We tend to think of social media as either a network of friends and family or a marketing channel–with a few variations in between. Few of us choose to think about the other uses for “social listening”, or the military uses for social data. Of course government agencies have been evaluating interpersonal networks for ages and online media is a primary channel of intelligence gathering.

I heard this show on NPR the other morning that really illustrates this. Soldiers at Fort Bragg are enrolling in a course called A Social Networks Approach to Targeting, taught by Ian McCulloh, Anthony Johnson, and Helen Armstrong.

They’re learning to connect the individuals in a network to pinpoint potential targets and key figures in attacks through IED’s. According to the story as the networks are identified each person (node) is assigned an id and their value to the network is defined based on number of connections, geograpical location and other features.

“When the U.S. military is looking for key people to capture or kill, you do not want to be identified as “a highly central node.”

You really should listen to the show, it’s an interesting way to evaluate influencers in a network. There’s a test case on the page as well, see if you can identify the target.