Subscribe to the blog for updates via email or RSS!
And sign-up for Noted by KRB, a daily newsletter of curated news from fields of interest.

Publishing Note: "Considering the History, Structure, and Function of the U.S. Intelligence Community During the Cold War"

My latest paper for King's College London ("Considering the History, Structure, and Function of the U.S. Intelligence Community During the Cold War") is complete:

"The Cold War had an immense impact on the United States intelligence community (USIC), both in terms of its organization and its activities.  The American system of intelligence collection and analysis -- previously all but nonexistent -- was created, developed, and matured during the Cold War into a form that, by the end of the period, closely resembled its modern form.  Due to the nature of the Cold War and its singular enemy of focus -- the Soviet Union -- the USIC was forced to emerge and evolve within a country and context previously uninterested in a permanent intelligence service, much less an entire community."

It's available via PDF or on Academia.edu.

Kyle R. Brady

Experimenting with a New Media Tool and a Daily Newsletter

I've been experimenting with a new tool for aggregated media consumption -- called Feedly -- and it has the interesting ability to setup a daily newsletter of items I've marked for a 24-hour period.

Since I'm now tracking interesting items of note (non-political) from the realms of national security, homeland security, war, and technology, I also have an active newsletter:  Noted by KRB.

There's currently no easy way for anyone to self-subscribe and I'm not going to export it to the blog, so as to avoid flooding this blog.  However, if you would like to be on the distribution list for Noted by KRB, then send me an email and I'll add you to the distribution list.

I've already requested that Feedly create a web-display for the newsletters and have a self-subscribe/unsubscribe option, so hopefully that comes soon.  When it does, I will share it.

Until then, I'll manually add anyone interested.

Kyle R. Brady

Deconflicting Academia and Non-Academic Professions

NOTE:  I've been thinking lately about the intersection of higher education -- advanced education, in particular -- and non-academic professions.  What follows are some of the results, as more of a thought exercise and/or treatise than a sourced essay.

Kyle R. Brady


INTRODUCTION

Academia was, originally, designed to serve one of three roles:  to prepare the elite for life within their own levels of society, to function as advanced religious education and prepare the devout for life in service to their religion, or to act as a self-feeding academic mechanism itself and train the studious for a lifetime of service within the halls of academia.

However, as society and life evolved, so did the academic world.

By the mid-1900s, Western higher education was designed to be the force multiplying platform through which individuals of any background or level of society could achieve what they sought, so long as they were sufficiently intelligent and undertook the necessary efforts.  Academia, then, became a professional training ground and a gateway to financial and social success, while still serving its traditional religious and academic roles.

By the early 2000s, higher education became a necessary prerequisite for any career or profession that was not low-skill, low-wage, laborious, or some combination therein.  Where a high school diploma was previously sufficient, a minimum of an Associate's degree was required, with a Bachelor's preferred.

In 2017, this degree-creep has only magnified.  Bachelor's degrees are now often required for entry-level positions, with Master's degrees preferred.  In some fields, a Master's is required for entry-level positions; in other fields, a Master's is required for career advancement.

Yet, there remains no small amount of conflict between academia and non-academic professions, particularly in advanced education.  

 

ADVANCED EDUCATION:  PROGRAM DESIGN

Advanced education -- defined, here, as degrees or certificates above the level of a Bachelors -- comes in a variety of forms, including Certificates, Master's degrees, and Doctorates.  There are terminal and non-terminal Master's degrees, just as there are a variety Doctorate types.  Each type of advanced education is tailored to a specific end-goal, a specific field or sub-field, and cultivating particular skillsets.

These skillsets, however, are not necessarily always appropriately tailored.  

In the pursuit of advanced education, there are inevitably a number of courses that must be completed and some of them have only purely academic value:  if the degree is going to be used to advance a non-academic profession, then such courses have no external value.  Moreover, many courses place an emphasis on outcomes rather than process, which is somewhat antithetical to a non-academic profession.  And, worse still, a great deal of advanced education places an emphasis on longform writing, deep research, and other academically-oriented elements that do not necessarily match external desires.

At what point must these differences be resolved?  There are already a number of variations designed to help address this problem, such as a Master's of Professional Studies instead of a Master's of Arts or a Master's of Science.  However, many programs, and the individuals charged with providing instruction within such programs, are still too often mismatched with the external needs and goals. 

