Regardless of your politics, you can’t argue that social media is of potentially huge value in a military or intelligence context. Yesterday, DARPA held a symposium that I am quite frustrated to have missed, and sent out an RFP for social media analysis. It generated some interesting media coverage. The New York Times talks the fact that the military is looking to build its capabilities in this realm, cautioning us about and Ross Dawson also discusses their call for technology to help them analyze social networks.
I live in an area where nearly everyone is affiliated with the government, military or intelligence community. And about one year ago – in August 2010 – just after the “Girl Who Quit By Whiteboard” was exposed as a hoax – I recommended these 10 actions, and three areas of research that I’d get after immediately.
Should we worry that if this works we’ll be professionalizing social engineering and the next generation Tokyo Rose? Yes, we should. This all happened before and will now happen at scale. And we should worry and think carefully about the implications. I don’t know them, and so perhaps its a blessing that the military and intel community has been amazingly, shockingly slow (or very secretive) to take advantage of these opportunities.
But nevertheless – if I were in charge of finding and eliminating bad guys, and protecting civilians on the ground in wartime situations, if I were in charge of understanding the formation of events such as Arab Spring (and note, I created this list the summer before wikileaks, the summer before Tahrir Square), this is what I’d do.
All of this is equally relevant, though perhaps not at a life-and-death level in the commercial sector as well. At a later date, I’ll redo this list for the commercial sector, but please share your thoughts on that here as well.
6 ways to use public-facing social media
1. Real time mapping of mood/issue perspective in any population – especially, but not exclusively youth (not teens – young adults. Teens text, they don’t tweet). The ability to do this is old news, by now. What the good guys should have is essentially a heat map of sentiment by region that can also be sliced by issue. And why isn’t Gallup building that, by the way (or are they?).
2. Social engineering – discovering who the bad guys are, and getting info from them, or identifying and recruiting individuals for your cause. – its actually very easy. Get on facebook and start asking your friends to list “10 things they think will change the middle east” or whatever. Really quite a bit of this is going on already, and if I were in charge I’d be trying to figure this out. Another dimension of this is engaging activists on your behalf. This is an interesting view on how to become an effective social media activist – and avoid pitfals of misinformation.
3. Crowdsourcing information. Our defenders of democracy have a pretty extensive reach – but its not infinite. I heard a great story about some photos taken in some remote and potentially dangerous place where there was suddenly a lot of foot traffic. We didn’t have people there, but were able to use FLICKR – yes flickr to find ground level photos of the place that showed it was a harmless, newly renovated tourist destination. DARPA also ran a very cool contest last year – ingenious, interesting and fun – which was intended to explore methods of networked knowledge. The contest was won by some exceptionally clever MIT folks, who used a payment pyramid to recruit people into its network.
More practically, that was also the season post the Haiti crisis. We saw some fabulous examples of people using cell phones and other devices to map the needs on the ground there to enable first responders to plan the locations and types of aid they needed to deliver.
4. Network analysis – Klout was in its infancy and this time, and I’d still say that its understanding of influence is very, very rough at best. I recommended they connect with one or more tech companies who are working on discovering and predicting who can/is influencing whom. I cautioned that there’s a steep learning curve on this right now – I think what we’ve learned is that there’s no single definition of “influence”, and that there must be context specific definitions – nonetheless – this field is going hard and strong).
5. Information dissemination – especially in crisis situation. Social Media offers a direct way to influence and give information directly to the population at large. Glen Gilmore published this fantastic list of examples of using social media for information dissemination in all sorts of crisis situations. Noting the Iranian Elections, and the Ontario earthquake as a couple of examples of times that social media beat official media in effectiveness. Lets say, for example, a certain area was being run by bad guys, and you wanted the people on the ground to know certain info or how to access certain resources – the bad guys would know too, but that’s better than nobody knowing.
5a Information collection – lots of eyes on the ground. The twitter wave beat the earthquake wave out of Ontario a month or so ago (ie people were getting tweets about the earthquake before they felt the vibration). James Carafano wrote this superb analysis of social media and the Iranian elections that is excellent if just for its bibliography.
Each of these is critical in the defense-intel community and just as critical in the commercial world.
6. Closer connection between leadership and workforce – social media can limit the “heat loss” suffered by hearing ideas and decisions third and fourth hand – the constant need to send things back up the chain for decisionmaking – all dramatically relieved with organization-wide social intranets. When people hear the thoughts of leadership first hand, rather than diluted by chain of communication, their more accurate understanding eagerness to participate and follow through will follow.
7. Decisionmaking and analysis – Creation of a common operating picture for issue analysis – the kind of work that these people depend on – depends on having a shared, real-time, comprehensive view of relevant information. Digital shared workspaces can provide this, and hence a much better way to form and act on decisions..
8. Connect the dots – expertise identification, trend and anomaly spotting. Social Media provides a lot of substrate for this and statistical, semantic and other analytical tools are already being developed that can help. Every one of these opportunities should be pursued. (@billives is working on an interesting statistical tool known as Darwin)
9. Agility – facilitation of issue or project oriented teams so that they can rapidly form, organize, aggregate, iterate, deliberate and deliver – with notably better efficiency and outcomes. In other words, social media (social collaboration, really) can help the right people engage with the right issues at the right time so that time isn’t wasted.
10. Ambient awareness – touchy for the classified community, I know, but it turns out that ambient awareness of what others are doing and the ability to discuss informally has been proven to increase productivity, happiness and (drumroll) quality of outcomes over formal discussion and processes. This is generally why/how people use private twitter-like apps or microblogs in house – to create this ambient awareness.
Research I’d undertake if I were you (unless you are already)
1. What are the patterns of info spread, misinformation detection and correction in these supposedly self-correcting systems. A GREAT case study might be the 48 hour cycle of the harmless hoax of “the girl who quit by whiteboard”. If you don’t know to what I’m referring – you better ask one of your kids. There are several others, including some that have been written up about the Iran elections. This info could be used both ways, of course – not that you’d ever intentionally spread misinformation.
2. Integration of analysis and collab tools – improve and discover the best way to create a COP (common operating picture) on complex issues.
3. System Analysis – The military is always playing war games to understand how situations could play out. Our multifaceted security infrastructure is complex and its almost impossible to understand its capabilities in full. I’d game the system by coming up with a false scenario, putting some weird thing in disparate places/agencies and see how many incidents it took and how widespread or close together they’d need to be to get detected. What are the current thresholds? What should they be?
That’s the end of my list from a year ago. These things were obvious in the social media community then and remain so. Was my advice taken? I’ll probably never know. Surely, I wasn’t the only one to suggest these things. At the time, I was convinced that the military would take the lead in all things social, and that industry would follow. I felt this because I thought the military had the most to gain and the most to lose. There were great examples of the Army using wikis when industry was afraid to, and other neat little tidbits that were publicly known. Now I realize that we’re all learning together. The security industry will make progress in some areas ahead of commerce, and will in some cases learn from us, the commercial sector. We’re not completely sure where we are all headed, but we’ll get there by learning from each other.