use or are affected by social media, you NEED to read this book, and soon.
Makes for a good audiobook listen as well.