What good is a course of advanced education intended to support external careers, if the program is improperly designed and executed, mismatched with these external careers?  What good is a properly-oriented program, if those who execute it are strictly academics and lack external professional experience?  What good is a program that prepares its students for something other than what they are using the degree to pursue?
 

ADVANCED EDUCATION:  COSTS

Another problem with advanced education are the costs. 

For some terminal degrees -- such as a PhD or an MFA -- funding is available to the top and/or preferred students, alongside a support structure that facilitates students' existential needs. In such a situation, tuition and fees may be largely paid (or, perhaps, fully paid), with some form of stipend, compensation, and housing considerations.  All of this is designed to help students fully focus on their studies, without the distractions of life-supporting employment.

However, non-terminal and professional programs do not often provide enough funding to fully address university costs, much less existential considerations.  Students are expected to take out loans (up to as much as $65,000/year) in order to cover all costs of attendance.  This situation unfortunately also requires students to work -- unless they are independently wealthy, have family support, or are lucky enough for an employer to support this effort -- in order to address the costs of life not directly associated with being a student.  This is made especially difficult, in the event that the student has a spouse and/or children requiring support.

Further, and with the exception of some of the fantastic and rigorous online opportunities for advanced education, such non-terminal programs require on-campus attendance that does not easily match any form of standard or supportive employment.  

The outcome of such conditions, then, is an extraordinarily high cost -- financial, career, opportunity, and domestic -- to advanced education.  Not unlike some of the current problems of the military, there are not enough so-called on-ramps and off-ramps for advanced education:  it is easiest to undertake when young, single, unattached, unestablished, and immediately after the completion of an undergraduate program.  Even if the easiest route is taken, the financial burden of this effort -- supported by loans from the federal government and/or private entities -- will continue for years, if not decades, following a student's graduation.
 

ADVANCED EDUCATION:  EMPLOYMENT

Although many employers expect an undergraduate degree for entry-level employment, there seems to often be confusion regarding the focus:  in many cases, the major will allegedly not match what is being sought, even though the same skillsets apply.  In particular fields, this is made worse by the proliferation of major options and differences between universities.  A perfect example are the differences between criminal justice, government, political science, international relations, and foreign policy degrees, as they all exist within the social/soft sciences, have the same fundamental skillsets, and differ only in the areas of specific focus:  any differences are immaterial for employment and can be compensated for with proper job training.

This problem is amplified in the advanced education environment.  Not only do advanced degrees come with a variety of degree types, titles, and foci that may be confusing or unintelligible to employers -- including government -- but advanced education is also misunderstood for the way it should be applied to employment.  An advanced degree does not make an applicant somehow overqualified for a position not requiring or requesting such an education; rather, it simply makes them more able to fulfill the duties of the position, succeed within structures and requirements, and able to undertake more complex workloads.  Moreover, if advanced education is incorrectly viewed as a disqualifier -- with the faulty assumption that the applicant is unwilling to do the work or that they may somehow be unwilling to comply with a supervisor's requests, simply on the basis of their degree -- then there exists a clear disconnect between employers and advanced education.

Additionally, employers -- again, including government -- too often seem to misunderstand the requirements of advanced education.  To support their advanced education, individuals may have undertaken positions irrelevant to their overall career -- even after already developing a career -- in order to better fit the needs of their course of advanced education and their existential needs not supported by their educational institution.  In other cases, such individuals may appear to be unemployed during their time of study, even as they work in academic support roles for income labeled as stipends and honoraria or in work-for-benefit exchanges that support their existential needs.  This is not unemployment or underemployment:  it is temporary and purposeful employment in service of advanced education.
 

ADVANCED EDUCATION PROPOSALS

Although I have previously advocated for education as a cornerstone for personal and societal development (available via PDF or at Academia.edu) and still standby this, the current situation is untenable.  What follows, then, are four substantive proposals.

1.  Realign Design
The design of advanced education programs needs to be realigned with the purpose they are intended to serve, across all institutions.  If a student is part of an advanced education program, they presumably had to complete an undergraduate education first and receive a degree in a field somehow related to their advanced studies.  In the modern environment, this means institutions can place a high degree of confidence in the academic exposure of their advanced students:  they have already studied a great number of things across a variety of fields, some in great depth.

