The Fault Lines of Europe & Weaponizing Social Media

Sunday, May 8th, 2022

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What Happens Next is a podcast where an expert is given just SIX minutes to present his argument. This is followed by a Q&A period for deeper engagement.

Today’s topics are The Fault Lines of Europe & Weaponizing Social Media.

Our Speakers are Robert Kaplan and Emerson T. Brooking.


Larry Bernstein:

Welcome to What Happens Next. My name is Larry Bernstein.

What Happens Next is a podcast where the speaker gets to present his argument in just Six Minutes and that is followed by a question-and-answer period for deeper engagement.

Today’s discussion will be on the historic fault lines in Europe as well using social media in wartime.

Our first speaker will be Robert Kaplan who is the author of the best seller The Balkan Ghosts and the recently released Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age. Robert will discuss why Italy, the former Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece and Turkey are the fault lines of Europe and why there are wars on Europe’s periphery.

Our second speaker is Emerson Brooking who will discuss his book Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media. We’ll learn about how Ukraine and Russia are using social media to persuade their allies to support their war efforts.

Buckle up.

If you missed it, check out last week’s program on Jewish Comedy and a History of the American Right.

The first speaker last week was Jeremy Dauber who is a Professor at Columbia and the author of Jewish Comedy: A Serious History. You will find out why there are so many Jewish comics and why they are so damn funny.
Our second speaker was Matthew Continetti from AEI who has a new book who entitled The Right: The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism. Matt explains how the conservative movement is not monolithic and that they disagree over foreign policy, trade, and immigration.

Every month since the beginning of Covid, I have discussed the latest employment report because it is the most important global economic statistic. This month’s Establishment report showed a 468,000 job increase which is very solid. Unemployment is low. Among college graduates it is now 2.0% and only 3.1% for those with some college. These numbers cannot go lower. We are approaching full employment.

The number of individuals who didn’t look for work because they were scared of COVID fell in half this month and is coming to an end. Yet, the demand for workers is at near record levels which explains why the job market is hot and why half of job switchers are getting raises in excess of ten percent.

The inflation in the economy is not transitory. And as a result, the Federal Reserve raised rates this week by 50 basis points to slow down the economy. But the Fed’s actions have 18-month lags and the Fed Funds rate is still only 1%. So, watch out.

I use interns to help me prepare this podcast, and I am looking to hire a new batch of interns for the summer. Historically the interns have been seniors in high school, college students, or recent graduates. Interns will read assigned books to decide if they are show worthy, we will review last week’s show to learn how to make it better, and interns will be exposed to all aspects of podcasting. Please let me know if you are interested.

You can find transcripts for this program and all of our previous episodes on our website, and you can listen on Podbean, Apple Podcast and Spotify.

Let’s begin with our first speaker Robert Kaplan.


Robert Kaplan

Topic: A History of the Adriatic
Bio: Travel Writer and author of Balkan Ghosts
Reading: Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age is here


I’m Robert D. Kaplan. I’ll be talking about my book, Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age.

The Adriatic is important for these reasons: One, the Adriatic is a fault zone between the east and west. On the Italian side on the west, you have Roman Catholicism. On the Baltic side on the east, you have Eastern Orthodox Christianity and in Albania, Islam. You have the Venetian Empire on the West and the Ottoman Turkish Empire on the East.

This is significant today in light of the Ukraine crisis. What is the Ukraine crisis about? Europe has always been determined by wars, cataclysms, events on its periphery. Ukraine is a periphery of Europe. Peter the Great and the Ottoman Turks came in from the East and changed Europe. Russia has always been a challenge for Europe.

The Adriatic is another periphery of Europe. In the 21st century, we’re going to see more interaction between Europe and the Near East, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa. and all this comes into play in my book about the Adriatic.

Robert Kaplan:

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Emerson T. Brooking

Topic: Weaponizing Social Media
Bio: Resident Fellow in Social, Cultural and Constitutional Studies at AEI
Reading: Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media is here


I study the intersection of internet technology and war.

The first internet war was a small socialist uprising in the state of Chiapas, Mexico in 1995, and the most recent internet war is between Russia and Ukraine.

I see three ways that the internet has changed war and conflict.

The first is the revolution in open-source intelligence or OSINT. Widespread internet penetration and near-universal smartphone use lets video and photographic evidence spread through the internet after the fact.

As one CIA officer told me, secrets now come with a half-life. In the May 2011 mission to kill Osama bin Laden, SEAL Team Six stormed bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. They’d flown two Black Hawk helicopters low to the ground avoiding radar detection in the dead of night.

It was a secret military operation. They killed Osama bin Laden and exfiltrated and no one was the wiser. This operation was discovered by a Pakistani IT consultant who was up late at night, crashing on a project. He heard the whole thing, and he created his own digital trail of events.

After President Obama announced that bin Laden had been killed, reporters were able to find this evidence and ask questions, about evidence not disclosed in the initial U.S. announcement of the operation. This OSINT revolution enables crowdsourcing, a real-time collaboration between multiple analysts using off-the-shelf tools like Google Maps, or working with other people who are looking at the social media trails of fighters in war zones.

In Ukraine, the OSINT community watching TikTok videos of Belarusian teenagers had a pretty accurate understanding of Russian forces and military equipment that was in place prior to the invasion.

The second way that the internet’s changed war is in the spread of propaganda. The internet optimizes content that produces anger and outrage.

This human compunction to consume content that makes you angry, to share it, has been harnessed by actors to gain political and battlefield advantages. The Islamic State Terrorist Organization in 2014 used viral propaganda and outrage-inducing barbaric violent content to grow from a small faction in the Syrian Civil War to a military organization that was capable of invading Northern Iraq that required an international response to defeat.

This content that spreads anger and outrage doesn’t have to be true, and the messenger of this content does not have to accurately represent themselves. So, this opens the door to clandestine information manipulation or disinformation.

My team at the Digital Forensic Research Lab see disinformation campaigns proliferating in this war between Russia and Ukraine. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was premised on an extended disinformation campaign that it denied historical Ukrainian claims to sovereignty and associated all Ukrainians with neo-Nazis.

The final thing is the way the internet has changed the power of social media companies. They wield the power of content moderation. As we think about war migrating online, we need to think a bit about the battle space. Now, this isn’t a physical battle space. This isn’t land, sea, or air. This is a digital battle space, and that means that it plays by a different set of rules.

The way the platforms and algorithms are built, these decisions are concentrated in the hands of a small number of individuals, the founders of Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, and the Chinese owners of TikTok who are disconnected from politics at large.

Historically, these social media companies have been reluctant to accept their new responsibility. A lot of the engineers who run these systems set out to create interesting consumer products. They didn’t set out to be judges and arbiters of armed conflict or political campaigns. So, they’ve sometimes denied the power that their products have.

We’ve seen the power that these companies have wielded over the war between Russia and Ukraine. Technology companies repeatedly stumble as they’ve tried to write policy which permits Ukrainians to call for violence against Russian invaders, while still prohibiting violent content and extremism in other cases.

The Russian government seeing the power that these companies wield have banned, Facebook Twitter, and Instagram. Russia talks increasingly about disconnecting itself from the global internet entirely.

I study revolution in communications, in politics, and in warfighting, and it’s a fundamental challenge for our age.

Robert Kaplan:

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