How 'National Unfriend Day' can prevent terrorism

Jimmy Kimmel is on a one-man mission against the 'culture of Facebook' by announcing National Unfriend Day. But it may well offer a positive side effect: preventing terrorism.

Jimmy Kimmel is on a one-man mission against the 'culture of Facebook' by announcing National Unfriend Day. Yet by stripping out unnecessary and unwanted contacts from your friends list may well offer a positive side effect: preventing terrorism.

The idea is simple. 17th November will be a dedicated day to removing the people off your friends lists who do not rightfully have status there. Of course, it is wise to keep your personal social network pruned throughout the year anyway, but if someone is there who you never got to know all that well or haven't spoken to in years, rip them out of there.

The argument is that with constructs such as Facebook and other social networks, the concept of friendship becomes diluted as the vast number of 'friends' connected to your profile can become a status symbol.

You can watch the full video of Kimmel explaining this below, or skip to the good bit.

Take two examples: "Jane" and "Zack". (You would be right in thinking that the latter is in fact me). Now both Jane and I are good friends and have not only worked together, studied together but also gone out many a time drinking together. She's not famous by any means but has over 1,500 friends. I have 200 friends and I got spotted a dozen times in a week by random readers on the street of New York.

Whether one is picky over his friends, or whether the other has an inability to decline friendship, she is more likely to be hooded, thrown into the back of a van and detained under the Terrorism Act. I am not as likely to, and I'm the Touretter who involuntarily shouts "bomb" very loudly at train stations.

For me, my social network represents my actual friends. I have about 200 real world friends, which goes above the researched average of 150 according to the BBC programme 'QI'.

Why terrorism then?

Have you ever heard the saying, "it's not what you know, but who you know"? It also applies to counter-terrorism. There is not very much material outside or even inside the academic community, but one BBC news source from 2009 describes the need to focus on "contacts not content".

One counter-terrorism expert told me that though it is "not necessarily common knowledge to the wider public", counter-terrorism officials and law enforcement are vastly more interested in the connections you make with other people than the content of your conversations.

When linking one person to a known 'terrorist' (single quotation because frankly there are hundreds of 'official' definitions for terrorism) it allows law enforcement to apply for warrants to collect intelligence under acts of law; whereas a hunch or a gut feeling does not wash with the courts.

By reducing the number of friends you have to actual, real-life friends that you know inside out lowers the risk of someone you may not know that well being linked in some way to terrorism, thus de-linking you also. It doesn't necessarily apply to terrorism; it can apply to organised crime and other online misdemeanours too.

When minimising the links with these people, undoubtedly you will lower the number of connections that your now de-friended contact has, which increases the saturation levels for terrorist-related friends and therefore a higher density of terrorists, making it easier to find and prevent attacks. It is unwise to not believe that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups do not use social networking, because they do.

So remember, remember the 17th of November, by unfriending all the social miscellany from your life.

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