One of the biggest challenges the U.S. military faces in early 21st century is that while it has all the best weapons of mass destruction it has NONE of the best weapons of mass communication. If history remembers either Iraq or Afghanistan, or possibly both, as a defeat, it will be because the Pentagon was not focused on the right things. It will be because the military chain of command failed to recognize, understand and embrace the power of the tweetbomb.
One of the first tweetbombs will likely cause the ‘action’ of sending a vast and sudden surge of 100 million users to a particular website or document somewhere on the internet. Information distribution paradigms that came before Twitter, such as Slashdot or Digg, are famous for bringing surges of tens of thousands of users to websites within a matter of hours, but this is nothing compared to the power that will be unleashed by Twitter. A key difference between Twitter and previous paradigms is that Twitter automatically pushes information to users, whereas previous paradigms relied on users to seek out a specific website to find and act on information. This makes all the difference.
How can an organization that blocks thumb drives ever hope to win an information war? As a society, we need to encourage our best minds to focus on methods of information warfare. Obama is a cult of personality. Imagine a United States where Obama had a twitter account where his followers waited to receive instructions to mobilize and demand that his political agenda be made reality.
It is conceivable in the next few years that a single individual or institution could have more than 100 million followers dutifully waiting to receive a message and take an associated action. Imagine an official Twitter account for the United States or Chinese Government, created with the specific purpose of mobilizing its citizens at a moments notice to respond to a natural disaster, military attack, or any number of other emergencies.
The U.S. government has some trust issues to overcome that it will probably have to face before millions of citizens would be willing to respond to a tweet. That’s really neither here nor there. The key point of this blog entry is that information distribution systems continue to grow more robust and ubiquituous. People are growing infinitely more connected than they ever have been in human history. This will shake up paradigms long taken for granted and rearrange them in ways most people are not ready for.
The U.S. military needs to be paying attention to the technology changes taking place in the United States and worldwide because the wars of the 21st century are likely to be won or lost on LED screens or whatever replaces them. Right now that isn’t happening at the level it should be. DARPA might be thinking about how to win an information war, but corporals and captains are not. Ultimately they will need to start, or the U.S. is going to start losing.