(image via Stanford.edu)
“Eight years ago, we started a research program to bring people together through “liberation technology”: the idea of employing digital technology for human rights, peace and good governance.”
Last week, thought leaders across diverse industries met to devote time and conversation to advancing collaborative strategies across new social technologies. The workshop, part of an ongoing project called Blogs & Bullets run by the PeaceTech Lab in Washington DC, took place at Encina Hall on Stanford’s campus last Friday afternoon. Social data scientists, social platform employees, and public policy representatives past and present gathered to brainstorm on some of the world’s timeliest conflicts, and the research for change that can be precipitated through social data analysis. After the White House Summit on cyber security, which took place in the middle of last month at Stanford, there were some deeply sobering discussions on the rapid move of international security towards the cyber terrorist realm. Stanford in particular, has recently received a $15 million for research program on cyber security. What’s clear is it’s the opportune time to discuss social technologies in the cyber data landscape for world conflict.
Sheldon Himelfarb, a long-time advocate for peace and currently occupying the role of President and CEO of the Peacetech Lab, spoke on the importance of getting past the hype, the initial interactions over social, to filter into the causal conversations. Peacetech Lab is a recent spin-off from the United States Institute of Peace, an organization devote to the changing face of global conflict management. Himelfarb also spoke on how crucial it is to reflect and understand the drivers of conflict worldwide from a quantitative perspective. Conflict resolution has always been a team effort and, today that radical collaboration continued, with private and public institutions working together discussing current events and research findings that teams have found throughout the previous year.
The day featured many speakers, but the best conversations centered around the round table forum, with attendees prodding one another’s minds to reach for a new angle of analysis. During the polarization of Syrian and Egyptian Twitter conversations, experts surmised that qualitative case study analysis needs to effectively measure quant as well, to interact effectively to reach a middle ground productive collaborations between people using multiple data sources. What’s clear about different areas of social analysis worldwide, are the discrepancies in relevant volume. Researchers must know to take correlation at the expense of causation– that social media lacks consistency at its heart; spheres of users in social media that are only activated when certain events occur.
Some of the larger difficulties discussed in social analysis were the differentiators between research methodologies. With no standard for reporting, or standard for social data, it’s difficult to comparatively analyze results. Mass media is prevalent on the ground in Egypt, as opposed to the lack thereof in Syria. In Egypt, media can act as a constant verification for journalistic vetting. These outlets are not supported in Syria, and no one can define “credibility” in these areas.
Another frustration of the data is the conundrum of accounts getting shut down. For ISIS recruiters, the highest level accounts act as sources of information, while secondary accounts spread the information. The secondary accounts fluctuate frequently, due to being shut down and then reopened elsewhere sharing recruitment propaganda. We believe these are helping users radicalize, but this is also difficult to gauge due to the nature of the changing accounts.
Mitch Brooks, Director of Analytics for Crimson Hexagon, spoke on the networking capabilities within the framework of unstructured text analyses that tools like Crimson Hexagon can provide. Brooks shared insights into how Crimson Hexagon’s Affinities™ feature, demographics, and scope of analysis defined by keywords strategies can support a speedy and prolific analysis. Brooks also highlighted the technology’s ability to monitor social research through a specific social account, and how that changes over time. By utilizing these key features, users should be better equipped to trace patterns of behavior and key influencers through a variety of social arenas.
While social data is a step in the direction of conflict resolution, it’s the teamwork and group discussions derived from workshops such as “Blogs & Bullets” that turn brainstorming methods into actionable strides for reaching conflict resolution across the tech world. One underlying desire was clear throughout the forum: every representative at this workshop was invested in finding resolutions, hopeful for the future of conflict resolution that can be support through social technologies.