LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media

P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-328-69574-1
Social media is not just a rancorous gabfest but a literal “battlefield... with real-world consequences,” according to this overwrought jeremiad. Singer (coauthor of Ghost Fleet), a contributing editor for Popular Science, and Brooking, a former research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, rehash alarming internet phenomena, including the Islamic State’s use of social media to recruit followers and post beheading videos, the Russian government’s exploitation of social media to manipulate American politics, and the white nationalist movement’s dissemination of pernicious ideas. The authors’ survey is wide-ranging, but doesn’t really support their argument that “online information itself [is] a kind of weapon” posing dire threats to democracy. Their scattershot brief bundles serious issues, like the Chinese government’s arrests of online dissidents, with trivialities like the “memetic warfare” of Pepe the Frog cartoons; mostly their evidence just illustrates the banal truth that, like every communications technology, social media is used to spread propaganda. Worse, the authors’ militarized rhetoric underpins their calls for “legal action to limit the effects of poisonous super-spreaders” and for companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to “police” the “dangerous speech” on their platforms and act as “the arbiters of truth.” Readers who value free speech may be dismayed at the authors’ conflation of words with warfare. Agent: Dan Mandel, Greenburger Assoc. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/27/2018
Release date: 10/02/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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