“‘Win’ the internet, [and] you can win silly feuds, elections, and deadly serious battles.”
Trump’s unlikely rise to the White House was symptomatic of social, political, and technological trends decades in the making—trends that gave rise to the internet and social media and which, in turn, transformed the way we control, spy on, and kill each other.
It is interesting to think about the larger impact of the Internet as a system, and the power structures that exist behind it…and the power systems that it reifies.
In 1968, two psychologists wrote a paper theorizing that computers could become communications devices. The US Department of Defense ran with the idea, and in 1969 the precursor of the internet as we know it today, the military-operated ARPANET, went live. The National Science Foundation took over in the 1980s before business began to dominate in the 90s, at which point, things started to grow in exponential leaps. There were 28,000 internet users in 1987, according to Singer and Brooking. Today, there are billions.
There is immense power in being able to “win the internet” and win in real life.
Trump’s digital strategy, Singer and Brooking argue, is not unlike militant groups and street gangs that leverage the viral web to tell a compelling story about policy, religious dogma, or their own perceived fearsomeness, all in an engaging voice, while repeatedly targeting exactly the right audience to trigger a dopamine response or sheer terror, both online and IRL.
“To ‘win’ the internet, one must learn how to fuse these elements of narrative, authenticity, community, and inundation,” Singer and Brooking write. “And if you can ‘win’ the internet, you can win silly feuds, elections, and deadly serious battles.”