Crowd Securing

Submitted by Ofer Shezaf on 15 October 2012 - 5:16pm

Two classic paradigm shifters from very different disciplines but only three years apart, offer us insight into the role that each and every one of us has in providing security. While those 60s classics focus on physical security, their lesson may apply to cyber security as well.

Kitty Genovese was murdered near her home in Queens, New-York City, in 1964. Nobody would have remembered her murder if not for the New York Times article that made her murder into a staple of social psychology. The article, “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the Police”, while widely criticized as inaccurate since, changed our way of thinking about ourselves. The inconceivable, until then, comprehension that we may not be there for each other triggered extensive research into the phenomenon called “the bystander effect”, or, quite suitably, the “Genovese syndrome”.

Surprisingly, a much less known but potentially more influential book, written just 3 years earlier, offers the exact opposite analysis. Jane Jacobs, who wrote “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, was not an architect or urban planner. Actually she did not even have a college degree. Yet she wrote a book that changed the way we think of how our cities should look like and behave. So much so, that we are not aware that our ideas, which are hers, were so radical for her time.

One of Jacob’s key design principles is that a safe place is an active place. We all know that a police force can never provide sufficient security and relies on public civic virtue to complement it. Countries in which too many people lack civic virtue are considered unsafe and may deteriorate into unstableness. Jacob’s extends the idea of civic virtue to the explicit and implicit safety people provide to their environment by simply being there. Jacob’s argues that it is not the lights that makes a street secure, but rather the street users they bring. While not directly contradictory to the bystander effect, Jacob’s concept of security by the crowds does offer a very different perspective of the nature of men. Jacob’s drives interesting conclusions from this concept, such as limiting public parks in cities to ensure the success, liveliness and therefore security of the remaining parks or planning for mix use of city districts to ensure wider hours of activity.

Jacob’s “crowd-securing” concept may require an update to the air conditioned and cyber environment of the 21st century. However the same concept might be worth exploring with regard to the security of the cyber world itself. What is the cyber city square? How can many people look after the common security of all? Sitting in my study in solitude writing this article in order to publish to readers around the globe in a few hours, it may seem that “crowd-securing” is farfetched from Internet reality. However, can we afford to ignore it? Will security done only by professionals ever be sufficient?

There is one great example for crows-securing, which is Wiki in general and Wikipedia in particular. Wikipedia is not protected by its security force and everyone can change everything. It is protected by numerous watchful community eyes screening the updated content all the time.

On the other hand, one of the places we all consider to be the Internet city square and we wish the most secure as our kids spend their time there, is Facebook. Unfortunately the Facebook city square seems not to promote civil virtue and therefore no crowd-securing. An interesting research (still unpublished) done by Dr. Carmel Vaisman and Illan Gonen compares Wikipedia and Facebook’s community translation projects. One of their findings is that the autocratic control Facebook has over the translation process, having the last word without providing any explanation, relieves participants from their duty and promotes trolling and abuse. Facebook expectedly works and behaves like a corporation, however if Facebook is to become our city square and keep our cyber cities safe, it has to be much more closely regulated and maybe even broken up, as the railroad monopoly and the telephony monopoly, i.e. AT&T were.

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