A few years ago, a fake TV newscast about a Russian invasion caused a real panic in Georgia. It was a modern day version of War of the Worlds. Well, except that at the time only 7% of the population in Georgia used the internet. It's impossible to imagine a TV program, no matter how realistic, having a similar effect in our networked culture.
For a mockumentary to create widespread panic today, its fiction would have to rise out of the network itself. Twitter would have to explode in a collective gasp. And thousands, or maybe millions, of people at ground zero would have to somehow be drowned out by impostors or convinced of an alternative reality.
But the more connected we all become, the easier it is for a tiny event on the other side of the planet to reverberate through all of us. And that's made us vulernable to a new kind of real fiction.
You and I now share an electronic nervous system. That's what the web is—a tangle of electronic nerves connecting us all together. It's a crude, embryonic system. But when you feel something, I feel something; when you have a thought, it rattles around in my head as well.
Politicians, artists, and advertisers now have direct access to our nervous system. Propaganda is no longer the art of fabricating stories, staging events or spreading misinformation—it's the science of manipulating our nerves in real time.
While we've been busy arguing about politics on Twitter, the real power brokers have figured out that Twitter is a useless medium for persuasion. A tweet has never convinced anybody of something they didn't already believe. The real power of social media lies in its ability to incite. You don't persuade people to join a mob, you provoke them, you excite them, you make them nervous. And we should be nervous, because a small group of giant companies now owns our nervous system.