As such, programs need to wholly focus on essential components of their programs.  There should be no situation in which a student pursuing higher education has to take any course not directly tied to their choice of focus.  All courses should be tightly oriented around this focus, with an interest in streamlining and optimization.

Moreover, academic programs designed to produce anything other than academics must also be realigned.  Most Master's degrees are not intended to produce individuals who will live within academia; therefore, such programs must stop behaving as if this were true and engaging in Doctorate-like practices.  The more oriented a program is toward a particular non-academic profession, the more the program should be designed and executed with this profession in mind.  Instructors, Professors, Chairs, and Deans must be hired with resumes, credentials, and Curriculum Vitae that match these revised, realigned, and redesigned needs.

2.  Recalibrate Financial Cost
The financial burden of advanced education must be lessened, particularly as it is becoming increasingly necessary for integral roles in society.  More monies must be allocated to funding the studies and existential needs of students in pursuit of an advanced degree, if only to ensure the financial barrier to entry is lowered or removed.  When an advanced degree can cost as much as $120,000 and requires sufficient borrowing to meet this cost, a great number of potential students -- with unknown potential -- are being left out of such studies, simply on financial grounds.

This is particularly important for non-terminal degrees, which are coming to serve a vital role in the modern environment but remain largely unfunded.  The fact that a degree is not the terminal option for a particular field does not, in any way, lessen its value, importance, or impact.  Since non-terminal degrees are often sought by those who will serve in non-academic professions, there is a strong argument to be made for the social and economic impact of such degrees, leading to the conclusion that they should be funded and supported in ways similar to terminal degrees.

3.  Remove Career, Opportunity, and Domestic Costs
If there is an awareness that there are career, opportunity, and domestic costs to the pursuit of advanced education, then why haven't these issues been addressed?  Institutions must ensure that their courses of advanced education can be undertaken at any point during an individual's life or career and that they don't need to freeze or destroy the rest of their life to pursue advanced studies.  Restructuring the way in which courses are delivered -- including venue, format, schedule, and pacing -- would make a great difference for mid-career individuals interested in pursuing advanced education, as one of the major barriers to entry would be minimized.

4.  Educate Employers
Finally, employers -- including government -- need to better understand what advanced degrees mean in environments outside of academia.  Although advocacy groups could undertake efforts to better inform employers, this may take many years and could be cost-prohibitive. 

Instead, academic institutions should consider attaching a degree explanation and program translation document to all transcripts.  This explanation and translation document (which should also be provided to graduates, separately, for use as necessary) would identify what was studied, its relevance to a variety of academic and non-academic fields, skills acquired and developed (both generally and specifically), and a brief discussion on the utility of the specific advanced education completed.  This document would serve as an explanatory bridge between academia and the wider world.

With some low-level efforts and tools designed to better market the skills of alumni, institutions can ensure that there are no unfounded concerns, incorrect assumptions, or faulty understandings regarding the meaning of advanced education, its purpose, its value, and its applicability in a non-academic environment.
 

CONCLUSION

The conflicts found in academia, its institutional momentum, non-academic professions, and society more generally has been a longstanding problem, further complicated by the increasing demand for higher education in the workplace.  However, such complications and problems are unnecessary and can be resolved by undertaking certain reforms -- at an institutional level -- designed to directly address these problems. 

In the event that no reforms are undertaken, the value of advanced education will, in many cases, continue to be misunderstood and misapplied, even as the pursuit and acquisition of advanced education is often prohibitive due to a variety of unnecessary factors.

Quarterly Review: September 30, 2017

This post is part of a series I'm calling Quarterly Review:  every three months, I post a review of all that I've published over that period.  This collection of publications will ensure nothing gets lost and provides an opportunity for some reflection-at-a-distance.

This Quarterly Review covers June 5, 2017 through September 30, 2017.

Opinion Articles

Postgraduate Papers

Kyle R. Brady

On Identity, Conflict, and Liberty in a Modern Context

NOTE:  Following recent events in the United States and elsewhere, I thought a discourse on identity, society, and liberty seemed only appropriate.  This is the result.

Kyle R. Brady


Identity is, fundamentally, at the core of most human activities.  And, yet, it is one of the most complicated, unstable, and multivariate philosophical and social concepts that exists.  From a practical standpoint, there are two broad forms of identities -- individual and collective -- and in a modern context these two may often be at odds with each other, creating conflict.  By better understanding identity and how it drives individuals, an enhanced approach to ensuring the freedoms of others may be developed.  

