Historians and politicians will mine the astonishing 2016 U.S. election for years to come, drawing countless lessons about voter dissatisfaction, political acrimony and resistance to social change, among many other mostly domestic problems brought to the surface by the tumultuous campaign. But one of the unexpected mileposts marked by America’s electoral exercise this year lies in the use of a new weapon in global power politics: weaponized social media as an aggressive tool of foreign policy.
If war is politics by other means, as the 19th-century military strategist Carl Von Clausewitz famously said, the U.S. election demonstrated that in the 21st century, foreign-directed new media operations have become war by other means.
The case of Russia’s blunt, though thinly concealed, intervention in the American elections showed that a determined and brazen foreign player can use new mass communication technology to achieve political and strategic goals. And judging by what we have seen so far, it can do so without paying much of a price.