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Are We Giving The Enemy Clues in the Twitterverse?


“How To Spot a White Supremacist on Twitter”


“...[I]t’s intensely time-consuming for police to personally wade through the web’s ever-growing number of white supremacist tweets and other social media postings in search of the relative handful of extremist posts indicating a possible threat.

“Maybe there’s an easier way. Two researchers, J. M. Berger and Bill Strathearn, from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR) in London, have developed an algorithm with a high rate of success in identifying extremists on Twitter, by analyzing the relationships between Twitter account holders (as opposed to analyzing the actual posted content).”


According to Berger and Strathearn:

“By measuring interactions alone—without analyzing user content related to the ideology—we narrowed the starting set down to 100 top-scoring accounts, of which 95 percent overtly self-identified as white nationalist….”

The researchers identified three key terms used in their algorithms, which they listed and defined as follows:

  • Influence: A metric measuring a Twitter user’s ability to publicly create and distribute content that is consumed, affirmed and redistributed by other users.

  • Exposure: A metric measuring a Twitter user’s tendency to publicly consume, affirm and redistribute content created by other users.

  • Interactivity: A metric measuring a Twitter user’s combined influence and exposure based on their public activity.

“For example: suppose you’re a non-racist person following ex-Klansman David Duke on Twitter, and occasionally sending him a tweet disagreeing with his views. It’s highly unlikely any of Duke’s racist followers will find your comment worth re-tweeting. But a racist Duke follower who sends tweets reinforcing his white power views probably will inspire lots of retweets and conversations in the more bigoted regions of the Twitterverse.

“Thus the algorithm focuses on the connections while paying no attention to the content.”

–END Quote–

So when it comes to being monitored or possibly giving clues as to intention, WHO you know is as important as WHAT you “say”/Tweet.

Being the pacifist I am, I would certainly hope that no one who reads this would ever consider doing damage to precious life, property or infrastructure in the name of any Cause. But if this study teaches us anything (assuming the research and math work as the writer says), then any political operative so troubled as to consider engaging in active measures–Oh, please! Don’t!– would do well to be careful what trail social media might leave.

Tom Metzger spent years telling Lone Wolves (an idea falling out of favor) not to talk to police, assuming that police would somehow get on an activist’s trail through clues. But this Salon article seems to hint that absolute stealth would involve NOT following like-minded people in social media. The powers that be are watching that.

So, remember: “liking” something on Facebook or “following” somebody on Twitter might help somebody somewhere zero in on you, should you ever become so tragically lost as to actually try to do something, you sad, sad troubled loner.

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