Small Wars Journal

Social Media is 'First Tool' of 21st-Century Warfare, U.S. Lawmaker Says

Social Media is 'First Tool' of 21st-Century Warfare, U.S. Lawmaker Says by Jack Corrigan - Defense One

One lawmaker believes Russia’s use of social media to influence last year’s election demonstrated how warfare has moved away from the battlefield and toward the internet.

And the U.S. has been slow to adjust, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said Thursday.

“We may have in America the best 20th-century military that money can buy, but we’re increasingly in a world where cyber vulnerability, misinformation and disinformation may be the tools of conflict,” Warner said at The Atlantic’s Washington Ideas fest produced by Atlantic Media, which is Nextgov‘s parent company. “What we may have seen are the first tools of 21st-century disinformation.”

As vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Warner has helped lead one of the congressional investigations into the Russian meddling in the 2016 election. During a public interview with The Atlantic’s Steve Clemons, he gave updates on the progress of the investigation and stressed the importance of social media companies helping Congress understand the extent of Russia’s involvement.

According to Warner, there are three things the committee knows to be true: Russia hacked both political parties and used that information in President Donald Trump’s favor; Russia attacked but didn’t fully break into the voter registration systems of 21 states; Russia used paid advertising and fake accounts on social media to disseminate misinformation to voters…

Read on.


Bill C.

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 12:37pm

COL Maxwell, below, tells us: "But it (social media?) is just a tool. The important thing is the strategy that exploits it and then of course understanding and exposing that strategy.

Thus, as per COL Maxwell's thought above, the following -- re: understanding and exposing of our enemies' strategy (or grand strategy?) -- is offered:


In an unanticipated twist, and in an irony of history, influential authoritarian powers, led by China and Russia, have forged their own version of containment in the post–Cold War era. But it turns Kennan’s ideas about tyranny upside down, seeking to contain the spread of democracy rather than the growth of totalitarianism. ...

As the resurgence of authoritarian power has gathered momentum in recent years, some observers have taken comfort in the fact that the regimes in Beijing, Moscow, and elsewhere have not actively sought to promote their own systems as governance models. There has been little or no effort to create a policy of “autocracy promotion.” The fact that these regimes are not seeking to export an ideology of authoritarianism has made the West less likely to worry about their mobilization against democracy, including the powerful propaganda machines they have assembled. But it is a mistake not to take seriously the effectiveness of their strategy of containing what they fear and do not possess: democratic legitimacy.

At the Cold War’s end, the West pursued a policy of engagement in the hope that interlocking relationships would encourage undemocratic partners to adopt basic democratic standards, and that market-oriented trade and development would inevitably lead to political liberalization. The leading authoritarian regimes have confounded such hopes and, unlike the Soviet Union, not merely hunkered down to defend an indefensible system, but gone to great lengths to delegitimize the
democratic competition.

Over the years, this new containment policy has adapted, matured, and extended its reach on a global scale. The authoritarian challenge that has grown during this time deserves a far more vigorous response from the established democracies, if their own standards and values are to survive and flourish.

George Kennan did not see his Cold War–era version of containment as an end in itself but as a means to an end, one that would enable Soviet totalitarianism to self-destruct. The new authoritarians are pursuing their version of containment as a means to an end as well. Having come to the conclusion that their regime security is under perpetual threat in the era of globalization, they have decided to go after democracy before it comes after them.


Thus, in the spirit of Clausewitz: "The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish...the kind of war on which they are embarking ... " to suggest:

a. A New Cold War; wherein,

b. Containment (of the spread of democracy/the spread of Western institutions and values in this case) is the strategy of our enemies. And, wherein,

c. Subversion (in any of its old, new, novel, etc., forms, for example, disinformation; hacking of political parties; use of social media in these and other efforts) is the "First Tool of 21st-Century Warfare;" this, in the service of the strategy of containment -- as outlined above?

Outlaw 09

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 7:27am

In reply to by Bill M.

I remember being accused by SWJ on being on a soap box months ago about this topic, but I remember posting massively on this and pointing out we were in a full on non shooting war and it is still ongoing.

In the meantime and 2 EU elections later this war is intensifying and if you watched the massive sudden FAKE disinformation literally explode on FB/Twitter/Google after LV frm accts that were created in 2011, we the US have a serious problem and until US social media companies FB/Twitter/Google finally tell the truth we are going to continue to lose this "war".

Now off my soap box

Welcome to the true Russian non linear war in support to Putin's political war with the West

Putin has not come off a single strategic geopolitical goal stated since 2008
1. damage and discredit EU
2. damage and discredit NATO
3. total disconnect US frm Europe and ME

Since Trumps arrival he has added a critical 4th one

4. completely disconnect US frm GM

Now and this is critical for objective critical thinking, ask the simple question has the US President by his actions/tweets/comments, non following of passed laws ACTUALLY contributed to the 4 Russian geopolitical strategic goals.

