Welcome!

Wearables Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Yeshim Deniz, Jnan Dash

Blog Feed Post

Social Media and Extremism: Sideshow or Center Stage?

By

CTOTerrorismblogOn Twitter, Mike Olson of Cloudera asked me and Alex Olesker what we thought about the use of social media in the latest dustup between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. He linked me to an article taking a broader look at the role of social media in terrorism and extremism. The following is some thoughts on how to think about the relationship of social media to social movements, extremist and benign. Tech audiences with a practical interest in tech and social movements can benefit from considering some theoretical perspectives not usually seen in most tech conversations.

2013 will likely see much more attention on information technology and social movements. In 2011, the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street spurred debate about the tactical applications of social media, not all of it productive. On one hand, there was a “gee whiz” tone to much of the coverage that ignored other important dynamics. In October, Thomas Frank wrote a biting article about how journalists and academics, infatuated with the idea that OWS represented a radically new (and superior) form of social movement, ignored the substantial and sometimes self-imposed barriers to its success. The same can probably be said of coverage of the Arab Spring, much of it based on a simplistic image of kids with MacBooks and iPhones toppling autocrats. On the other hand, Malcolm Gladwell and others denied the very real differences between social movements 1.0 and 2.0. Particularly useless was Gladwell’s presumption that analog-era activism was somehow more authentic and powerful than IT-mediated activism. So where to go from here?

First, social media can’t be analyzed with the presumption that social media is somehow separate from the overall web of social conflict. Rather, we should move forward with the assumption that we have one reality, composed of both organic and technological layers. Cyberspace is a sociotechnical system, which as CTOVision contributor Sean Lawson explains can be understood as follows:

[Sociotechnical systems] are large, complex systems in which the lines between the social and the technological, the human and the machine are increasingly blurry. As the passage implies, even something as seemingly simple as an airplane flying in the sky is actually just one part of a large sociotechnical system composed of various human and machine elements, from the pilot and airplane to a series of airports, communication and navigation systems, bureaucracies, regulations, rules and norms of flight, and more.

With the Arab Spring “twitter revolutions” we can see that human and machine elements and organizations all meaningfully combined to produce powerful and fundamentally emergent movements. Social media may not have been a primary cause but it also very much defined the realm of possibility for social action. Technology isn’t neutral, and certain technologies are more conducive to decentralized movements. Information age social networks have reduced transaction costs in a way earlier communications have not. There’s also a collaborative aspect that Alexis Madrigal covered in his post about the “APIs” of Occupy Wall Street.

The composition of sociotechnical systems also constantly shifts due to shifts in norms, regulations, rules, technological shifts, and bureaucratic hierarchies. Cyberspace may have some essential characteristics rooted in its function as a zone of machine-mediated communication, but it is also a designed environment with a constantly shifting landscape. Politics and networks of social capital are a part of that landscape, and this certainly includes extremist groups.

We can understand jihadi social media usage as being part of an overall assemblage of techniques, key personnel, and resources that constitutes a complex structure that can be tapped on by insurgents looking to advance their instrumental ends and communicate and discourse with an extended community of ideological fellow travelers. Israeli researcher Dima Adamsky argued in 2009 that, lacking the war colleges, doctrinal institutions, or military service journals of the West, jihadis debate theories of strategy evolve on web forums and zines. It’s still unclear how social media precisely fits into the radicalization process, despite the tendency of Western police departments to equate possession of jihadi media with radical intent. We’re on more solid ground in terms of tactical planning when we look at non-jihadi international social movements’ usage of twitter as a medium for directing protests and outsmarting police crowd control methods. Finally, there’s always the use of social media as a rapid-fire propaganda weapon that can influence external audiences and regulate and stimulate domestic audiences.

Police researcher John P. Sullivan has also written about how Mexican drug cartels have used social media to spread “narcocultura” in Mexican public life. When combined with coercive actions, narco-glorifying folk songs, provision of services, and murals, social media becomes a powerful means of making the violent image of the Mexican drug cartels part of everyday life. Jihadi groups have arguably not attained a similar level of cultural penetration, but Daveed Garteinstein-Ross and other counterterrorism experts have written about the ways in which jihadi culture–online and offline–can create a unique lifeworld for those who feel left out of secular culture.