 

Foundations

Individual identity, also referred to as personal identity, is comprised of a wide mixture of concepts of and about the self, partially created by extrapolating thoughts and character traits into more concrete categorizations affected by social norms and expectations.  It is an essential component of each human defining who they are -- both positively and negatively -- and maintaining a sense of self.  It is a critical component of the self-awareness required to be human.

And, yet, individual identity is interwoven with collective identity, particularly through identity politics, social identity, and shifting, limited applications of utilitarianism.  In this way, humans are both individuals and members of larger groups, separate entities and part of a larger whole.  From these collective identities have evolved the applied concepts of nationalism, sovereignty, and, of course, society, all of which depend upon the positive and negative group association of individuals.

 

Principles

It is from these identity-based practices that modern humans have produced the current identity-fusion that any given individual will recognize, based upon considerations such as age, gender, sex, nationality, ethnicity, citizenship, language, religion, spirituality, politics, finances, and much more.  Not surprisingly, it is extraordinarily common for an individual to intentionally self-identify with a number of personal identity characteristics and extend those characteristics into intentional collective affiliations, both on a per-characteristic basis and more broadly.  How these different forms and levels of identity are ordered, provided preference, or given consideration is dependent upon the individual, but within each person exists a hierarchy of identity, sub-identities, and characteristics.  Notably, identity characteristics often play an essential role in the actions of an individual.

 

In a Modern Context

With all this in mind, it is important to consider the current structure of modern identity affiliations.  The following is a broad outline that serves the larger point that will be made, but it is, by no means, a comprehensive listing of all possible options.

The world is comprised of states -- many belonging to suprastate entities of various kinds -- and each state is further sub-divided into ever-smaller entities of governance.  In this way, every individual is a member of multiple forms of governance -- from the neighborhood up to the state and suprastate -- by birth, choice, or a combination of both.

Each person is a member of a family with an inherently branched history and an array of current family members across various levels of familial affiliation.  Each person has a circle of friends, acquaintances, and personal affiliations that are both chosen and the product of circumstance.  Every individual has the choice to create their own familial branch with another individual.  All such affiliations innately carry narratives, past, present, and historical.

Each person has graduated from some collection of schools, institutions, or universities, just as they all have a relationship -- past, present, or both -- with a career or a collection of jobs. 

Each person has the choice to be an intentional member of various groups and societies organized around favored interests, shared traits, or common goals.

Each person is inherently an unintentional member of various naturally-extant groups by the simple facts of their physical, mental, and physiological characteristics.

Each person is part of other naturally-extant groups as a result of the language into which they were born, the language they choose to use daily, and languages they may have acquired.

Each person has the choice -- both positively and negatively -- to be an intentional member of groups oriented around religious and spiritual belief systems.

Each person has the choice to express themselves as they see fit, inherently associating themselves with others who undertake similarly-oriented expressions.

 

The Conflict

Taking the broad outline of various forms, types, and levels of identity in a modern context into consideration, the inherent problem should be obvious:  not all forms of identity will be synergistic with all others.  Notably, this conflict also exists within the self:  not all forms of identity within the self will be synergistic with all other forms of self-identity simultaneously extant.  This, then, creates conflict.

This conflict can come in the form of prioritizing decision-making for the self, as courses of action are necessarily chosen over others, thereby providing preference to some forms of self-identity.  But this conflict is also seen in the collective sense, as various collective and social identities organize and act to ensure their interests receive preferential treatment, with the interests of other groups intentionally or unintentionally marginalized as a consequence.  The problem, then, becomes clear:  how should governments and societies tolerate and encourage the proliferation of expressive identity, while simultaneously protecting the identities and interests of all?

However clear the problem statement may be, the solution is not.

 

The Solution

As a simple expression of pragmatic reality, it must be understood that not all identities and interests can be provided permissive and supportive environments, since not all identities and interests are able to peaceably coexist.  Since the peaceful coexistence of individuals -- domestic stability -- is one of the primary internal interests of modern governments,  but this is inherently impossible, a best-fit solution must be developed beyond the current, common, and often ad hoc approach.

