We’ve never been closer to the wars around us—or better able to shape themby / December 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
In recent decades, as unconventional armies and self-declared autonomous regions proliferate, the way wars are fought have changed. Modern warfare has allowed more people to participate in combat—even if they’re not in the same country as the battle itself.
The democratisation of war is at the heart of David Patrikarakos’s War in 140 Characters, a thorough journalistic study into how Facebook and Twitter have not only influenced the nature of combat, but also lowered the barriers to participation. Patrikarakos, who wrote the book while covering wars since 2014, writes: “This is a book about the narratives of conflict.”
The volume profiles various personalities and figureheads who have found themselves as the unlikely influencers of warfare: Farah Baker, the Gazan teenager who live- tweeted the impact of Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza to millions across the world; Mustafa Nayyem, the activist whose Facebook post was a starting point of the Maidan Square protests in Ukraine; and Eliot Higgins, an English suburban gamer whose use of open-source data and crowd-sourcing has directly challenged both the Assad regime in Syria and the Kremlin. According to Patrikarakos, the internet has given these new figures more power than ever before.
The author argues that such individuals illustrate the limitations of conventional theorists of war. The hyper-connectivity of social media can both empower individuals and destabilise societies.
The physical nature of war may not have shifted, but the way in which warfare is reported on and perceived in the age of the internet certainly has. Patrikarakos concedes that the internet is unlikely to be a cause of a third world war, but he does leave us with a warning—that war through the lens of social media “has created an environment more conducive to wide-scale conflict than at any time since 1945.”
War in 140 Characters: How Social Media is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century by David Patrikarakos is published Basic (£22)