Those of us who experienced the early days of social networking were concerned about the simplistic algorithms that were replacing critical thinking. Suddenly it wasn’t about trusted news sources with credentials and legal exposure. Now it was about the sheer number of likes, shares, and retweets that made the news “credible.”

It didn’t take long for our adversaries to figure out that they could take advantage of this new “system” of perceived credibility. It was no longer based on potential liability, established reputation, or even science, but solely on clicks!

And who was doing all that clicking? We were! We got suckered into 3 major misconceptions:

  1. Entertainment is equal to facts. If it’s interesting but not vetted, the temptation is to share it and be appreciated as the source of the entertainment. You get more “likes” but you can spread falsehoods.
  2. Agreeable posts must be right. When you share any “news” that supports your opinions, even if it’s not vetted, both sides of any issues are being duped!
  3. Popularity = Credibility. Some folks believe that the number of interactions and engagements make posts reliable. However, the interactions can be made up from borrowed accounts or bots.

Now add to that a loss of interest in civics, which is how and why our government was designed to protect us from mob rule on the one hand, and dictatorship on the other. In other words, checks and balances.

Enter a tech savvy adversary with the goal of disrupting our democracy. How to do it? Simple, just undermine our confidence in the institutions that provide those checks and balances, like the executive, legislative, judicial branches of our government and our free press. Create millions of stolen identities to qualify for social media accounts, and use bots to create mega campaigns simultaneously on both sides of every trending divisive issue. Amplify the divisive posts already made by our own people and make millions of new ones.

If our adversaries can get us to lose faith in our 200-year-old institutions and distract us with infighting, then they have executed the age-old art of war – “divide and conquer.” Now they are free to move about the world and pursue their own interests at our expense while we get more cynical and divisive.

So, how do we defend ourselves from this kind of attack? This is not a quick fix, but a sustained effort. We have been working with students over the past five years and we have admired their desire to understand the world and be successful in it. It is precisely our freedom and democracy that provide the solid bedrock upon which they will build their new businesses. It is the enabling environment startups need to succeed.

Now Uncle Sam needs the students to take action to defend these institutions. Here is how it is done:

  1. Accountability. Hold social media companies accountable for allowing false accounts and bot manipulation. Social media companies should not be making money from attacks on our institutions or the sowing of divisiveness.
  2. Healthy Skepticism. Question all posts on trending divisive issues. Look for validation from news sources that have liability insurance and reputations at stake.
  3. Take Civics. Understand and appreciate how our government is organized and why populist demigods cannot legally deliver what they promise. Appreciate and defend the checks and balances that have been put in place. If Civics is not offered in your school, create a club of like-minded students to learn the way our government works.
  4. Vote. Even if your candidate doesn’t make it into the finals, still vote for the “lessor of two evils” so you don’t get the greater of two evils! Learn to compromise.
  5. Speak Out! It’s your life, your safety, and your future that’s at stake. When students speak, the country listens. You represent our future and our new voters. Expose politicians taking checks from interest groups that undermine your future.

If there was ever a time where the future of our democracy was in danger, it is now. The boomers are transplants to the technological age. The students of today are natives. It is up to the natives to get restless! Uncle Sam needs you now!

Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact