My hypothesis is that science will someday be able to identify sociopaths and terrorists by their patterns of Facebook and Internet use. I'll bet normal people interact with Facebook in ways that sociopaths and terrorists couldn't duplicate.

Anyone can post fake photos and acquire lots of friends who are actually acquaintances. But I'll bet there are so many patterns and tendencies of "normal" use on Facebook that a terrorist wouldn't be able to successfully fake it.

The main reason you can't fake Facebook use patterns is that you can't control how others respond to you. Good friends respond entirely differently than acquaintances, both in quantity and content. I think that sort of difference would show up.

Years ago, during my banking career, a coworker developed a program that looked through bank records for patterns suggesting possible fraud. It worked well enough that he formed his own company, sold the program to banks, and became a wealthy man. The key to the program's success is that crooks don't know there is a normal pattern and so they don't know when they violate it. I think the same would be true for Facebook. There must be dozens of normal Facebook patterns that sociopaths and terrorists wouldn't know about, and therefore couldn't fake.

I imagine that Internet usage patterns could tell experts as much about your brain as an MRI. To put it in simpler terms, if you tell me which web pages you browsed this week, I can come up with a good estimate of your odds of being a terrorist.

Do you think the government is already monitoring your Internet use pattern, if not the specific pages? If not, they will.

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Jun 28, 2013
Check it out Scott


Jun 17, 2013
Government snooping will only ever catch dumb and/or lazy criminals. (Of course, that makes up the vast majority of them, since smart, motivated people tend to be successful on their own.) Apart from the solution that people have mentioned -- randomly surfing apps to confuse the data -- there are other ways around this problem for the terrorists out there.

To stay anonymous, terrorists could encode their messages in innocuous looking posts. They could embed messages in binary objects, such as photographs: take a picture of the Grand Canyon and weave a message into the bits that make up the picture. With a sufficiently high resolution image, you could replace quite a bit of the data before someone looking at it on a computer monitor would notice, and the processing power required to find the message programmatically would be enormous. Video would be even better as there is more data to hide in, both aural and visual streams to use, and a higher expectation of digital noise. Make the subject something particularly inane and no one will ever be the wiser.

Hmm. Now I'm wondering what Natalie Tran is REALLY up to.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 17, 2013
There is a somewhat famous demonstration that statisticians are often taught in college. The professor instructs half of the class to flip a coin 100 times and write down H or T on the board for each flip. The other half of the class makes up the data attempting to replicate random data. Almost without fail the professor can discern the student manufactured data because it is normalized. There are much fewer contiguous repetitions of heads or tails in the manufactured data.
Data from a psychopath/sociopath or terrorist attempting to appear normal (average) on a social media site would be normalized. The individuals data instances would land much closer to the top of the bell than the average person's data instances. A normal person would have data spread out across the much of the bell curve while the pretenders would have each of their data points much closer to the center.
A normal person is extreme in at least a few aspects of their life and usually a few smaller aspects of any larger aspect. A pretender with the resources to manufacture the data would seem ultra-normal in regard to the data.
Jun 15, 2013
     Scott has opened a can of worms with this blog entry. As a great sage, he has sensed the outrage of the general public in the US over the Intolerable Acts of our current government. Our constitutional checks and balances system seems to be broken.
Well meaning people have unwitenly become aligned with power hungry dictators to give the federal government too much control over our lives in the name of fairness or justice or security.
The data mining for sociopaths, which I have no doubt could be effective, could be data mining for:
(put the group here you detest or fear the most)
Then send the government agency after them that can do them the most harm.
If you feel my assertions are too outlandish, please google "the normalcy bias".
The path to a solution? Return to our constitutional principles! A good start would be to repeal the so called Patriot Act.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 14, 2013
I don't know. Looking at all the "friends" I have on Facebook, I'm not certain any of them are normal besides me, and I have doubts about me.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 14, 2013
I'm not personally concerned with hiding my online activity - but I think people should be able to explore different ideas without worrying about being branded as a dangerous radical. One of my kids was really interested in how and why different groups of people thought they way the did. He visited sites in high school and jr. High that I thought were somewhat alarming, but I could tell he was genuinely curious. There is nothing wrong with that - and in fact it can be helpful to gain a much better picture of the world you live in - even if it doesn't line up with the world you wished you lived in. That sort of thing shouldn't haunt him in the future.

I'm mostly open to the idea that we do need to balance privacy and security - and allow some access to government folks searching for patterns. The problem is that I don't believe assurances that private data will really be kept private - nor that those interpreting the data will always make intelligent decisions.

I've heard plenty assurances in the business world that I knew to have only a tenuous association with reality. It's easy to stand up in front of cameras and talk about all your careful controls and checks and balances, as long as you keep the shades tightly drawn on the actual chaos occurring within.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 14, 2013
Mentioned before - Develop and App that randomly puts characters in a search engine then goes to a random website, exits and does it again. Vary the activity to mimic a plausible real user and...


The govt/marketeers/whoever has a bunch of fictitious data on you with your real activity buried in there somewhere.

You cannot stop them from collecting the data - but you can control what data is collected.
Jun 13, 2013
Do you really think our government is the only one engaging in this behavior. I'm sure there are other countries and possibly even private organizations that are already engaging in this type of behavior. Knowledge is power.

Think about it, if I'm running for political office, thing about how much of an advantage it is if I know who and where the majority of undecided voters are. I can target the people that are most likely to accept whatever plausible lie I tell them and vote based off that limited information. This sort of information is big business.

If I want to put down revolts and quiet discontents, I need to know where they are located. This sort of information could keep corrupt governments and companies in power.
Jun 13, 2013
If they are, they shouldn't be. It's unconstitutional.

A little history here: when the founders wrote the Constitution and sent it to the states for ratification, a number of the states wouldn't ratify it until specific guarantees were put into it protecting the people from their government.

The early colonists had seen what abuses of power could do to people. They wanted to protect themselves from a government with too much power and not enough common sense.

One of the protections the states demanded was from something called a 'Writ of Assistance.' A British magistrate would sign an open-ended warrant saying that any house could be searched for any kind of contraband. The warrant did not have to specify who could be searched, or what contraband they were searching for. The Writ of Assistance became one of the colonists' major grievances, and led in part to the American Revolution.

Some of the states said they'd only ratify the Constitution if they were assured that the first Congress would pass amendments to the Constitution absolutely guaranteeing certain rights. Some of the founders, such as John Adams, argued that such assurances weren't necessary.

His position was that the Constitution specifically enumerated the powers the federal government would have. Everything else was left to the states and to the people. Therefore, no such guarantees were needed.

That wasn't enough for the states. They required more. Thus was born the first ten amendments to the Constitution, which came to be called the 'Bill of Rights.' The fourth of those amendments reads as follows:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The NSA program to capture all phone records, and maybe more if the 'Prism' program is proved to be real (and I think it is) is a clear violation of our constitutional rights. Our 'papers and effects' are not being authorized to be searched by a warrant 'particularly describing the place to be searched and the . . . things to be seized."

I say again: the Constitution is there to protect US from THEM. If you agree, then you should contact your representatives and demand that this program stop.

If you think it's just fine, and the government will never abuse any information it receives, then you need to wake up. Did you hear about how the IRS and FBI went after conservative groups just because they were conservative?

The federal government has become too big, and too powerful. We're all at risk from it. It has lost any semblance of staying within the boundaries of the Constitution. Every citizen should be deeply troubled by this.

Don't give up your freedom for the illusion of some security. It's not worth the price. We're giving up our freedoms to protect ourselves from totalitarians who wish to enslave us, by allowing ourselves to be enslaved by another set of totalitarians.

You should all think about this. The time where we can do anything about it is growing short.
Jun 12, 2013
I have no doubt NSA is analyzing, and storing, mine and others data. Like I have said before, the internet is not infinite; it’s just numerically incomprehensible to our brains. It’s absolutely plausible a few massive servers are storing and analyzing every bit and byte of data transmitted.