This solution of best-fit is based upon the underlying principles of utilitarianism and adapted for this specific case at hand:  individuals within a society and under a government must be free to identify as they wish and act in accordance with their own interests, so long as their identification and actions are in accordance with all laws, comply with the most universally applicable social norms, and do not cause harm to others.

In adopting such a solution -- a mix of the individual liberties seen in liberalism and the collectivism seen in communitarianism -- not everyone would be free to be anything and do anything, but the greatest number of people in a society would be free to be a reasonable approximation of anything and to do nearly anything.  The principle of no harm, carefully applied, ensures maximum liberty to a maximum number of persons while simultaneously ensuring that even those who find themselves restricted from activities are still permitted nearly-maximum liberties.  Further, and with a carefully interpretative application, if an individual seeks to identify or behave in ways that would potentially be restricted, the individual may choose to privately engage -- within the confines of their own home and in the presence of no others -- thereby restricting the restrictions themselves, in order to maximize liberty. 

With the application of this solution, racism and all other concepts of trait-based and perceptual supremacy would inherently be impermissible -- and should be easily understood by all within the society as such -- as the result of the simple truth that such supremacy frameworks disadvantage, disparage, and disabuse the freedoms of a great many others.  Such a society would not permit the spread of such concepts to others, nor would free organization or association around such concepts be permitted.  As this would be based not on truth, perception, justice, or belief, but, rather, the simple greatest good for the greatest number of persons, there would be no arguments over facts, belief systems, or any other points of social contention.

 

The Connection

In a world full of states, governments, and people -- all with different identities, interests, and ideologies -- attempting to serve justice in all its forms to all people is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.  If, instead, the world carefully pursued the principle of no harm, a more straightforward approach to identity and freedoms could be easily developed, applied, and understood by all.  Rather than attempting to outlaw and outlive all that is perceived to be wrong, unjust, or unfair -- a definitively negative approach -- perhaps a positive, universalist, and inherently impartial design would better serve the ever-evolving needs of an expansive and diverse humanity.

Publishing Note: "Technology and Insurgency: Advancing Propaganda, Mission, and Combat"

The latest paper for my postgraduate studies at King's College London ("Technology and Insurgency: Advancing Propaganda, Mission, and Combat") is now out:

"In 2017, the fundamentals of communications have changed, worldwide.  This simple truth -- born out of the rise of the Internet, cellphones, digital communications tools, social media, and much more -- have forever augmented the daily lives of humanity.  Although these tools have been used to substantially improve lives in countless ways, they have also affected various aspects of conflict.  It seems self-evident, then -- with even only a cursory awareness of the subject -- that those involved in a networked insurgency undoubtedly view such tools of technology and media as beneficial.  As such, it is a topic worth assessing in greater detail."

It's available publicly via PDF or via Academia.edu.

Go take a look!

Kyle R. Brady

Moving Forward After Mosul: ISIS in Iraq, Syria, and the World

NOTE:  this piece was written and submitted for publication on July 13, 2017; however, too much time has passed since it was submitted and too many publications have said things that are too similar for this to be published as it normally would.  Now, it is published here, so that it is not simply lost and stranded within email inboxes.

Kyle R. Brady


Mosul has fallen.

This ancient city has now been reclaimed by Iraqi forces -- with Western help -- and returned to its people from the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS).  With a notably triumphant Iraqi government and highly visible celebrations of this destruction-laden military success, it may appear that ISIS is heading toward serious and permanent defeat.  However, assuming this battlefield achievement is as important as it first appears would be wildly dangerous.

ISIS is an intriguing fusion of concepts, principles, strategies, and tactics, as it is simultaneously a terror organization, an insurgency (both local and global), an ideological/theological movement, and a self-proclaimed traditional state.  Much of the present analysis seems to be focused on the fall of Mosul as a loss of territory, presuming that such defeats mean the same for ISIS as they would for traditional states.  However, due to the multi-faceted nature of the organization, a loss of territory represents no ultimate defeat or failure.

At present, ISIS holds territory -- in the exclusive, sovereign-territory sense -- primarily in Syria and, on a lesser scale, in Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere.  The emphasis of the Iraqi government remains on fully routing ISIS from all Iraqi territory it still holds, while the primary external focus is now shifting toward removing the group from its various Syrian strongholds.  The former is far easier than the latter, particularly given the complexities of operations within Syria, but the primary strategic military objectives are remain clear.

