Archive for the 'terrorism' Category

Real Social Networks

December 14, 2006

A tragedy, not unlike thousands of others that strike each day, recently hit a member of the internet community. Leslie Harpold passed away suddenly sometime last week.

Usually, such an incident, while sad, is met with little to no fanfare. An anonymous individual, who had participated in a few online communities, was suddenly no longer a part of any of them. There may be a eulogy or two on some of those forums, and in a day, maybe less, the thread would have slipped off the page into oblivion.

But this is different. Lots of people have written eulogies for her, which is a tremendous tribute to her ability to make people appreciate her. However, these are individuals from a wide range of locales and interests, running their own blogs about their own interests. Rebecca Blood and Jason Kottke are blogger veterans, having worked on their blogs for years. Fluxblog, a music site, mentioned her. Merlin Mann, who runs the popular productivity site 43 Folders, mentioned her. Metafilter, where she posted, had a post about her.

What’s interesting about all of these is that they operate as a blog royalty. Each was a ‘trailblazer,’ so to speak, in their field; ie. Metafilter was the first large general interest group link/blog site, not unlike the diggs, et al. of today. They form a virtual network outside of their hobbies and interests, yet many had stories of personal interactions with the deceased. Moreover, many are vocal proponents of the ‘social web;’ the flickr, digg, and other sites that are springing up to capitalize on the power of the crowd. Like modern day Adam Smiths, they believe that the invisible hand of the crowd can produce the most relevant and timely information.

They believe this because they belong to a powerful set of intelligent people who early on took advantage of new communication technology to share and propagate their interests. This experience is then extrapolated onto the Internet community as a whole. The thrill of their tight knit, early community should, in theory, intensify with the addition of more users with their competing points of view and experience.

Problems with this logic aside, it shows something really interesting about social networks and how things work in the world. In this week’s New Yorker, George Packer writes (article not available online) of an emerging theory about jihadists that posits that terrorists are drawn into the trade by their social network, not drawn to it out of ideology. In other words, the ideology is synthesized and strengthened by the community the individual belongs to – which is why the modern jihadist is so different from the Unabombers of the past.

At the end of the day, the connections made by these early adopters in terms of music, technology, and other interest areas overcame differences of distance and focus. Breaking into their ‘circle’ is not difficult, but probably not practical without an adherance to their orthodoxy. Based on this reasoning, changing the mindset of jihadist sympathizers will continue to prove incredibly difficult, both on and offline. More importantly, it will require substantial, on the ground work to change the ideas that circulate through these circles. Otherwise, the same messages will propagate and multiple.

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June 16, 2006

Don’t look at this if you’re squeamish. Yesterday, the Sri Lankan terrorist group Tamil Tigers blew up a bus killing around 60 people. This is an impassioned plea to do something about the group (who incidentally pioneered suicide bombing years before it was used in the Middle East).