WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS up to X-Men: Red #3
A terrifying new form of Sentinel has emerged in the Marvel Comics Universe - one built for the Social Media age. Most X-Men fans know the Sentinels well, as the series of deadly robots charged with protecting Humanity and destroying Mutants. While most of the Sentinels in the past have been giant robots, the new Sentinel introduced in X-Men: Red #3 has evolved to a higher form: a program that spreads through social media like a virus.
The X-Men team discovers the new Sentinel while in the middle of rescuing the mutant Trinary from a mob of anti-Mutant protesters and several Sentinel robots. That setting is the first clue as to the real "virality" of the Sentinel virus. As luck would have it, Trinary is revealed to be a technopath who has the power to hack electronics mentally, like a telepath might read minds.
This includes the older models of Sentinel, which Trinary is able to pacify with ease. The telepathic Jean Grey is able to put the minds of the mob to sleep... except for the three anti-Mutant attackers whose minds she is not able to touch.
When Trinary examines the three people, she determines that their minds have been taken over by a mechanical intelligence virtually identical to the program that runs the older model of Sentinel. The program is much more sophisticated, now capable of taking control of organic systems rather than just electronic ones. The good news/bad news confirmation from Trinary is that the three people are indeed humans, and not robots (either originally, or converted by the virus).
Later in the issue, Trinary puts forth a theory suggesting someone could be using social media to turn ordinary humans into shock-troops, forced recruits into a coming Human/Mutant war. In a further step towards blurring the line between anti-Mutant mental manipulation online and the real world outside the comics, Trinary explains that by using her powers to monitor anti-mutant sentiments online, she noted someone had already been using "half-truths taken out of context or outright lies."
The goal, it seems, is to track those people inclined toward anti-Mutant sentiments. Expose them to a piece of viral media that infects them, before programming them to act out, and become violent toward Mutants.
While this story is unusually timely given the recent revelations regarding the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, the fact of the matter is that the concept behind this new Sentinel program is nothing new. Regular social media has been accused of radicalizing people for a variety of political, racial and religious causes for the better part of a decade. The suggestion that someone might literally be subliminally transformed into a mindless zealot thanks to a computerized code is not as far-fetched as we might like to think.
It's a fitting conceit for the X-Men to examine, however, given the series' long history of tacking politically touchy subject matter.
X-Men: Red #3 is now available from Marvel Comics.