Best-selling author Peter Singer talks with the Brunswick Review about winning the increasingly crowded and contentious war for attention
What do Isis and Taylor Swift have in common?
According to author and digital-security strategist Peter Singer, both the terrorist organization and pop star are fighting for your attention online and employing similar tactics to try and win it.
ISIS kicked off its 2014 invasion of Mosul with the hashtag, “#AllEyesonISIS.” More recently, the terror group posted photos of its members holding cute cats in an effort to make them more relatable – tactics familiar to most celebrities and online marketers around the world.
These online battles, the rules governing them, and their real-world impact are the focus of Mr. Singer’s latest book, LikeWar, which he coauthored with Emerson T. Brooking, at the time a research fellow with the Council of Foreign Relations.
“A generation ago people talked about the emergence of cyber war, the hacking of networks. A ‘LikeWar’ is the flip side: the hacking of people and ideas on those networks. Power in this conflict is the command of attention,” says Mr. Singer, who in addition to his writing is also a strategist and Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation.
Pretty much everyone who posts online – from governments to marketers to reality TV stars – is a combatant in this fight for virality, according to Mr. Singer. Triumph in a “LikeWar” and you command attention to your product or propaganda or personality. Lose and you cede control of the spotlight and the agenda.
Mr. Singer recently spoke with Brunswick’s Siobhan Gorman about the trends he’s seeing in LikeWars around the world, and what companies can do to avoid being on the losing end.
What were you most surprised by in researching LikeWar?
One of the more interesting characters in the book was at one time voted TV’s greatest villain: Spencer Pratt, a reality TV star on MTV’s “The Hills.” He’s basically one of these people who became famous almost for nothing.
But what Pratt figured out really early was the power of narrative, which allowed him to become famous through, as he put it, “manipulating the media.”
In the same week, I interviewed both Pratt and the person at the US State Department who’s in charge of the US government’s efforts to battle ISIS online. And Pratt, this California bro who’s talking about how to manipulate the media to get attention, understood more of what was playing out online than the person at the State Department.