Narrative Networks Alter The Historical Record

A narrative network is a system which represents complex event sequences or characters’ interactions in time. It is also an ecosystem of content designed to steer the experience and organic growth of the network itself – engaging, guiding and influencing the target audience toward a predetermined outcome.

A Trench Fighter’s Perspective

I received a surprising number of comments on a recent blog post in which I claimed that Social Media could produce “profound” results if handled appropriately. Some friends wrote me, kindly dismissing all named results as silly, ephemeral, and meaningless given my normal scale of measurement (ROI) . I respond, in a most kindly way too – that you missed my point entirely, and will explain just how in this quick and rough tactical description of what goes on – and why you ought pay attention.

But before I get started, I’ll mention that the hottest area of defense technology research is currently in “social media,” specifically “Narrative Networks” and for good reason.

I won’t get into the ethics or the how-to’s here. I’m simply going to point something out – like the child pointing to the man hiding in the bush – and you, dear reader, make of it what you wish.

Here it is: Most would agree that social media and narrative networks can be used to influence consumer behavior in real time. Like influencing the hearts and minds of the present and future consumer segments with regards to events and brands.

But few have considered that same social influence also works to foment direction and momentum in crowds via stigmergic signalling – as recently seen in Bejing.). And fewer still have considered the possibility  these same tools can be used, in a similar but distinct way, to carefully and deliberately create narrative networks that alter or change the historical record. At least on the Interwebs. And while changing the historical record (on the Internet) may not sound insidious on it’s face, it is the foundation of what builds political consent today.

Because changing the historical record influences opinion today. Trending issues will be searched on the Internet. Results can influence current opinion about the past, and sway opinion about the past. Which can support or undermine current values, opinions, beliefs, etc.

We live in a complex, fast world where trending stories are appreciated more than supporting facts. Where major news services fail to adequately fact check on a regular basis. Where the manufacture of consent can be outsourced, and the historical record manipulated retroactively.

In your granddaughters hands the tools might prove gentle enough – but what about in the hands of a skilled practitioner?

crazy talk or status quo? You decide

Imagine this fictional sci-fi novel plot come to life: 2014: A tiny third-world region becomes a sudden interest to the superpowers due to a super valuable and rare resource they possess in abundance. Imagine further that the little region refuses to mine or market or sell their resource, despite all best offers. And now a conflict brews as the superpowers consider “intervention”.

Now imagine a team of narrative network creators seeds the InterWebs carefully with references to documentation about the rebels in this area. References to documentation about rumored atrocities that the UN has simply never followed up on because this part of the world was just – not important. The UN spokesperson comments that they had no knowledge of those events, but the comments only further the perception that the UN dropped the ball.

But now the references and summaries of the reports surface, get posted on Reddit, Gawker, etc – and suddenly a trend forms; as real people become agast at the plight of individuals in the region. Pundits openly play partisan politics, bashing the other side for inaction… It’s not long before we hear humanitarian cries for action and intervention – by drone, even !

But remember – the reports were new, not years old. And the reportage was fake or highly mischaracterized… Do you believe, in this click-driven world, that editors would investigate thoroughly enough to spot the ruse? Maybe.