Thursday, 3 June 2010

Thoughts About a Hypothetical Social Network for Activists I

Freedom for Gaza Movement Flotilla and the Social Networks

When I heard about the attacks towards Free Gaza Flotilla, I looked up in the Internet about how the social networks responded. With many activist networks that are interconnected in a dense way, Twitter and Facebook come first in place. I looked up Twitter first, the social network that served as one of the information source about Iranian elections and violence that took right after, expecting that its structure is the most suitable for a protest to propogate within. I found out that many of those who protested or sent out news used the #flotilla tag in Twitter, which means that that tweet is about#flotilla, with many other tweets. Expecting the #flotilla topic to rise in rank, many people were tweeting about the incident. Depending upon the number of tweets in unit time, it was sure that #flotilla was the topic that was the most tweeted about. But the website, though it must've been an automatic process didn't put it into the trending topics, causing many twitter users to suspect censorship. This action, if it is taken on purpose, has limited the number of links that each tweet could make with others, thus limited the propogation of information, and supressed a probable exponantial boom in awareness in user numbers. The number of links, which is tweets in Twitter, inbetween each user within social web, is the key parameter that controls whether a news about an incident exceed the critical rate of spread. Links matter a lot.

Thinking about the possibility that Twitter could've been at least undergoing a data mining procedure about the tweets that is shared within its network, and supressing those which could've been disturbing to the wider audience. That could've been the case, since the flotilla topics are associated to thePalestanian conflict, and since most of the world is both politically and spatially distant to most of what is going on there, and even most of the time clueless about what is happening, It might be an adventageous policy for Twitter to supress "extremes" from those who are "fed up" about Middle East crises and want to see Lakers trending instead.

Properties of Social Networks

So with the assumption that such censorship was in action, I thought about where actually these social webs fit in a set of all probable structures. Most social networks show some features that we take for granted. For example, in most of those networks, we know about the person that we are connected with, we know who she is, we have a tendency to confirm that the person exists in real life, the social link inbetween is generally persistent, and we are exposed to a huge amount of social data via a page that is always up to date. Chatroulette might be the example that is out of this generalization, though it has a very different emphasis. Another property of most of the social networks that it is a service. A service that though its clients are mobile, its servers are immobile. It is not a social network, but the Torrent network might be a very good example not working in this fashion, and is a good example about my upcoming claim.

If they differ, these networks differ in topology. For example Facebook is one of those networks that nodes are very common, and a single link is very rare (which is actually a user with only one friend). So everybody knows about every single action taken by others. A groupware in contrast, has a graph, that is hierarchized in a way. Every employee has one way links to her inferior, whereas distinct workgroups are clearly defined, with roundabout links inbetween, in order to facilitate focusing. The first introduces endless opportunities and self organization, the other sustains easy control and is very energy efficient.

Though many of these properties that I cited are generally taken as very natural, due to our circumstances, but the area that I will ve trying to implement social networking to, requires to abandon these presuppositions.

Thoughts About a Hypothetical Social Network for Activists.

I think that the current social networking scheme is unable to provide the needs of activism. What made me think about that is not only the recent observations I made in Twitter, but set of rules, or in other words a systematized culture which is called the Security Culture1,2 , that has rules for those that are targeted by government, for example activists.

In short, the Security Culture has this social links of don't ask, don't tell, in order to prevent infiltration. It reminds activists that when an information is shared, an action is bragged about or any nonanonymity would result in weakness of the whole structure. It depends on the fact that when a fellow is investigated, she cannot tell what she doesn't know about you or the protest. In contrast of many social links that we encounter in Facebook, for example, this network calls for different needs, and they differ a lot in essence.

A Social Network on the Internet that activist groups are going to use will indeed introduce some very exotic properties. I will be writing a set of articles, from time to time depending on the Security Culture requisites, I will try to build a hypothetical network, in other words brainstorm about how a suitable system can be obtained for activist groups, that would help them only and only in their cause, how problems might arise and how could one get over them.

In my opinion there seems to be a gap in the social networks that is in use today. This approach, seems to alter the way that we consider information, how it is shared, its back-traceability, how social hubs are formed and such. Since, first of all, and probably for the first time, we will require a social web to show as small information as possible from our neighbors, and the ability to recruit fast and anonymously.

It is a fun challenge to consider.

Will be continued.