Weeks Pages/Week4

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Overview: Networks

Monday, Oct. 2. Networks and Network Dynamics

Social networks and online communities are a powerful and growing phenomenon. From the Internet to networks of friendship, disease transmission, and even terrorism, the concept--and the reality--of networks has come to pervade modern society. But what exactly is a network?

Guest: Professor David Lazer, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University



  • Using the tools we learned about today, analyze the distribution network you have chosen for your project. What characteristics does it have? If you characterize it as a network, what are the nodes? What are the connections? Are some nodes in the network more important to influence than others?

Interesting Further Reading:

  • Networks, Netwars, and the Fight for the Future - This (somewhat lengthy) paper discusses the concept of 'Netwar', "an emerging mode of conflict in which the protagonists - ranging from terrorist and criminal organizations on the dark side, to militant social activists on the bright side - use network forms of organization, doctrine, strategy, and technology attuned to the information age."

Tuesday, Oct. 3. Generating Buzz as Argument Strategy

What enables and nurtures online communities in an integrated media context? What sorts of phenomena have succeeded by the populist metric of the ‘Net. With all sites at least theoretically equally accessible, what gets people to go to particular thing? The popularity of these artifacts is an example of aggregation of minimal but powerful willing energy that is expressed just by adding hits and telling friends. What can these artifacts tell us about the elements of successful buzz creation? It is clear that we can aggregate energy to filter content: these artifacts demonstrate it. It is clear that we can aggregate energy to create structured repositories of useful information and resources: Wikipedia, free sound, the breaks, the latin library, and many other projects demonstrate it. Can we take it further by aggregating energy to make an argument for a principle? Downhill Battle’s 3 Notes and Runnin’ shows us it is possible.

Guest: Professor Jonathan Zittrain, Oxford University and Harvard Law School

Interesting further reading: LonelyGirl15: Prank, Art, or Both - Article about LonelyGirl15, the incredibly popular online video diary focusing on the life of a home-schooled 16-year-old, who turned out to be a hired actress working for a team of filmmakers.

Social networks are not immune to Astroturfing. Indeed due to the increased credibility lent a planted story by the accreditation function of social network, astroturfing can be spectacularly successful. It is interesting that these same attributes of social networks that make them vunerable to targeted disinformation, are also the same attributes that provide them with long-term resilence in the face of these attacks. This resilence is derived from two attributes of Social Networks.

First their remarkable ability to identify suspect claims, and confirm/refute them. The "LonelyGirl15" prank is the latest high-profile example of this. Linus Torvalds described this phenomena as "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow".

Second the same 'network effects' that permit rapid dissemination of a successful misinformation attack, also permit rapid dissemination of rebuttal and debunkings. Moreover the high redundancy inherent in network topography renders it impossible for interested parties to supress the story. John Gilmore summarised this in his famous quote "The Net treats censorship as damage and routes around it."