When Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller announced criminal charges against Russian operatives for encroaching with the 2016 general elections, descriptions of how the Russians used modern communication technology were all too familiar. Journalists referred to the ways in which Russia “manipulated social-media scaffolds, ” and tech corporation ministerials like Facebook’s Rob Goldman decried “how the Russians mistreated our system.”
Joshua Geltzer is executive director and inspecting prof of constitution at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection as well as an ASU Future of War fellow at New America writing a journal on the issues discussed here. From 2015 to 2017 he acted as elderly director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council.
This is standard fare. When Russia influences elections via Facebook, or ISIS drafts followers on Twitter, or prejudiced landowners reject rentals to pitch-blacks and then offering them to greys through Airbnb, reporters and companies describe these activities as “manipulation” or “abuse” of today’s ubiquitous websites and apps. The impulse is to represent this abhorrent action as a strange, unreliable, and peripheral contortion of the platforms.
But it’s not. It’s simply exploiting those stages as designed.
Twitter’s mission announcement speaks of sharing ideas and annihilating obstacles: “To leave everyone the power to create and share ideas and intelligence instantaneously, without barriers.”
It’s no startle, then, that ISIS was drawn to Twitter’s they are able to share news about demolishing a different type of hurdle. When the gunman group startled the world in 2014 by cleaning through much of Syria and then pushing into Iraq, its most important moment occurs on Twitter, as ISIS tweeted photos of a bulldozer swallowing the earthen obstacle that had long observed the boundary between Syria and Iraq.