Andrew Trabulsi, a strategy, technology, and intelligence consultant and co-editor of Warlords, Inc.: Black Markets, Broken States, and the Rise of the Warlord Entrepreneur, joins me in episode 79 to look at recent developments in the social media space of the investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election and what the evidence says about our ability (or inability) to identify and address modern propaganda. The techniques used in the 2016 election are not new but the potential for disaster rises as awareness about how they can be leveraged and misused spreads and the technological and social changes that amplify their effects continue their rapid advance. Complete solutions will remain elusive so how do we, and the platforms we depend on, push back?
Of course, we look at the subject primarily through the lens of current events. Russia is covered, as is the Trump administration, social media, and the role technology companies and their platforms play in facilitating propaganda networks and distribution.
This is an issue that, primarily thanks to technology, can feel a bit overwhelming at times. The volume of propaganda that can be directed at an adversary is unprecedented. The ways in which it can be finely tuned and targeted are new developments as well. But all is not lost and we offer reasons for hope. We also argue for slight changes in perspective that will help mitigate the impact of messaging that seeks only to create chaos and divide its targets.
In episode 7 I’m pushing back at the notion that Daesh’s social media visibility equals success. The group might have mastered trolling and they can shoot and edit passable HD video but are these activities going to help them achieve their goals or are they, in fact, undermining themselves with every tweet and every recorded act of brutality? You’ve read the title so I think you know where I’m going with this.
This episode ends with a message from Ambassador Lukman Faily. Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States is an engaging presence on Twitter and I’ve interviewed him twice for Blogs of War. The Ambassador argues that Daesh is a global problem, not just an Iraqi one, and comments on the changes his government is making to address critical internal political and social issues.
This week, I’m offering my take on the notion than Twitter is broken. David Auerbach did a fine job of arguing just that in Slate recently, and I agree with much of what he wrote, but my conclusion might surprise you. I’m also offering some thoughts on our struggle to deeply understand terrorism and the people who engage in it. I’ll share some of my concerns about our progress in this area and recommend that you read an excellent piece by Lieutenant Colonel Jason Logue, an Australian Army Information Operations specialist,Fighting the Narrative: Understand to Effectively Engage in the War of Ideas. And then I’ll share some thoughts about terrorism and technology. ISIS stormed through Twitter just a few weeks ago and now many of them are paying the ultimate price for their trolling. I’ll explain why terrorism, social media, and apps aren’t the potent mix that many people fear they are and tell you who really stands to gain from these tools. A very thoughtful question from a listener follows.
Welcome to the launch of Covert Contact: The Blogs of War Podcast. In episode 1 I am looking at the notion of intelligence failures and why they’re often more complicated than they seem – or not failures at all. I’m also taking a look at the new biography of Murad Storm, the towering red-haired Danish agent who infiltrated al Qaeda. Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA is a fascinating read that raises many questions about our ability to infiltrate radical Islamic groups. And then a discussion about the darker side of eDiplomacy. Do we really want world leaders trolling each other on Twitter?