For Your Consideration : Weaponizing Facebook, Unnoticed Lives, Networks and [power] Laws, and Experimenting on Gamers

1. British army creates team of Facebook warriors | The Guardian

The British army is creating a special force of Facebook warriors, skilled in psychological operations and use of social media to engage in unconventional warfare in the information age.

The 77th Brigade, to be based in Hermitage, near Newbury, in Berkshire, will be about 1,500-strong and formed of units drawn from across the army. It will formally come into being in April.

The brigade will be responsible for what is described as non-lethal warfare. Both the Israeli and US army already engage heavily in psychological operations.

Against a background of 24-hour news, smartphones and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, the force will attempt to control the narrative.

The 77th will include regulars and reservists and recruitment will begin in the spring. Soldiers with journalism skills and familiarity with social media are among those being sought.

An army spokesman said: “77th Brigade is being created to draw together a host of existing and developing capabilities essential to meet the challenges of modern conflict and warfare. It recognises that the actions of others in a modern battlefield can be affected in ways that are not necessarily violent.”

2. Everyone Has A Story | Published at 46: ‘I’d blown the one dream I’d always had – of being a writer’ | The Guardian

This type of story collecting was the original idea behind the name “People In Passing” which became my blog name.

I was sleeping in my car, with just a dog for company, wondering what happened. I ended up driving a taxi. Giving lifts to the lovers, the lonely and the lager louts in late-night Liverpool. I’d fallen apart but working those long nights started putting me back together. In my mirror I saw thousands of different pairs of eyes staring back at me. And then one night, I realised that each of those pairs, every single one of them, had a story to tell.

All I had to do was ask. So I did. One night there was drunken vicar who said: “I don’t think I’ve ever believed in God, and the hours are a killer…” Another night it was the two pot dealers: “There’s no money in weed since everyone started dealing, and carrying the new stuff makes your tracksuit stink.”

“Me ma has to boil mine.”

“Makes them shrink, lad; costs us a fortune.”

There were the sad stories, like the lady who caught a taxi to the cashpoint at five to midnight on New Year’s Eve. Just so she wouldn’t be alone when the world linked arms and started singing “Auld Lang Syne”. We sat and watched some fireworks together, and I remember how surprised I was that her hands were so warm when she wished me “Happy New Year, son” before she went off to have a miserable one of her own.

There was the old man who asked me to wait while he visited his wife: “I’ll only be five minutes, I just want to check she is OK.” We were in the cemetery.

In the small hours there was a lot of time to think about the people I met. All these stories, all these people living unnoticed lives. A thousand tales sliding across my back seat, never to be told. So I started filling notebooks, pen portraits with poor grammar of the people who passed me by.

3. Network Science Is Changing Our Understanding Of The Law | MIT Technology Review

To study the nature of the resulting network, Koniaris and co have extracted all the documents from the European Community’s legal database dating back to 1951. This amounts to 250,000 documents embedded in a network of over a million edges.

The team studied each subsection of the network and found that all were small world networks in themselves. In practice, this indicates that nodes are most commonly linked to their neighbors creating clusters but that these are also linked on much larger scales. That’s how it becomes possible to move from one part of the network to another in a small number of steps. This also leads to a power law structure in which a few laws are highly influential.

Network theorists know that these kinds of networks have specific properties. One of them is that they are robust and still tend to function when nodes and edges are removed. That is important in a legal network because laws sometimes become invalidated or changed and an interesting question is whether the legal network will still function as a result.

Koniaris and co test this by removing nodes and edges from the network at random and see how well connected it remains. In general, they say the networks are highly resilient.

But there is also a caveat. In small world networks, a small number of nodes are highly connected and therefore hugely important. Removing these can cause significant problems. When nodes are removed at random, it is highly unlikely that any of these will be affected. But when they are, problems can ensue. Knowing which laws are highly connected is therefore important.

4. Inside the Largest Virtual Psychology Lab in the World | Backchannel – Medium

League of Legends is often called the world’s most popular video game—it draws enough online spectators during championship events to rival the millions who watch the World Series and NBA Finals. But it’s also a virtual lab capable of running experiments with thousands or even millions of human players, collecting data around the clock from time zones scattered across North America, Asia and Europe. Such a “big data” approach to studying human behavior could lead to new psychological insights that would be impossible to achieve in the confines of a university lab.

Riot takes great pains to point out how its experiments benefit the entire League of Legends community. The game company is likely reaping the rewards of this publicity campaign; experimentation in a similar vein by Facebook in 2014 showed that public opinion can quickly turn sour when people feel emotionally manipulated for corporate interests. Facebook’s failure to explain its motives up front allowed users to draw their own conclusions and imagine the worst.

Riot Games and Facebook are not alone in toying with user behavior. Many companies routinely do A/B testing to see how people respond to slightly different presentations of material on a Web site, tweaking text or images, for example, to get visitors to stick around longer or spend more money. Riot’s experiments are also in its self-interest—to keep players from quitting and to attract new customers who might otherwise be scared away by the toxic reputation of multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, says Jamie Madigan, a psychologist who studies video games. “In terms of using big data, I doubt Riot is the only game company using player tracking and so forth,” Madigansays. “But I think they are unique in how they’re taking an experimental approach that is more scientific.”

Riot’s relative transparency about its aims puts it ahead of the pack, as most companies don’t publicize how they tinker with the online experiences of millions of customers. As a result, Riot’s experiments also offer a rare glimpse into the ways that companies nudge our behavior online, every minute of every day.

Riot is not alone in collecting data about human behavior on such a massive scale. Tech companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook also commonly test thousands or millions of customers’ reactions to changes in the popular online services each company provides.

“If those processes could at least be opened to academic researchers — or at least to observation — research in human behavior would advance very rapidly and change the character of how research could be done,” says Brian Nosek, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia. “You could imagine with this sort of iterative process that science would just come out, boom, boom, boom.”


“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” – Norman Vincent Peale

I hope that you’ll read these articles if they catch your eye and that you’ll learn as much as I did. Please email me questions, feedback or raise issues for discussion. Better yet, if you know of something on a related topic, or of interest, please pass it along. And as always, if one of these links comes to mean something to you, recommend it to someone else.


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