The Atlantic’s November Tech Issue: How Social Media Got Weaponized—War in the Digital Age

Plus: 3rd Annual Silicon Valley Insiders Poll; How America Outlawed Adolescence; and The Atlantic’s historic presidential endorsement

Washington, D.C. (October 11, 2016)—Like most everything today, the campaign was launched with a hashtag. But instead of a new album or movie release, #AllEyesonISIS announced the 2014 invasion of northern Iraq—a bloody takeover that still haunts global politics two years later. The Atlantic’s November 2016 cover story, “War Goes Viral,” delivers a startling account of the ways social media, by democratizing the spread of information and erasing boundaries of time and distance, has transformed war to an extent not seen since the advent of the telegraph.

“War Goes Viral” anchors The Atlantic’s annual Tech Issue, which includes results of the magazine’s third annual poll of Silicon Valley insiders, and pieces about breaking the addiction to technology in America’s tech hub and a “Pocket Guide to the Robot Revolution”—to help sort the good from the bad and creepy from the adorable.

The November issue also houses The Atlantic’s historic endorsement of Hillary Clinton— the third candidate the magazine has endorsed since its founding in 1857. In the piece, “Against Donald Trump,” The Atlantic’s editors make the case for Clinton and reject Trump as maybe “the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.” They conclude: “But Trump is not a man of ideas. He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar. He is spectacularly unfit for office, and voters—the statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box—should act in defense of American democracy and elect his opponent.”

The full issue is online today, October 11, 2016, at and will be on newsstands this week. Several pieces are detailed below.

Cover Story and Features:

Cover: “War Goes Viral”
More than a year ago Emerson T. Brooking and P.W. Singer set out to understand the use of social media as both a tool in conflict and a shaper of it, tracking how online chatter has begun to intersect with real-life violence in dozens of armed confrontations around the globe. In the process, the authors untangled a seeming contradiction: the internet has long been celebrated for its power to bring people together, yet this same technology is easily weaponized. ISIS is a prime example...and many others are successfully taking cues from the ISIS playbook.

Despite today’s 3.4 billion internet users who send 500 million tweets each day and upload seven hours of footage to YouTube every second, nearly half the world’s adult population is still not online. Many of the new connections in the coming years will be concentrated in regions most susceptible to violence and conflict. In Russia, Soviet-Style “information warfare” has entered a period of renaissance, harnessing the power of the internet for domestic control and division abroad. In China, the “internet hive” no longer roils at foreigners alone, but also at China’s own military; and the U.S. military is now training for the “SMEIR” or “Social Media Environment and Internet Replication.”

The convergence of online speech and physical violence creates new dilemmas not only for nations, but for companies that created and are now responsible for the digital landscape. The authors conclude: “None of these issues has an easy answer. Yet these are the dilemmas that will come to define the social-media age as it confronts the timeless challenge of war. National leaders will have to reckon with a social-media environment that seeds violence through vast digital networks and a public that has never spoken with so loud and so immediate a voice. And they will face new kinds of conflict shaped by the internet’s next iteration.

The View from the Valley
Silicon Valley insiders own Teslas, aren’t sympathetic to Peter Thiel, covet Apple, think Marissa Mayer’s days are numbered at Verizon (even pre-email hack revelation), and won’t be voting for Trump. In our third annual Silicon Valley Insiders Poll, more than 50 tech executives, innovators, and thinkers weigh in. Top results from The Atlantic’s annual poll:

  • 69 percent of respondents own a Tesla, and almost as many -- 65 percent -- think Elon Musk’s company will be the first to bring a fully driverless car to market. The year most think this will happen? 2020.
  • 56 percent of Insiders think the tech industry has made meaningful progress in addressing sexism. Those with the best reputations for women: Facebook, Google/Alphabet, “I can’t think of one.”
  • How is Silicon Valley voting? Clinton: 88%; Undecided: 7%; Neither: 5%; Trump: 0%.

How America Outlawed Adolescence
In 2014, while sitting in Algebra I at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina, Niya Kenny uploaded a video to Snapchat of a sheriff pulling a fellow student from her chair and hurling her across the classroom after the girl refused to put away her cellphone. Kenny, who yelled at the teacher and sheriff as the incident was taking place, was arrested and taken to the police station for “disturbing school,” a mysterious offense that is routinely levied against about 1,200 South Carolina students annually. In the state, black students like Kenny are nearly four times as likely as their white peers to be charged with disturbing school. At least 22 states have disturbing school laws on the books, varying in their definition of the crime: whether it’s acting “in an obnoxious manner,” prohibiting “boisterous” behavior, or punishing students for “annoying conduct.” Amanda Ripley looks into the consequences of the laws for students and educators.

The Binge Breaker”: “Never before in history have the decisions of a handful of designers (mostly men, white, living in SF, aged 25-35) working at 3 companies” —Google, Apple, and Facebook— “had so much impact on how millions of people around the world spend their attention… We should feel enormous responsibility to get this right.” This is the battle cry of Tristan Harris, the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience. By showering profits on companies that seize our focus, Harris says the attention economy has kicked of a “race to the bottom of the brainstem.” Bianca Bosker explores how Harris and his advocacy group Time Well Spent are exposing the war being waged for our time, while persuading the tech world to help us disengage more easily from its devices. Though he may be swimming upstream in the industry, Harris hopes to mobilize support for what he likens to an organic-food movement, but for software: an alternative built around core values, chief of which is for technology to help us spend our time well, instead of demanding more of it.


The Doomsayer: Of the various explanations that have been advanced to explain Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP, Avik Roy’s may be the most explosive. Rather than a conservative party that happens to incorporate cultural grievances, today’s GOP is, in his view, is a vehicle for the racial resentment, nationalism, and nostalgia of older white voters. The element of the party once dismissed as a fringe, now seems to form its core. In this month’s “Sketch” by Molly Ball,  Roy discusses how his beloved GOP was capsized by racial resentment, and why Trump is the “logical end point” of the GOP’s long history of racialized politics

Making Up is Hard to Do: Gone are the days in which the country appeared united, or at the very least united in halves. The election is cleaving Americans like few in history; even people who recently seemed as though they were on the same team are at odds. As Conor Friedersdorf writes, “No matter who wins the election, or the next skirmish in culture wars, most Americans must live together, and will love together, within these borders, with people whose actions or views are anathema to them. How, then, can we get along?” Friedersdorf later continues: “Even if America is unlikely to descend into another civil war, our present trajectory carries huge risks… the good news is that counteracting polarization is not a lost cause, if only Americans are circumspect enough to recognize what we have in common… better to cooperate with those you believe to be misguided than to risk mutual destruction.”

Why For-Profit Education Fails: From JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs to billionaires and hedge fund titans, a veritable who’s who of investors and entrepreneurs has seen an opportunity to apply a market discipline of new technology to a education— a sector that seems to shun both on principle. As attractive and intuitive as as these opportunities seem, investors aiming to start an education revolution have, with regularity, lost their shirts. Jonathan Knee explores why moguls’ good intentions too often betray them when it comes to for-profit education.

As the country remains in the throes of an unprecedented political season, this month’s Big Question asks: “Who is the most influential politician in history?” From Pontius Pilate and Alexander Hamilton to Nelson Mandela, authors and historians weigh in.