Chapter 3

THE WHITE HOUSE

 

Three Weeks into Twitter Jujitsu

“What’s this?” the president asked, pointing to the bottom of the single sheet of paper lying on his desk.

 

“Sir, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Twitter Jujitsu movement.” The president’s chief of staff spoke with blatant disdain. Twitter was always an uncomfortable topic.

 

“I’m not asking what it is. I’m asking why it’s on our agenda. And why are you calling it a movement?”

 

The chief of staff acknowledged the small group gathered in the Oval Office, singling out no one. “We believe it’s a topic requiring our attention.”

 

“Ignore it. Attention will give it oxygen. The ‘movement’”—the president paused to make air quotes— “will flame out on its own.”

 

“The problem, sir, is we’ve received reliable intel regarding a substantial cash prize.”

 

“Wonderful. Are we really going to talk about this?”

 

“We believe it’s urgent, sir,” said one of the president’s senior advisors. She had been at his side for a decade, since well before he became president. If he trusted anybody, he trusted her. “At the moment, it’s well-contained within social media. The press is, at most, mildly interested. Only a few of the major news organizations have caught on. When this prize is announced, interest will grow exponentially. The press will activate, the public will engage, social media will reignite, and the cycle will build on itself. It’s called a viral loop,” she said, using a catchphrase she was sure he would repeat. “They can be challenging to contain.”

 

The president sank into his chair. “Do I need to ask who’s bankrolling the prize?”

 

“Our sources tell us it’s money from our favorite band of liberal operatives out West,” the chief of staff said.

 

The president nodded and scowled. “Knew it.” He threw his hands over his head and waved them madly. “Impeach! Impeach!”

 

After waiting a moment for the president to calm himself, the chief of staff said, “As we’re well aware, the funding has been available from the minute you were elected. To date, they’ve come up empty in their various attempts to spend it. Zero measurable impact. But Twitter Jujitsu gives them an immediate and potentially effective way to invest. They’ve latched onto the contest and plan to announce their intent to pay and promote the winner. It’s not clear how they’re connected, if at all, to the person or group who initiated the challenge. Our sources have informed us a lot more funding will become accessible if the contest is effective.”

 

“This is so stupid,” the president said. “Why don’t I tweet an insult at one of these idiots right now? We have a winner! Contest over.”

 

The room fell silent.

 

The advisor cleared her throat before speaking. “Sir, let’s be careful not to underestimate people who come up with ideas like this. They have already successfully launched the program. That cannot be undone. In fact, plenty of copycats already exist. Different spellings of Jujitsu. Other martial arts like Muay Thai, Kung Fu, and Taekwondo. Some idiot started Twitter Kung Pao. The upcoming prize announcement is specifically intended to return the focus to the original Twitter Jujitsu movement.”

 

“When are they announcing?”

 

“Soon, maybe today,” the chief of staff said. “No later than tomorrow.”

 

“What’s the prize?”

 

“Six figures, minimum. Based on the rapid growth so far, our sources say the contest’s financial backers are willing to step it up into the millions.”

 

“Is this legal?”

 

“Early feedback from our lawyers indicates it is.” The chief of staff stood and crossed his arms, his standard move to signal the end of a meeting and the start of action items. “Either way, we still have decisions to make.”

 

“I can’t believe we’re wasting time on this. Don’t we have more important things to do?” The president squirmed, unsure of the answer. “Who started this Twitter Jujitsu bullshit?”

 

“We’re investigating that, too. Goes by the Twitter handle, @SYPlify. Whoever it is has covered their tracks. No Twitter profile information. No online footprint. It seems this movement was legitimately started from scratch. So far, we have been rebuffed by Twitter. In the absence of an official investigation, they require a court order to divulge personally identifiable information. If Justice opens a case, they can be subpoenaed. Twitter surely won’t keep quiet if we move in that direction.”

 

“Could this be the Russians? Or the North Koreans?” The president paused, angling his head toward the ceiling as he considered alternatives. “China?”

 

“Yes, sir, or anyone else. However, if the idea originated in a foreign country, it would be surprising to have the payout funded both domestically and publicly. More likely, it’s an American. Somebody good at fundraising.”

 

“Sounds like a clue.”

 

“Of course, sir. Our intelligence teams are following many leads. Let’s assume we’ll achieve a breakthrough. The question is, what are we going to do with the information if this is good ole American innovation?”

 

“You tell me.”

 

“Our options boil down to two alternatives. We can track down the source. We’ll find something—tax issues, infidelity, or some other compromising information. You know the drill. Or we address the movement directly, probably on Twitter, including the option, Mr. President, that you stop tweeting altogether.”

 

“Not going to happen. Find me the guy.”

 

“Might not be a guy,” the advisor said.

 

The president put his hands behind his head and leaned back, a wicked grin illuminating his features. “Even better.”

 

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