Social Network Analysis and Thought Crime

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.

United States of Consciousness: Social Network Analysis and Thought Crime

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.

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2 Comments

Filed under Government, Information and Communication Technology, Social Networks, Terrorism

2 responses to “Social Network Analysis and Thought Crime

  1. Thanks for the positive response to what was a rather unthorough post. I can see you understand the concern I was trying to get across. Let’s build this debate and ensure that if SNA use gets out of hand then people must either subvert it practically (beyond possibility as I suggest?) or have legal controls on its use, e.g. no trawling expeditions and court approved warrants to be reinstated. Whatever happened to the concept of a court warrant?

    Alastair McGowan, USofC

  2. One issue that has come to my ind in this debate is that the ever-expanding use of SNA in corporate and security arenas will compel citizens to demand a full right to privacy in the constitution. The “penumbra” of rights seems to be loosing its spf sunblock protection in the bright era of pervasive, networked computing.

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