I could post now over 4 open source Worddoc. pages on social media research on the Russian use of bots, trolls and their ties straight into US ultra right proTrump accts.

Backed by our research here in Berlin that is a bombshell if my customers would ever let me publish the research, which has now been passed to FBI/USGCI. I will be able to at some point publish the findings after court cases have been completed.

People we are in a true war, whether we like it or not and we are behind in it because we failed to really "see and understand" lessons we should have learned in Iraq because it was ongoing there as well.

We failed badly in understanding that Russian info/cyber warfare was targeting the globe, ie what we saw in Ukraine and what we saw against say anti Assad social media accts in 2012/2013 was played out in the US in 2016 and it still continues w/o slacking off one bit.

We failed to "see and understand" that it was all intertwined and it is all about "values" something we saw play put in the Cold War.....and forgot about along the way.

Bill M.

Sat, 09/30/2017 - 4:01pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Means: SM, bots, etc.

Ways: targeted disinformation campaign

Ends: weaken U.S. social and political cohesiveness to ultimately reduce our capability/capacity to oppose Russia.

Overly simplified, but you get the picture.

Bill C.

Sat, 09/30/2017 - 1:47pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

COL Maxwell: From your comment above:

"But it is just a tool. The important thing is the strategy that exploits it and then of course understanding and exposing that strategy."

Question: If the strategy of our enemies might, indeed, best be understood as "containment and/or roll back of democracy"/"containing and rolling back the spread Western institutions and values" -- as the two items I provide below seem to indicate -- then might our "new grass roots movement, a cyber underground," etc., best be utilized:

a. Not so much to "create a nationwide and global network that will seek out, identify, understand, and expose active measures and propaganda from societies in order to protect free and open societies ... " per se. But, rather,

b. To use these and other methods to (1) overcome the "containment and roll back of democracy"/"containment and roll back the spread of Western institutions and values" strategy of our adversaries and to (2) advance democracy/advance our institutions and values in spite of same?


The forces working against democracy are not limited to any single country or region but instead have multiple sources. First among these is a group of influential and ambitious authoritarian states that have organized themselves to directly contest democratic development and ideals. Regimes in Russia, China, Iran, and elsewhere are devoting vast resources and a good deal of thought to making the world more agreeable to their interests, which favor governance systems based on the monopolization of politics and state control. Another way of looking at this is that trendsetting authoritarian powers have made a priority of containing democracy, applying a twist to the ideas expressed in George Kennan’s “X-Article” that argued for a policy of containment to combat the spread of Soviet influence. ...



The EU and NATO are Mr Putin’s ultimate targets. To him, Western institutions and values are more threatening than armies. He wants to halt their spread, corrode them from within and, at least on the West’s fragile periphery, supplant them with his own model of governance.


Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

Thus, if we properly identify our enemies' strategy (containing and rolling back the spread of democracy/containing and rolling back the spread of Western institutions and values?), then might we not better employ our nation-wide and global youth, our grass roots movements, our special operations forces, our cyber weaponry and undergrounds, etc., more effectively; these, more in an offensive rather than defense manner?

(Herein, our such efforts needing to be focused more on "selling" our way of life, our way of governance, our institutions, our values, etc.; this, rather than on exposing the fact that our adversaries are using various ways and means to prevent our achieving this such objective? Such things as "resistance movements," etc., thus, now to be understood more along these, shall we say, "selling/advancing market-democracy" [i.e., "revolutionary" vis-a-vis the more authoritarian state and non-state actors?] lines?)

Dave Maxwell

Sat, 09/30/2017 - 10:27am

But it is just a tool. The important thing is the strategy that exploits it and then of course understanding and exposing that strategy. Here is a summary of some of things I have been thinking about this:

The open societies of the US and free and democratic nations are being subverted by active measures and propaganda to undermine political processes and sow cultural and political divisions to allow the closed societies of revisionist and revolutionary powers to dominate in international affairs. The way to counter this effort is through a grass roots resistance movement that consists of an educated, activist, energetic, and empowered youth who seek to be part of something larger than themselves and validate their self-worth as disruptors of the status quo. However, the closed societies are challenging their ability to disrupt because active measures and propaganda have taken away their initiative. A new grass roots movement, a cyber underground, organized around special operations principles could create a nationwide and global network that will seek out, identify, understand, and expose active measures and propaganda from closed societies in order to protect free and open societies. In short, our nation wide youth of disruptors could channel their abilities to beat the revisionist and revolutionary disruptors. The exposure of adversary active measures and propaganda can inoculate the population against adversary effects and render their efforts ineffective and useless. This movement will help to restore and sustain what George Kennan termed the "health and vigor of our own society" that is the vital antidote to the subversive threats that we face.