I am reading an article in “Atlantic Magazine” entitled “How Social Media Got Weaponized: War in the Digital Age” by Emerson T. Brooking and P.W. Singer. It is a frightening account of how the digital world influences everything from elections to ISIS to relationships with other countries. We worry that our children will find dangers on the Internet. This article deals with the issue of how false news, Hollywood movie techniques and unscrupulous players are taking control of our world.
An excerpt: “Like most everything today, the campaign was launched with a hashtag. But instead of promoting a new album or a movie release, #AllEyesOnISIS announced the 2014 invasion of northern Iraq—a bloody takeover that still haunts global politics two years later.
Revealing a military operation via Twitter would seem a strange strategy, but it should not be surprising given the source. The self-styled Islamic State owes its existence to what the internet has become with the rise of social media—a vast chamber of online sharing and conversation and argumentation and indoctrination, echoing with billions of voices.
Social media has empowered isis recruiting, helping the group draw at least 30,000 foreign fighters, from some 100 countries, to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. It has aided the seeding of new franchises in places ranging from Libya and Afghanistan to Nigeria and Bangladesh. It was the vehicle isis used to declare war on the United States: The execution of the American journalist James Foley was deliberately choreographed for viral distribution. And it is how the group has inspired acts of terror on five continents.
So intertwined are the Islamic State’s online propaganda and real-life operations that one can hardly be separated from the other. As ISIS invaders swept across northern Iraq two years ago, they spammed Twitter with triumphal announcements of freshly conquered towns and horrific images of what had happened to those who fought back. A smartphone app that the group had created allowed fans to follow along easily at home and link their social-media accounts in solidarity, permitting isis to post automatically on their behalf. J. M. Berger, a fellow with George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, counted as many as 40,000 tweets originating from the app in a single day as black-clad militants bore down on the city of Mosul.”
However, the article is about so much more. “The internet has long been celebrated for its power to bring people together. Yet as it turns out, this same technology is easily weaponized. Smartphones and social apps have clearly altered the nuts and bolts of violent conflict, from recruiting to battlefield reporting. But the greatest effects may be more fundamental, expanding the causes and possibly the incidence of war, and extending its reach. Social-media platforms reinforce “us versus them” narratives, expose vulnerable people to virulent ideologies, and inflame even long-dormant hatreds. They create massive groundswells of popular opinion that are nearly impossible to predict or control.”
“Social media, by democratizing the spread of information and erasing the boundaries of time and distance, has expanded the means, transforming war to an extent not seen since the advent of the telegraph.”
“Roughly 500 million tweets are sent each day. Nearly seven hours of footage is uploaded to YouTube each second, in up to 76 different languages. With 1.7 billion active accounts, Facebook is the largest “country” in the world. According to Pew, clear majorities of American Twitter and Facebook users now get their news from these platforms. Fifty-nine percent of American Twitter users rely on the service to follow news events as they happen in real time.”