LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Mediaby P.W. Singer, Emerson Brooking Published 2 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
"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 Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality - interview with the author in which he reminds us of Trump's comment that "I would never have become President if it was not for social media".
I Thought the Web Would Stop Hate, Not Spread It - article in the NYT on the same topic.
Let me say it again: Social media platforms — and Facebook and Twitter are as guilty of this as Gab is — are designed so that the awful travels twice as fast as the good. And they are operating with sloppy disregard of the consequences of that awful speech, leading to disasters that they then have to clean up after.And another one - The Internet Will Be the Death of Us - the NYT is on a roll today.
And they are doing a very bad job of that, too, because they are unwilling to pay the price to make needed fixes. Why? because draining the cesspool would mean losing users, and that would hurt the bottom line. Consider this: On Monday, New York Times reporters easily found almost 12,000 anti-Semitic messages that had been uploaded to Instagram in the wake of the synagogue attack.
This was a week ago — before Sayoc’s arrest, before Bowers’s rampage, before Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right populist, won Brazil’s presidential election. As The Times reported, pro-Bolsonaro forces apparently tried to hurt his opponents and help him by flooding WhatsApp, the messaging application owned by Facebook, “with a deluge of political content that gave wrong information on voting locations and times.”The hatred, ignorance and division fostered by social media has been greatly underestimated and its malign impacts are only just becoming apparent. This looks essential reading.
PS goodreads is an exception of course
What an extraordinary book this is! I am currently engaged in a love-hate relationship with social media. I love the ability to keep track of what is going on in the lives of the people I care about; I hate that this keeping track seems to be replacing actual human contact. I love the ease of knowing what's going on in people's lives; I hate the ease with which miscellaneous people I don't want to know every detail somehow manage to glean it from things I put up to share with those I care about. I love that it's harder to hide wrongdoing in an era in which everyone has a camera and a platform; I hate that it's harder to define "wrongdoing" as a result because everything is now a-contextual and a glimpse is presented as "reality" and that I never know what is real and what is fake/manufactured for public viewing anymore.
I could go on and on, but won't - chances are you know what I mean, and if you don't, I won't be able to convince you. That's something else social media has taught me...
In a very thorough and detailed manner, Singer and Brooking examine the history of social media and its increasing influence on everything along the personal-public, social-political spectrum. It's not only social bullying/warfare we need to worry about anymore; now it's actual, martial bullying/warfare too - to an extent I wasn't aware of, but now am with brutal clarity. This is a great and engaging read that pictures a horrifying yet excessively necessary picture of what the world is literally coming to these days. I think it should be required reading for everyone, since the authors make it clear that it is increasingly the case that everyone is affected by the insidious nature of this media-as-message.
An engaging read. While the subject matter can be depressing, who doesn't look at the current cyber world and cringe?, the authors keep the information quite entertaining. While learning specifics behind personal recreations, planting seeds of doubt in our brains by groups and organizations, and recruiting for actual physical war, the theme is that the internet if far more dangerous than the days of the wild west shoot outs. Like advertising, memes do their job of making people laugh or feel and then wa-lah they become truths and facts. It's frightening to say the least. It's not all bad, the book explores Anonymous and other positive people and groups fighting this international cyberwar.
If you're looking to read this title for school - it's excellent and very well researched and documented. If you're reading out of curiosity or how to protect yourself as much as possible - go for it! The authors are talented and skilled at keeping the pacing fast and the verbiage is amusing, while being informative.
Example: When writing about Tay, a network powered chatbot Microsoft created that adopted the speech and patterns of a teenage girl that was quickly converted by trolls on the internet into a racist, sexist, and Holocaust denier and thus quickly deleted, the writers write "After less than a day, Tay was unceremoniously put to sleep, her fevered artificial brain left to dream of electric frogs." Okay, by itself it's not as funny, but when I read it surrounded by the emotionally exhausting truths of our reality it was quite refreshing.
Overall, this book will appeal to a much broader audience than one would project due to the authors' ability to make the subject matter entertaining. As a mom of teenagers, this will be on their summer reading list so that they can understand the depths of results of social media on society.