Social Media Blossomed with Optimism
Social media starting taking off around 2009. It started getting positive buzz around 2010 and 2011 during Arab Spring. The world rejoiced as Twitter was seen as a way of bringing people together. Social media would bring people together. I remember hearing Leo Laporte singing praises to social media and Twitter on 640 KFI around 2011.
Today over half the world is on social media. Whether we like it or not, social media dominates our existence.
Today social media has many purposes and functions: sharing cat videos, doing unboxings, talking about watches, sharing photos of the kids with grandma, showing off your pecs after a sweaty workout at the gym, people promoting your brand.
Of course, these are social media functions, but don’t be fooled. For all the fun we sometimes have on social media, these functions are not what the Main Function of social media has become.
The optimism that many of us had 7 years ago about social media is gone. And it should be gone because now we’re grappling with a brutal reality.
Social media has been taken over by bad people, evil people, totalitarian-leaning people who have made weaponized misinformation the dominant mode of communication on the Internet in the service of dismantling democracy and democratic ideals. Authoritarian governments have learned to troll democratic societies in the interest of dismantling democracy, and it’s working.
This is the number one story about social media today.
Misinformation has become weaponized because the most clever and savvy social media users have learned they can wage war on their enemies with more immediacy and potency with weaponized misinformation and manipulation and bombs.
This is the the persuasive thesis of P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking in their book LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media. I had the privilege of reading an advanced copy of the book, which comes out in about a month.
The foundations of this book are five core principles:
One, the Internet has gone through its evolutionary process and is now in its adult stage to be the “preeminent medium of global communication; half the world is now on social media, so social media is a ripe battlefield for information and propaganda wars. Bad people know this is the place to wage war. Most of these bad people are totalitarians trying to destroy democratic societies.
Two, social media is foremost a battlefield with no borders and instant attack can happen without notice; faster than bombs, misinformation can affect political opinion, affecting elections and major foreign policy decisions.
Social media is not a place of peace and understanding as we wanted to believe during Arab Spring of 2010. The worst of human instincts and motivations have taken over social media to make weaponization the dominant mode of communication.
Three, We have to think differently about information. Now social media is the dominant mode of information, and by social media’s very nature of algorithmically shaped information to match people’s cognitive biases, most information people receive is manufactured, curated, and patently false.
This misinformation has changed how wars are fought; why use bombs and other weaponry when it’s cheaper and more effective to use weaponized misinformation? A manufactured event or fake news can be more destructive than a torrent of bombs.
Don’t believe me? The United States Army has a Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk where they engage in Social Media Environment and Internet Replication, known as SMEIR; it simulates social media scenarios where misinformation is weaponized and unbridled chaos ensues. You can cause more chaos with less retaliation and less expense through social media weaponization than you can through traditional warfare.
As a result, we must look at information differently. Information is no longer people sitting around reading books.
Information is short bursts of digital dissemination, often in the form of weaponized misinformation that sticks. Why does it stick? Because weaponized information is not based on truth; it’s based on simplicity and immediate emotional appeal.
Truth is now irrelevant: "Pull people’s emotional heartstrings," and "control the narrative," and you win the war.
Four, Social media battles have changed what war means: Elections and battles on the actual field can be won or lost because by controlling the opinions and beliefs of the masses. War and politics have never been so entwined with each other, so say the authors of LikeWar.
Five. Finally, there is no escaping this battlefield. We can’t turn back the clock, we can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube; we can’t put the Genie back in the bottle.
Don’t count on the Tech Bros who are making billions of dollars off their social media platforms to protect us. They’ve proven inept and indifferent except for protecting their image. Meanwhile, they’re allowing authoritarian governments to take over social media for the purpose of dismantling democratic governments.
We have to know how this war works; otherwise, the trolls, terrorists, and foreign enemies will take us over. Look how divided our country is. They’re already winning.