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lecture: Weaponized Social

Understanding and tools to mitigate network-scale violences

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We can intentionally build and improve the sociotechnical systems of which we are a part, or we can be haphazard in the worlds we create. The things which we personally find fulfilling and useful may not hold true at scale. This talk lays a framework for approaching societal-level change through being scientifically minded and taking active steps to test and implement greater equality and autonomy while respecting both.

Weaponized Social was a series of events, discussions, actions, and surrounding community over the course of 2015 used to examine the network effects of human interaction, to encourage the healthy and to deweaponize the powerful tools at our fingertips. This talk reviews the lessons we learned about inequalities and institutional violence, the processes and tools for exploiting or combatting it, and personal responsibility.

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The predictable ways in which humans interact are called "scripts," and we learn them from the people and media around us. The direct physical, emotional, and other harms of running buggy scripts while in smaller, geographically-constrained groups are well understood. These same bugs are now being amplified due to network effects through institutions, global culture, and online interaction. The methods we have used in the past to still strive towards equality and autonomy in light of these bugs are now even less complete, and we must find ways to patch against their exploitation.

Is large-scale coercion a form of violence? Are laws or expectations applied unequally (such as the US prison system) a form of institutional violence? Does unequal income across race and gender count as systemic violence? Each of these diminishes an individual's ability to act autonomously. These network effects are (currently) more difficult to point to/prove than physical violence, in no small part because we are only beginning to document and study them.

I (along with others) spent attention in 2014 & 2015 studying the network effects of buggy social scripts with a project called Weaponized Social. We have four main fulcrums for social change which will be explored during the talk: 

  • Laws are explicitly stated codes of behavior, created and enforced through governance systems.

  • Norms are often implicit social expectations, enforced through social pressure and assumptions of media and other communications.

  • Markets shape behavior by making some actions more or less expensive financially or time.

  • Architecture/Code are the frameworks that surround us and must be adhered to because we act within them.

If we agree that systemic violence is real and should be alleviated, what would using these four fulcrums to combat it look like? There won't be a single silver bullet, but a collection of approaches which may help slowly progress us towards a world where more people are equitable and autonomous. While I don't have any answers, I do have stories of failure, some possible intervention points (including metrics!), and suggestions in how to navigate policies and tools which could also be used by governments to find, target, and quash dissent.