The Fog of War Caused By Twitter And Social Media
The fog of war is defined as the uncertainty in situational awareness experienced by participants in military operations. First introduced by the Prussian military analyst Carl von Clausewitz in his posthumously published book, Vom Kriege (1837), which appeared in English translation in 1873 under the title On War:
We saw the fog of war that was created by the use of Twitter in Boston in the immediate aftermath of the twin bombings. Initial reports on Twitter tweeted that there were as many as 3, 4 or 5 bombs.
Initially, what turned out to be a minor fire at the Kennedy Library was originally reported as a bomb. Other tweets reported that Boston Police had made one or two controlled detonations of suspected bombs. These tweets went as far as naming the locations of the detonations.
Once those false alarms had been disposed of there were numerous tweets with questionable facts. There were tweets about the Saudi person of interest. This went on until the FBI revealed images of their two suspects and then the next round of tweeting began.
The manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers was fertile ground for erroneous tweets. Boston police and FBI investigators could not sort fact from fiction among themselves in some cases, according to John Miller of CBS News, a former deputy director of the FBI.
For example, an initial report issued police incorrectly claimed that the suspects robbed a 7-Eleven. Another false report put out over the police radio said that the suspects had stolen a state police SUV.
The police radio dispatcher advised, “Lots of shots being fired, stolen SUV from state police, copy, stolen SUV from state police.” The false report led to officers firing on a Massachusetts State Police SUV that was occupied by another police officer and an FBI agent. No one was hurt but the origin of the false report remains a mystery.
New York Times media columnist Brian Stelter told “CBS This Morning ” that misreporting in the wake of the Boston bomb attack was “heightened by the web, heightened by social media” and involved “a lot of social media users retweeting the police scanner, which is some cases was misinformation to begin with.”
THe Twittersphere and other social media outlets continue to buzz about the Boston Marathon bombings creating even more confusion with questionable information.
Another demonstration of the power of Twitter took place on April 23rd the Associated Press’s Twitter account was spectacularly hacked on the following tweet was sent to their multitude of followers:
The result: the Dow Jones Industrial average plunged by nearly 140 points with a potential loss of $136 billion in assets. Once the AP revealed that their account had been hacked, the market returned to normal but in that brief time the power of Twitter was demonstrated.