Yet there’s a risk in looking at technology without the political and operational considerations. Terrorist organizations are clandestine in nature and practice tradecraft that limits their exposure to Western intelligence organizations. Thus assuming that covert networks function in the same way as social movements or Facebook friend groups is of limited utility. Taking down an extremist site is not equivalent to Second, there’s often a harmful tendency in tech analysis to place social media use as the dominant element of a social conflict. Reporters salivated over the IDF and Hamas Twitter-fighting each other and missed the centrality of actual combat to the outcome of the short Gaza conflict. At the end of the day, as Rear Admiral J.C. Wylie wrote, the “man on the scene with the gun” decides the war, not the kid with the iPhone.

A balanced understanding of the ways social media is vehicle for and a shaper of contentious political movements will be a net benefit to CTOs, tech reporters, and technologically-minded national security analysts. Watch this space for more on this subject in the future.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley writes on enterprise IT. He is a founder of Crucial Point and publisher of CTOvision.com

IoT & Smart Cities Stories
Atmosera delivers modern cloud services that maximize the advantages of cloud-based infrastructures. Offering private, hybrid, and public cloud solutions, Atmosera works closely with customers to engineer, deploy, and operate cloud architectures with advanced services that deliver strategic business outcomes. Atmosera's expertise simplifies the process of cloud transformation and our 20+ years of experience managing complex IT environments provides our customers with the confidence and trust tha...
With the introduction of IoT and Smart Living in every aspect of our lives, one question has become relevant: What are the security implications? To answer this, first we have to look and explore the security models of the technologies that IoT is founded upon. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Nevi Kaja, a Research Engineer at Ford Motor Company, discussed some of the security challenges of the IoT infrastructure and related how these aspects impact Smart Living. The material was delivered interac...
Intel is an American multinational corporation and technology company headquartered in Santa Clara, California, in the Silicon Valley. It is the world's second largest and second highest valued semiconductor chip maker based on revenue after being overtaken by Samsung, and is the inventor of the x86 series of microprocessors, the processors found in most personal computers (PCs). Intel supplies processors for computer system manufacturers such as Apple, Lenovo, HP, and Dell. Intel also manufactu...
Darktrace is the world's leading AI company for cyber security. Created by mathematicians from the University of Cambridge, Darktrace's Enterprise Immune System is the first non-consumer application of machine learning to work at scale, across all network types, from physical, virtualized, and cloud, through to IoT and industrial control systems. Installed as a self-configuring cyber defense platform, Darktrace continuously learns what is ‘normal' for all devices and users, updating its understa...
At CloudEXPO Silicon Valley, June 24-26, 2019, Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with expanded DevOpsSUMMIT and FinTechEXPO programs within the DXWorldEXPO agenda. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term. A total of 88% of Fortune 500 companies from a generation ago are now out of business. Only 12% still survive. Similar percentages are found throug...
OpsRamp is an enterprise IT operation platform provided by US-based OpsRamp, Inc. It provides SaaS services through support for increasingly complex cloud and hybrid computing environments from system operation to service management. The OpsRamp platform is a SaaS-based, multi-tenant solution that enables enterprise IT organizations and cloud service providers like JBS the flexibility and control they need to manage and monitor today's hybrid, multi-cloud infrastructure, applications, and wor...
The Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence (MSAI) provides a comprehensive framework of theory and practice in the emerging field of AI. The program delivers the foundational knowledge needed to explore both key contextual areas and complex technical applications of AI systems. Curriculum incorporates elements of data science, robotics, and machine learning-enabling you to pursue a holistic and interdisciplinary course of study while preparing for a position in AI research, operations, ...
CloudEXPO has been the M&A capital for Cloud companies for more than a decade with memorable acquisition news stories which came out of CloudEXPO expo floor. DevOpsSUMMIT New York faculty member Greg Bledsoe shared his views on IBM's Red Hat acquisition live from NASDAQ floor. Acquisition news was announced during CloudEXPO New York which took place November 12-13, 2019 in New York City.
Codete accelerates their clients growth through technological expertise and experience. Codite team works with organizations to meet the challenges that digitalization presents. Their clients include digital start-ups as well as established enterprises in the IT industry. To stay competitive in a highly innovative IT industry, strong R&D departments and bold spin-off initiatives is a must. Codete Data Science and Software Architects teams help corporate clients to stay up to date with the mod...
Tapping into blockchain revolution early enough translates into a substantial business competitiveness advantage. Codete comprehensively develops custom, blockchain-based business solutions, founded on the most advanced cryptographic innovations, and striking a balance point between complexity of the technologies used in quickly-changing stack building, business impact, and cost-effectiveness. Codete researches and provides business consultancy in the field of single most thrilling innovative te...