While critics might scoff at the notion of social media as a vital national security issue, LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media, is chock full of sobering reminders that what happens online doesn’t always stay there.
Every day, millions of young people swap selfies on Snapchat, update their status on Facebook, and swipe right on love interests on Tinder. For millennials, social media is essential for a 21st Century social life — but for 62-year-old political scientist Eliot A. Cohen, it apparently means the end of the human civilization as we know it. For malevolent actors ranging from the government of Vladimir Putin to the recruiters of the Islamic State, social media is a weapon which can undermine American democracy and even topple entire governments.
Clint Watts’s engaging new book, Messing With the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News, is about forms of engagement. Watts’s experiences as an Army officer and FBI agent are important to his background. He begins the book with his interactions, through his blog and Twitter feed, with an American-born member of al-Shabaab, Omar Hammami, and then shares his observations about the Syrian Electronic Army’s insistent Twitter presence before examining Russian influence operations in the 2016 election.