Likewar by P. W. Singer
  • Title: Likewar
  • Subtitle: The Weaponization of Social Media
  • Author(s): P. W. Singer, Emerson T. Brooking
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • Year: 2018-10-02
  • ISBN-10: 1328695751
  • ISBN-13: 9781328695758


In “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media,” P. W. Singer, along with co-author Emerson T. Brooking, delivers a timely and thought-provoking analysis of the modern battlefield where information warfare takes center stage. Exploring the rapidly evolving landscape of social media and its influence on global conflicts, the book sheds light on the weaponization of platforms and the manipulation of public opinion.

The authors dissect the techniques and strategies employed by state actors, terrorist organizations, and even populist movements to exploit social media to their advantage. They delve into the nuances of information warfare, discussing how modern conflicts are not merely fought on the ground but also on screens and timelines, where ideas can spread like wildfire. With detailed case studies from various regions and conflicts, Singer and Brooking illustrate how social media has become a powerful tool for spreading propaganda, sowing discord, and influencing public sentiment.

Drawing from a wide range of disciplines, including military history, psychology, and political science, the authors paint a comprehensive picture of the challenges posed by the weaponization of social media. Importantly, they also propose potential solutions and counterstrategies to mitigate the negative effects while harnessing the positive aspects of this new digital battlefield.

Likewar” is a highly accessible and engaging read, appealing to both experts in the field of technology and warfare, as well as the general public looking to understand the complex interplay between social media and global conflicts. With the rise of fake news, disinformation campaigns, and cyber warfare, this book offers valuable insights into the nature of modern warfare and the urgent need for policymakers, governments, and individuals to adapt and respond to the weaponization of social media.


Book Review

Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media - Illuminating the Battlefields of the Digital Age

In the digital age, where information is shared at the speed of a click and battles are fought on screens rather than fields, P. W. Singer’s “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media” provides a captivating exploration of the intersection between social media and global conflict. Co-authored with Emerson T. Brooking, this book shines a spotlight on how social media platforms have become potent weapons, shaping public opinion, spreading propaganda, and exacerbating the chaos of modern warfare.

Singer and Brooking seamlessly blend history, technology, and international relations to craft an eye-opening narrative. The authors draw upon a wealth of case studies, including the Arab Spring, the rise of ISIS, and the 2016 US presidential election, to exemplify the diverse ways in which social media has been weaponized.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is the examination of how state actors and non-state actors alike have harnessed social media platforms for their own gain. Singer and Brooking highlight how Russia utilized an army of trolls and automated bots to manipulate public sentiment during the 2016 election campaigns by disseminating false narratives and promoting divisive content. They also explore how ISIS employed social media as a recruitment tool, effectively spreading their extremist ideology across continents. These examples not only demonstrate the power of social media as a tool for manipulation, but they also underscore the urgency in recognizing and combating these threats.

The book also delves into the psychology behind the weaponization of social media. The authors dissect how algorithms and personalized content feeds create echo chambers, where individuals are increasingly exposed to information that reinforces their existing beliefs. Singer and Brooking explain how this fragmentation of reality exacerbates political polarization, making it easier for malicious actors to target and exploit vulnerable populations. By understanding the psychological mechanisms at play, clearer pathways to addressing these challenges can be forged.

Moreover, “Likewar” explores the potential for social media to be used as a force for good. Singer and Brooking discuss the emergence of “hacktivism” and how online communities have leveraged social media to promote positive social change. They shed light on the Arab Spring, where activists utilized platforms like Facebook and Twitter to organize protests and bypass traditional information gatekeepers. By showcasing these instances, the authors remind us that the weaponization of social media is not an inherent characteristic, but rather a decision made by those who wield the power.

The book’s strength lies in its ability to navigate complex technological and geopolitical concepts with clarity and accessibility. Singer and Brooking skillfully translate academic jargon into understandable prose, making it a riveting read for both experts and general readers with an interest in the subject matter.

While “Likewar” tackles a multifaceted topic, it does occasionally leave the reader wanting more. The authors offer potential strategies to combat the weaponization of social media, such as deploying AI-driven algorithms to identify and counter false information. However, these solutions are presented in broad strokes, leaving the reader craving more concrete recommendations and specific implementation plans.

Nevertheless, “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media” serves as a wake-up call to the realities of the digital age. It serves as a reminder that the battlefields of the future will be fought not only with guns and tanks but also with information and manipulation. Singer and Brooking’s thought-provoking narrative provides a vital foundation for understanding the threats posed by the weaponization of social media and offers a crucial impetus to develop new strategies and policies to navigate these uncharted waters.

In conclusion, “Likewar” is a tour de force that illuminates the immense power and influence of social media in global conflicts. Its engaging writing style, rich examples, and thought-provoking insights make it an essential read for anyone seeking to comprehend the complex web of technology, information warfare, and international relations in the 21st century.

