War and Social Media

A constant theme of my posting on FF was Social Media and war. Wars are now won by using Social Media. Here is a key post that put this on the table back in 2007!


Secretary Gates made this statement in a recent speech:

It is just plain embarrassing that al-Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the internet than America. As one foreign diplomat asked a couple of years ago, “How has one man in a cave managed to out-communicate the world’s greatest communication society?” Speed, agility, and cultural relevance are not terms that come readily to mind when discussing U.S. strategic communications (My post at Fast Forward yesterday)

I am starting to see something here. War has been the agency that accelerates the development of key new technology.


In the 1860’s the civil war put the train on the map. Post the war, an enormous track laying boom exploded around the world. The military made the train the backbone of the industrial approach to war.The same with flight. In Europe, the military saw the potential of flight immediately. But the US did not – that is why Rickenbaker flew a Spad.

Spad_xiiit The Wright Company in particular and American airplane companies in general continue to lose their technological edge to the Europeans. This is due in part to the U.S. Government’s failure to support the fledgling airplane       industry. While the governments of England, France, and Germany are buying hundreds of airplanes for their armed forces and supporting aviation research, the United States is spending roughly the same amount of money   as Bulgaria. (First to Fly)

By 1918, the future of flight was assured. There were no doubters – and like the adoption of the train, this new way of connecting people has transformed our world.

So back to social software. As impressive as Facebook is, as impressive the growth of blogging – this is all personal. Organizational life and how we all live has not been changed yet.  There is immense resistance in the key institutions of our time to its introduction. Leaders in business, education, healthcare etc all fear the outcome of adoption.

The big money is all based in an advertising model. If you can form a large group, you get rewarded. But the true potential of the tool set is not being invested in.

The true potential of social software is that it allows many to many to meet in real time at low to no cost. This means that you can see what is really going on – the business intelligence aspects are immense and transform research as it is conducted today. It enables you to get your message out in a real time and precise way – will transform marketing. Most of all it enables people to have very different relationships. Large, central capital based organizations are no longer needed. So everything that we do now such as how we educate, provide healthcare, provide services will be radically transformed.

Our large institutions can no longer do anything properly. The military is no exception. It is too big, too slow, too ponderous, too expensive. It cannot deal with war as it is waged today. The military are themselves full of resistance to the kind of change that social software implies.

BUT, people in the military who are losing the war of public opinion – who know now that Human Terrain  is the new battlefield – are weighing the idea of loss of control with losing the war. My bet is that they will seek to win the war. This is what Gates is starting to say.

The greatest irony is that their enemy is showing them how to do this. Here is a CNN report on why NATO is now getting behind a Social Software approach to war. (Posted yesterday- sorry about the repeat but this makes sense)

CNN interviews a NATO Official in Afghanistan who echoes the Secretary and insists that we better get good at this or risk losing the real war – which is all political.

The strategy aims to counter years of propaganda video posted on the Internet showing Taliban attacks on NATO forces which fighters use to claim that NATO’s position in the Afghan war is deteriorating.

“The Taliban, who are literally cave-dwellers, are doing better than we are on a key battleground — and that’s video,” said NATO spokesman James Appathurai. “They deploy with videographers. We don’t. They have DVDs out in an hour, we don’t.”

Wielding video cameras like weapons, fighters quickly upload images of their attacks and create a valuable morale booster for their supporters.

Now, after much internal debate, NATO has begun declassifying and posting top secret combat video on YouTube and other Web platforms to try and beat theTaliban at its own game.

“We’re, in a sense, winning the tactical battles, but we’re not focusing enough on the strategic battle, which is public opinion,” said Appathurai.

The link to the excellent report and video is here.

In 1918, America could see for itself the power of flight. The nation adopted it like no other.

So here is my prediction. The first institution that will really invest in developing Social Software to radically improve how it delivers will be parts of the military. As with the train in the civil war and WWI, as with flight in WWI and WWII, how we deploy, how we fight and what victory is will be redefined.

The greatest irony will be is that the lesson for this change will have been taught by Al Qaeda.

This will not be an all or nothing adoption. Even in the 1920. and 1930’s Billy Mitchell fought an uphill battle with his superiors about the value of aviation. But the wedge was in.

The first flight was in 1903. By 1945, aviation was the new dominant military power. By 1975 aviation had captured the civilian world.

I think that history will look back at Facebook and smile.


Well done Mark – but look at what this technology really did!


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