Social Networks in a New Information Environment

In an increasingly interconnected world, fighting terrorists means understanding their social networks.

In 2000, following the attack on USS Cole (DD 67), the Office of Naval Research (ONR) began investing in the study of terrorist networks and novel asymmetric threats, which led the way for the creation of a program in the new field of computational social science and social networks. By 2004, ONR had hired its first computational social scientist to oversee the program, developing advanced models and decision tools including contributions to the Navy’s Knowledge Wall, the development of the first social network analysis toolkit tuned to asymmetric threat issues, and the creation of a computational model to examine the interplay between environmental stressors and violent conflict. ONR went on to develop new techniques in information sharing using crisis maps and new communications capabilities, some of which have transitioned to the Pacific Disaster Center, and others to nongovernment organizations and state and federal agencies. In 2009, ONR developed cutting-edge social media analysis tools and models designed to assist military information support operations for humanitarian crises, disaster, and asymmetric threat situation awareness. Some of these technologies were showcased in a NATO technical demonstration in 2015, the largest military exercise held by NATO since 2002. Today, ONR works closely with NATO and US combatant commands on strategic communications and cybersocial behavior to combat organizations such as ISIS, develop the field of cyberdiplomacy, and support transdisciplinary research and technology development to meet today’s challenges in human security.

USS Cole (DDG 67)The attack on USS Cole (DDG 67) in October 2000 at the port of Aden, Yemen, alerted many to the dangers of modern terrorism and the challenges of combatting it.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Don L. Maes)

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