Modern warfare is now a clash of narratives that fit in a tweet. Not as an adjunct to physical warfare, as propaganda once was, but as an end in itself. As we have seen in Ukraine, and in what might be called Cold War 2.0, disruption, confusion, and uncertainty about what is and isn’t true can contribute to the destabilization of entire countries.
In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, journalist David Patrikarakos, author of War in 140 Characters, says that Twitter and other social media create the “charisma of certainty.” They subvert the very concept of objective truth, because these platforms are the perfect vehicles for sensationalism. Designed for speed and reach, they are inherently unfriendly to nuance — or accuracy.
Patrikarakos talks to Jeff Schechtman about the fact that never before have so many people had the ability to reach so many other people so fast, with no filter or arbiter.
As a case study, Patrikarakos examines how this happened with both Donald Trump and with ISIS. If Trump is the social-media president, ISIS is the social-media terror organization. Both are about division and the radicalization of individuals, and both promote and benefit from political and social instability.
Social media may not be the sole cause of our divided politics, but it exacerbates it in ways that are historically consistent with how technology, from the printing press to the internet, has always created havoc by overturning previously accepted norms and conventions.
David Patrikarakos is the author of War in 140 Characters: How Social Media Is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century (Basic Books, November 2017) and Nuclear Iran: The Birth of an Atomic State (I.B.Tauris, November 2012).
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from keyboard (www.Pixel.la Free Stock Photos / Flickr).