SOCNET, the list serv of INSNA, sent me this blog post about how the tools of SNA could be used as a tool of the state and therefore of oppression.
I am sympathetic to abuses of power of the state. And I can imagine the kinds of uses of SNA that raise troubling questions. The whole discourse around terror suspects is, well suspect. “Is a known associate of Mr. Evil.” What does it mean to be a known associate? What if I am two degrees away from a terrorist? Or what if he is my brother and all the airtime recorded on the phone is me trying to talk him out of his ways. The author recommends disconnecting from the system.
In other words state control will be absolute. Thought crime will be predicted and corrected without the subject even knowing about it. If you are an activist or campaigner working against the state and the corporations that support it then you need to consider getting yourself off the records as much as possible – although, due to the insidious power of social network analysis you will never be entirely out of their gaze.
Two issues: first, this is relational analysis, not social network analysis per se. This is not a big argument for m. But it does suggest the next. Secondly, and more importantly, the fundamental complexity of the social interactions the author imagines being able to be targeted in such a focused way is very high. This complexity may mitigate against the kind of dystopia author imagines. Even if I am right about the fundamental complexity, it doesn’t mean emboldened state agencies won’t try to exert total subtle control over dissent using the tools of SNA.