A Trump supporter at a rally organized by the right-wing group Patriot Prayer in Vancouver, Washington, September 2017.
Elijah Nouvelage / REUTERS

A half century ago, two computers at UCLA and Stanford were linked together into the first computer network. It was called ARPANET, after the military research lab that funded it. In the years since then, the network of networks that grew out of that lab has developed into the Internet, the nervous system of modern commerce and communication.

With the rise of social media over the last decade, the Internet has changed to allow all of us to become individual collectors and sharers of information. As a result, it has also become something else: a battlefield where information itself is weaponized. The online world is now just as indispensable to governments, militaries, activists, and spies as it is to advertisers and shoppers. And whether the goal is to win an election or a battle, or just to sell an album, everyone uses the same tactics.

This new kind of warfare takes all forms, from battlefield footage on YouTube to a plague of Nazi-sympathizing cartoon frogs. It can seem like a fundamental break with the past. And in some ways—the digital terrain on which the war is fought, the need to grab attention rather than material resources, and the extraordinary

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  • PETER WARREN SINGER is Strategist at New America.
  • EMERSON T. BROOKING is a former Research Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
  • They are the authors of LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media (Eamon Dolan, 2018), from which this essay is adapted. 
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