The Arab Spring proved that social media could be a powerful force for social change, altering the course of political movements and even helping to topple entrenched regimes. But for the U.S. national security community, social media, and the broader field of social network analysis offers something else: the opportunity to predict, and perhaps even influence, future international events.
New social-networking tools are spurring a revolution in national security thinking that go well beyond merely Facebook and Twitter. The Pentagon and the intelligence community are increasingly turning to the fields of network science, social network analysis, and computational social science to track social movements, predict terrorist threats and forecast political events.
At the heart of much of this work is the concept of network science, which holds that all interconnected systems are governed by common principles, whether a terrorist organization or a biological disease. “In short,” says the National Research Council, “network science consists of the study of network representations of physical, biological, and social phenomena, leading to predictive models of these phenomena.” The video below from the CBS’ Numb3rs seizes on this idea.
The Pentagon is now funding efforts to develop models that can predict rising insurgencies, or even identify ways to undermine covert terrorist networks. Military-funded researchers and private companies are looking at how to apply these models to cell phone records, online social networks, and data collected from numerous other online and public sources. This burgeoning field, which we call “War 2.0,” is a fast growing, but little examined phenomenon.
War 2.0 presents original research on the growth of this field to lay the groundwork for future reporting. It catalogs the research projects run by various parts of the national security community, reports on how they’re being used operationally, and shows the connections between the entities funding and performing work in this burgeoning area. Whether such efforts are successful or not, they are likely to influence national security strategy in the years ahead.