Almost everyone uses social media in one form or another. I can’t think of anyone I know who doesn’t have some presence online, whether it be a professional account on LinkedIn, a satirical account on Twitter, or a personal account on Facebook. Social media has become so ingrained in our society that its importance often goes overlooked. While social media can shape trends and spread memes, it has also changed politics, warfare, and economics for the foreseeable future.
Thanks to the new book LikeWar by P.W. Singer and Emerson Brooking — two experts in social media, defense, and intelligence — we now have a better understanding of the role social media plays in global issues. From the rise of ISIS to the election of Donald Trump, many critical events and movements in the 21st century were formed and organized entirely online by users of sites like Twitter and Facebook. This book offers a glimpse into the tactics and strategies different groups used to launch successful online campaigns.
Singer and Brooking did a lot of outstanding research for LikeWar. While talking to numerous experts, eyewitnesses, and historians, the pair traced the origins of the internet, social media, memes, and the proliferation of technology across the globe. They also spoke to people familiar with terror groups in the middle east and political experts from the United States. They profiled amateur intelligence analysts and citizen-journalists. The result of this research is a comprehensive explanation of the social media phenomenon.
“A few years back, we started to see more and more use of social media, not just as entertainment, but as a weapon of war and politics, said Singer in an email. “The key moment was the scene in the book of ISIS’s Mosul invasion, where it turns the way you do an invasion on its head, not keeping it a secret plan, but announcing a hashtag #alleyesonISIS. And yet, people did get how big a change this all was.”
While LikeWar does an excellent job of explaining how social media rose to power, it also explains the current and future strategies that both state and non-state actors are likely to use in the future to wage information warfare. While this information is fascinating to me, it’s vital to the decision and policy makers in Washington, D.C., and the Pentagon, and that’s why the authors have already briefed groups like the Joint Chiefs of Staff and several bodies of the Intelligence Community.
“Like it or not, we are stuck with this conflict as long as we use the internet,” said Singer. “We had therefore better understand its new rules. It is akin to Poker and the saying from the movie Rounders. If you sit down at the poker table and don’t know who the sucker is, you’re the sucker. The same online.”
It’s clear that the information in LikeWar is vital to our national security; however, that’s not the real reason why I enjoyed the book so much. I liked the book just because it was highly readable and entertaining. I have almost no knowledge of information technology, social media history, or computer engineering. Still, I was able to digest the book easily, and I feel that I have a better understanding of the importance of social media on the 21st-century battlefield.
That’s the real genius behind LikeWar. It’s not all theory and jargon; it’s real, actionable intelligence on a new and powerful force, and an explanation of how we should use it and guard against it.
It’s a fun read, sure, but best of all is that every time I put down LikeWar, I felt that I had learned something new and important. That alone makes it the ideal candidate for the service academies’ reading list, or for anyone in the intelligence or foreign services. This book and the information it contains is that vital. I highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in national security, international relations, journalism, or history.