Social Media Battles: From Daniel Pearl to Donald Trump

Article by Matt Gallagher

Twenty Years of Forever Warring on the Internet…

Tweets DO Fail Us Now

At age 36, I’m part of the last American generation that rememberslife before the internet, before social media. Try explaining to the youngsters what dial-up was, the importance of a good (and cryptic) AOL away message, or how it took two hours to download one naked photo of Jenny McCarthy. Times were tough.

Over the last two decades, the internet’s changed substantially, and so has the way we use it. Social media’s been at the vanguard of this evolution. From Friendster to Blogger to Snapchat to whatever newfangled site teenagers adopt tomorrow, the platforms we use to communicate and present ourselves on say a lot about us as a society, and as people. Through it all, the American military’s been at war on the far edges of the world, fighting and killing and trying, as best they can, to stay connected with the homeland and their loved ones.

The trajectory of social media is also a trajectory of the forever war. To see the connection between the two, look no further than how the conceptual projects conjured up in Silicon Valley garages get utilized in dire, spartan conditions by soldiers and Marines. The military brass didn’t always like social media, sometimes they even tried to ban it, but (cue Jeff Goldblum-from-Jurassic Park-voice), technology finds a way.

American war and social media, strange bedfellows for sure, yet they have been intertwined for 20 years now. Here’s a tracing of that history.

Fall 2001-Winter 2002: 9/11 happens. Early conspiracy theories fester on chat boards. America invades Afghanistan. Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is kidnapped in Pakistan, and beheaded nine days later. Video of his execution spreads across social media like wildfire. A new age of psychological warfare is upon us.

2002: The Afghan Wireless Communications Company is awarded the first Global System for Mobile license and contract in Afghanistan. The fall of the Taliban government means many things, including real internet access. This does not come close to ending the war, but one can presume it does bring the dick pic to Afghanistan, which is not nothing.

2004: Military blogs, aka “milblogs,” begin to emerge from bases across Afghanistan and Iraq, bringing to readers raw, unvarnished combat stories. One of the most popular, “My War: Killing Time in Iraq” by infantryman Colby Buzzell, details the author’s experiences during the Battle of Mosul. It subsequently gets shut down for operational security violations.

The Pentagon initially responds to the rise in unapproved social media postings by servicemembers by shutting off access to popular blogging sites and YouTube. This does not have the intended effect of controlling information.

2006: Milblogs become mil books. A slew of blogs-turned-books get published, including Buzzell’s My War, and collected anthologies like Doonesbury’s The Sandbox and Blackfive’s The Blog of War: Front-Line Dispatches From Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The irony is that in ten years, no one will read either books or blogs (wokka wokka).

June 2008: Yours truly gets his blog, “Kaboom: A Soldier’s War Journal,” shut down during a tour in Iraq. Don’t make fun of your battalion commander on the internet, kids, it will get back to him! Your intrepid hero gets yelled at a lot, but that’s pretty much it — partially because a lieutenant colonel at the Pentagon argues that crushing me for blogging is the exact wrong lesson to take away from social media. Is the Green Machine actually learning about twenty-first-century communications?