LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media

by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking

The next war will not be fought on a conventional battlefield but in the information and cognitive space. In this “LikeWar” power is not measured by physical strength or high-tech hardware but by command of attention and perception.

Winning this type of war requires master of the following tools:

  1. Narrative – instantly understood, simple, resonates
  2. Emotion – anger is most influential
  3. Authenticity – a kernel of “truth” is helpful; appeal to confirmation bias
  4. Community – brings people together as part of a group
  5. Inundation – message must be everywhere

China and Russia have already established state infrastructure (to include military) to dominate the information space. China’s Golden Shield Project has transformed its internet into the largest domestic surveillance network in the world aimed at producing harmony within and projecting the same outward. Russia has weaponized information through the 4Ds: Dismiss the critic, Distort the facts, Distract from the main issue, and Dismay the audience. Operation INFEKTION, the KGB’s disinformation campaign claiming the U.S. created AIDS, was an early example of this doctrine and entities like RT continue these campaigns today.   

There are several efforts/initiatives currently underway as well as historical examples that could help the U.S. compete in the information space. During the Cold War, the U.S. “Active Measures Working Group” was a whole of nation effort to combat Soviet disinformation. The Baltic states have established solid programs to combat Russian interference and disinformation campaigns today. The British 77th Brigade and NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence both have developed measures to weaponize information.

The U.S. military has done some research such as COL Prosser’s “Memetics: A Growth Industry in US Military Operations” and CNA’s “Exploiting the Utility of Meme’s for the U.S. Government.” The Intelligence Community is suited to identify and establish networks of people for information; cyber elements have TTPs for inundating the internet with messages. Agencies like Bellingcat and Predata have developed effective OSINT analytical techniques for dissecting what happened and predicting future conflicts/civil disturbances. Finally, the military must work with social media companies who have shown they are capable of controlling disinformation and sockpuppets, bots, etc. on their platforms.

As China and Russia weaponize AI, entities like Machine Driven Communications (MADCOM) – intelligent algorithms that replicate human speech after analyzing billions of speech patterns – will further inundate the information space and shape the cognitive battlefield in the United States and across the globe. Reality is no match for perception; if people believe their country is winning, they are. The U.S. has got to do better.


  1. How can we balance democratic ideals, like freedom of speech, with control of false or machine language on the internet?
  2. How do you balance this type of power and is balance even relevant?
  3. Why don’t we have an Information Warfare CFT?
  4. How might we build an effective interagency Info Warfare CFT?
  5. With current administration, can we even do anything in the information space?
  6. How does the United States re-establish credibility in the information space abroad?
  7. Can we inundate the populations in Russia and China with the truth? Would they even believe us?

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