Radical Instrument

IT is changing the exercise of power. Radical Instrument is picking up the signals.

Posts Tagged ‘social media

Crowdsourcing the hunt for bin Laden

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USA Today summarizes a fascinating paper released today in MIT International Review. In it, UCLA geography professors Thomas W. Gillespie and John A. Agnew use biogeographic theory, public reporting,and satellite imagery to develop a hypothesis about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden…narrowing it down to a choice of compounds in Parachinar, in Kurram, one of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Leaving aside the validity of the model – although a suspected U.S. drone conducted the first attack in Kurram on Monday – the most striking point of the authors’ analysis is in the conclusion:

“…For instance, in an attempt to aid disaster relief efforts after the October 8, 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, numerous international aid agencies posted high-resolution satellite images on the web.  The Pakistani government forced these images to be removed because they feared that the security of the Kashmir region might be compromised.  Perhaps it is past time to embrace this technology and create a public database concerning models or hypotheses about bin Laden’s current location [emphasis added]. … Altogether, the US intelligence community spent over $50 billion on intelligence activities last year alone.  Ideally, some of this money should have been spent looking for bin Laden and the US intelligence community could make public a report based on all data collected  from 2001 to 2006. … These methods are repeatable and could easily be updated with new information obtained from the US intelligence community on his last known location.”

It’s a point worthy of debate. There have been applications of related knowledge-transfer techniques inside the U.S. government, but the authors appear to be advocating for something akin to a crowdsourcing model to expand the resource capacity of the intelligence community. The counter-argument will, of course, be based in security. But could a “public database” such as advocated by the authors have appropriate filters in place to protect security considerations? Could development or testing be released to the public domain in such a way that the testers cannot distinguish between, say, an analysis of building types in Pakistan and an analysis of buildings in a fictional environment?

Written by Mark

February 17, 2009 at 11:11 pm

Gaza and social media, post-ceasefire

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Wired’s Danger Room has followed up on the Israeli Defense Force’s use of YouTube in the Gaza campaign, and finds that it was not so much planned as suggested by Gen-Y types. According to the piece, “social media” is under consideration for future IDF plans. 

I’d still argue that there’s an inherent conflict between information operations and social media, which leaves the IDF at a disadvantage. The question is whether two million hits on YouTube changed anything, beyond solidifying Israeli opinion and possibly moving U.S. opinion (this survey from RasmussenReports indicated a split over the campaign, while more recent surveys claim broader U.S. support for Israel). The second and more important question is whether this even matters relative to the impact that social and new media channels have in Arab countries, particularly Egypt, as well among Arab populations abroad.

Written by Mark

January 22, 2009 at 5:12 am

Gaza and social media

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This article from Wired’s Danger Room is a little surreal and disorienting:  Israel is conducting an information campaign in support of the developing war in Gaza using Twitter and YouTube. As you might expect, there’s more out there in non-governmental channels as well – see this blog for a roundup on the Israeli side. Naturally, there’s a slice of the blogosphere representing the non-governmental Palestinian perspective (this blog, for example, serves as an aggregator), and Israeli media reported on Hamas’ use of a video-sharing service as recently as October.

I’m going to focus on the governmental (and let’s include Hamas in that) use of these technologies, since non-governmental use is really old news.

1.  There’s an inherent conflict between information operations and social media channels. Information operations are designed to control content. Social media are about ceding creation, contribution, and some measure of control to the audience. The IDF’s YouTube channel isn’t really social media, or “Web 2.0” in that respect – it’s simply the broadband version of the Pentagon briefings played out in the early days of the Iraq war. As for Twitter – isn’t omnipresent/always-on interest a precondition of using omnipresent/always-on media? I’m going to assume that anyone using Twitter to track events like this probably already supports one side or the other, with a passion. I’m not sure that you’d want to dedicate information operations to the choir. 

2.  Successful use of these tools depends on the goal, which directly relates to a political entity’s position relative to the international order. Hamas has a clear advantage here:  video-sharing and other forms of cheaper, more loosely controlled, and “instant access” media allow it to stimulate the so-called “street” against regimes in Egypt and other Arab states. Hamas also holds the advantage in content creation:  at a minimum, it can simply circulate graphic images of the dead (instant mental impression), whereas the IDF has the far harder task of using content to convince U.S. and EU populations of the legitimacy of its efforts (requires some degree of analysis). I’m not sure if this is too far removed from pre-digital pamphleteering – at least not yet.

Written by Mark

December 31, 2008 at 6:01 am