I wouldn’t think a usable algorithm is currently used to determine a sensible pattern. probably just not enough proven data to make an accurate prediction. I wouldn’t be surprised if any algorithms they do come up with would just generate random nonsense though.
Jun 12, 2013
"If not, they will."... It's not IF it's when did they start... The answer would surprise you.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 12, 2013
Whose Facebook activity would resemble a normal person's more? A sociopath's, or an engineer's?

If the government investigates people for unusual behavior, Scott, you'll be their prime suspect.
Jun 12, 2013
The good news is if they ever start doing this they can sell targeted advertising through the post office and use the revenue for deficit reduction. And I might feel better about taxes if I got customized coupons for dog grooming and cupcakes whenever I visit the IRS webpage.

Most people have a negative reaction to the idea of domestic surveillance but perhaps there are ways to make it warmer and fuzzier.
Jun 12, 2013
Happy, there is no shortage of drones in the air delivering presents from the US government directly to people who advocate murder in the name of religion.

Regardless, what you are advocating is the worst kind of tyranny. I would much rather live in a world where some poor desperate kid could blow me and himself to pieces on the advice of a manipulative monster than one in which my sincerely held beliefs required government approval before they could be shared. Think very carefully about your rantings.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 12, 2013
The US approach to terrorism is an interesting one.

It's kind of like cutting the heads off of dandelions, and wondering why the problem doesn't go away.

Imagine we can find the terrorist! OMG - what a monster - kill him - imprison him - stop him! That will make the world safer!

Or we can take a collective breath, and see how this terrorist came to be.

Who's more dangerous: The suicide bomber, or the man that convinced him to put on the bomb and blow himself to pieces, murdering innocents? Which man has more blood on his hands?

Legally, I'm not sure how much jail time someone gets for convincing someone to kill someone. Sure, if you hire someone to kill your wife or husband - that'll give you some jail time. But what if you are a religious figure - and you preach it? Does that give you jail time? Or can you hide behind the curtain of religion?

As a religious figure, do you support a culture of ignorance, encourage people to act on faith? You tell them, by default, not to question "the word of God"... If that's you, how much blood is on your hands? That act of evil is not unique to Muslims or Christians...

But I digress...

What good does it do when the NSA is targeting e-mails and phone calls? Is it going to find the 17 year old that tries to blow up a plane, or shoot and murder innocents? Great. Hopefully it can clip that head off of that dandelion before he blows something up.

But that won't get to the root of the problem. The NSA needs to go one level deeper, and get the weed by the root. If you want a field without dandelions, it's going to take more than a cheap pair of NSA scissors cutting the heads off of the hapless, under-educated, religious brainwashed zealots. You need to find the source. And that means religious leaders that propagate the hate, the willful culture of ignorance, and the power-base of men who use religion as their weapon of choice.

And the people who give these hate-mongers life, by donating money.

Dig Deep. Dig Hard. Do what you need to do.

But for heaven's sake - get the ____ out of my e-mail account!
Jun 11, 2013
The "terrorists" are the ones who are doing the spying, Scott... they're called the "NSA". Real cartoonists are drawing cartoons about them this month.

+24 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 11, 2013
Thank goodness I avoid Facebook like the plague! Oh, wait... is that one of the patterns?
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 11, 2013
Not sure it would work. I'm on Facebook, but hardly use it. I'll send birth and birthday wishes and maybe I peruse the feed every week or two, or occasionally do a mass email for get-togethers. That's about it. I almost never post anything of my own, because I don't like to share every trivial detail of my life with everyone. Hardly suspicious, but I'm not sure it's "normal" compared to the people who cannot shut up on it. I use it only because other people prefer it. I hate the damn thing, myself.
Jun 11, 2013
Sounds to me like a similar theory to 19th-century anthropological criminology, whereby scientists proposed to recognize criminals based upon the shapes of certain parts of their bodies, notably their skulls. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropological_criminology#The_theory) That turned out to be a load of crap, and I'm predicting that your idea is, too.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 11, 2013
What about "terrorists" who don't use Facebook? Will it be able to spot those?
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