Best Defense

Essay contest (5): Embrace the new tactics & learn to troll, flame, and pwn

The U.S. military must acknowledge the realities of our information age, warts and all, and embrace the tactics of trolling, flaming, and pwning America’s adversaries and competitors.

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By Patrick McKinney
Best Defense contest entrant

The U.S. military must acknowledge the realities of our information age, warts and all, and embrace the tactics of trolling, flaming, and pwning America’s adversaries and competitors.

Terrorists, insurgents, and peer competitors understand Mark Twain’s comment that, “a rumor travels the world while the truth puts on its shoes,” as they use modern communications to share their views, instigate conflict, and harass their opponents. Photos of alleged atrocities, combat, snuff, glassy e-magazines, and viral videos spread at the speed of light, while the truth makes its way to a podium or press release. It is time to fight fire with fire. It is time for America to troll its opponents, flame its adversaries, and show some pwnership. Urban Dictionary users define a troll as, “one who posts a deliberately provocative message… with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument,” pwning as, “dominating an opponent” (a popular Internet misspelling of “own”), and to flame as, “to insult someone electronically, or otherwise.”

The Internet can bring fame, fortune, or disaster to celebrities, public figures, and regular people who make mistakes, and it is time for the American military to harness this power. Memes, gifs, viral videos, etc., are cheap, simple, and effective. Imagine if after the next time Russia invades a neighbor, the Secretary of Defense posted a picture of a shirtless Vladimir Putin with the caption along the lines of, “I don’t always annex countries, but when I do, I don’t wear a uniform.” .

Some may say that these acts are juvenile, immature, offensive, or beneath America’s dignity. That view is right, but that does not mean that these acts are ineffective. There was a time when gentlemen did not read each other’s mail either, but the world moved on.

Russia utilized non-traditional information operations in its operations in Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria to own the narrative. China uses stringent Internet controls on its populace, industry, and academia to control its narrative. The Islamic States uses new media to spread its message, recruit, fundraise, and intimidate its enemies. It is time for the United States military to use modern information operations to disrupt these narratives, and set its own. Its adversaries and competitors do not have the same restrictions and challenges as a free and legal democratic republic, but America must meet hybrid threats with its own updated information capabilities. It is time for America to troll, flame, and pwn.

Patrick McKinney is an Army civilian in acquisitions and served as an Army officer. The views expressed are his own.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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