Network Effects on Violence


Some time ago I pointed to John Robb’s discussion of the potential for the network to amplify the threat of violence from otherwise un-connected and un-organized individuals. Now Noah Shachtman at DefenseTech is writing about “open source insurgents.”

It used to be that a small group of ideological-driven guerilla leaders would spread information, tactics, training, and cash to their followers. No more. Internet-enabled insurgents with only the loosest of real-world connections can now share all of that freely online. These guys don’t have to like each other. They don’t have to agree with one another. They don’t even have to interact, really. All they have to do is post material to the Net.

Shachtman notes a Washington Post series on the matter (the final installment is a must read).

It’s worth noting that Shachtman also points to John Robb’s writings in this area and that he just returned from a stint in Iraq where he got to see some of this on the ground. What’s he got to say about it all?

In this way, the new Iraqi “non-insurgency” may be tougher to beat, ultimately, than the more ideological guerillas of the past. With such a diverse band sharing information so quickly, there’s no one “leader” or group of leaders to eliminate. In fact, taking out the most visible leaders might only make the Open Source network more efficient, by eliminating unnecessary nodes.

Scarily, we’re all starting to learn that Metcalfe’s Law and network effects apply to violence too. Shamefully, it seems everybody pretty much agrees with former British foreign secretary Robin Cook who noted “There were no international terrorists in Iraq until we went in.”

Photo: from leodecerca’s photostream at Flickr. Other Flickr finds: Eyes Wide Open exhibit, and camouflage.