Word Count: 682

The combination of individual-level interaction, populism, and the networked nature of the world of information enables and encourages an unprecedented scale of information warfare. It is these actors' ability to link individuals across borders and amplify their messages that distinguishes the current era from previous ones. Distortions and falsehoods can be spread at the speed of light, as social media allows for the rapid dissemination of information, regardless of its veracity. The weaponization of social media has elevated propaganda to a whole new level, providing an effective channel to manipulate public opinion, exploit social divisions, and even influence the outcomes of elections.

Key Ideas

In “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media,” P. W. Singer and co-author Emerson T. Brooking explore several key ideas surrounding the intersection of social media and global conflict. These ideas include:

  1. The power of social media as a weapon The book highlights how social media has become a powerful tool for state and non-state actors to manipulate public opinion, spread propaganda, and foster chaos during times of conflict. Singer and Brooking emphasize the ability of these platforms to shape narratives, target specific demographics, and amplify both truth and falsehood, ultimately influencing the outcomes of military and political campaigns.

  2. The weaponization tactics employed The authors delve into the strategies used by various actors to weaponize social media. They examine the use of disinformation campaigns, bots, troll armies, and fake accounts to exploit the algorithms and features of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Through case studies and examples, Singer and Brooking illustrate how these tactics have been employed by state actors like Russia and non-state actors like ISIS to gain advantage in conflicts.

  3. The psychology behind information warfare The book explores the psychological aspects of weaponizing social media. By exploiting cognitive biases and the algorithms that tailor content to individual preferences, malicious actors create echo chambers and reinforce existing beliefs, thereby deepening societal divisions. Singer and Brooking shed light on how this psychological manipulation enhances the effectiveness of weaponized social media and the challenges it poses to democratic processes.

  4. Countering the weaponization of social media While showcasing the threats posed by the weaponization of social media, the authors also discuss potential strategies to counteract these threats. They examine the role of governments, technology companies, and individuals in mitigating the negative effects of information warfare. Singer and Brooking propose solutions such as leveraging artificial intelligence to identify and confront disinformation, fostering digital literacy, and encouraging responsible behavior online.

  5. The potential for positive use of social media Amidst the exploration of the dark side, the book also acknowledges the potential for social media to be used as a force for positive change. Singer and Brooking highlight examples of online communities and activists successfully utilizing social media platforms to raise awareness, mobilize protests, and advocate for social justice. They highlight the need to recognize social media as a double-edged sword that can be wielded for both good and ill.

In summary, “Likewar” encapsulates key ideas ranging from the weaponization of social media and the tactics employed, to the psychological manipulation involved and the potential strategies to counteract these threats. By exploring these ideas through real-world examples, Singer and Brooking provide a comprehensive understanding of the evolving landscape of information warfare in the digital age.


Target Audience

The book “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media” by P. W. Singer is targeted at a diverse audience interested in the intersection of technology, warfare, and global politics. It is recommended reading for the following groups:

  • Technology and Policy Professionals Professionals working in the fields of technology, cybersecurity, and policy will find “Likewar” to be essential reading. The book provides a deep understanding of the risks and challenges posed by the weaponization of social media, helping professionals in these areas develop effective strategies and policies to address these issues.

  • Political Scientists and International Relations Scholars “Likewar” offers valuable insights into how social media has transformed the nature of warfare and its impact on global conflicts. It provides a framework for analyzing the strategies employed by state and non-state actors in information warfare, making it recommended reading for scholars and researchers in the fields of political science and international relations.

  • Journalists and Media Professionals In an era of fake news and disinformation, journalists and media professionals need to understand the weaponization of social media to effectively report on and counter these threats. “Likewar” offers a comprehensive perspective and case studies that can help journalists navigate the complex landscape of information warfare and its implications for media and democracy.

  • General Readers Interested in Technology, Current Affairs, and Security “Likewar” is written in accessible and engaging language, making it suitable for general readers who want to understand the significant impact of social media on global conflict. The book provides real-world examples and vivid anecdotes that bring the complex concepts to life, ensuring a captivating reading experience for anyone interested in the implications of digital technology on our society.

In conclusion, “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media” is recommended reading for a wide range of audiences. Its comprehensive analysis of the weaponization of social media, its impact on global conflicts, and potential strategies to counteract these threats make it invaluable for technology professionals, scholars, journalists, and general readers seeking to understand the evolving landscape of information warfare in the digital age.

Fair Use Disclaimer

This book review may contain excerpts and references from the reviewed work, used under the doctrine of fair use. The purpose is to provide a critical analysis, commentary, and evaluation of the book. The use of these excerpts is done for non-commercial and educational purposes, aimed at fostering discussion and understanding. The author acknowledges the original copyright holder's rights and asserts that the use of such material is transformative, adding value through the inclusion of informed opinions and insights. This review intends to comply with the principles of fair use under copyright law and does not seek to infringe upon the author's or publisher's rights.

© 2023