Despite this clarity, underlying facts and principles of the developing situation seem to have been forgotten, particularly in terms of what truly defeating ISIS will require.

First, and foremost, the reclamation of Mosul has demonstrated -- along with the wanton destruction in Syria, by all parties -- that physically removing ISIS from cities will require massive, coordinated efforts that produce few positive outcomes.  Although the territory may no longer formally be held by this terror group, it has been destroyed in the process, which can now be identified as part of a demonstrated pattern.  It should be assumed that all territory in Iraq and Syria reclaimed from ISIS will be a defeated, deflated, and deconstructed shell of its former self.

Second, it must be understood that -- as a group that began and, in many ways, remains an insurgency within the states it partially occupies, at present -- the loss of territory for ISIS simply means it will transition from self-declared sovereignty back to an insurgency.  While the terror group may no longer control or operate this reclaimed territory, ISIS can -- and likely will -- continue its operations.  When freed of the domestic, logistic, and bureaucratic burdens of statehood, these fighters can continue fighting in an urban environment, just as they have:  in the shadows, without uniforms, and intermixed with the civilian population.  The lack of a visible presence does not, and will not, equate to a true lack of presence.

Third, ISIS has long since bifurcated its interests, splitting its efforts in Iraq, Syria, and Libya from its global inspiration and execution operations.  As such, it is highly unlikely that their global operations will be affected by their loss of physical territory:  with a few simple pieces of software, an internet connection, and a willing audience, the terror attacks throughout the world can easily continue, by virtue of the virtual.  Even if ISIS loses the ability to train, equip, and deploy fighters to regions beyond their current theatre of actual operations, their ability to inspire attacks will remain.  In fact, such global operations may even increase, as the group’s primary focus shifts from the defense of territory to attacking the territory and people of other states.

Fourth, although ISIS is currently the preeminent terror organization and the general point of focus, it will not be so forever.  As with al Qaeda before it, ISIS will eventually be reborn or replaced, leading to yet another struggle with yet another group that developed while attentions were focused elsewhere.  The key to decreasing global terrorism -- particularly the small-scale attacks easily deployed in any city worldwide -- is preventing the growth of large-scale terror organizations.  Such an effort is not predicated upon preventing their acquisition of territory, although this remains important, but, rather, preventing the spread of related ideologies:  if the thoughts and ideas of a group cannot inspire others, then they have no followers to direct.  As always, this remains a difficult and fraught endeavour -- one still being explored in its relative infancy -- but it is of the utmost importance.

Fifth, and finally, the war against ISIS, its allies, and its successors is not strictly a military campaign.  It is -- in summary -- a global counter-terror, socio-political, cyber, ideological, theological, economic, and psychological operation on a global scale.  Without the pursuit of such a multi-faceted, multi-domain strategy that seeks to prevent and mitigate terrorism -- in all its forms and from all sources of inspiration -- this fight will continue far beyond the fall of Mosul, Raqqa, or the Islamic State itself.

As battlefield operations against ISIS continue to minimize its territory and restrict movements, there must be an expectation that its fighters and operators will simply fade into the background of the local populations.  It would be exceedingly unexpected if the retaking of physical territory would prove to be the end of such an ideological and shapeshifting organization; therefore, all efforts must be attuned to these facts, in order to prevent further future disaster.  So as to avoid the appearance, in hindsight, of negligence or recklessness, aspects of the anti-ISIS campaign that exist off-battlefield must not be ignored.

On Digital Citizenship

NOTE:  this post is in response to a public request from the Obama Foundation for ideas, thoughts, and more on the subject of digital citizenship, "what it means to be a good citizen online," how to foster a better online environment, etc.

Kyle R. Brady


If the internet and its future derivatives are to continue to play ever-larger roles in the lives of modern humanity, enhance the human experience, and enrich (in all senses) the experiences of all involved, then some things clearly need to change.  The inherently open nature of the internet, with its built-in preference for semi-anonymity, have created a world where so-called fake news influenced the 2016 American Presidential election and daily influences the thoughts of millions, cyberbullying has become a serious concern for certain age groups and demographic sectors, and social media has developed into a vehicle for personal attack, the distribution of propaganda, groupthink, and worse.  Any simple assessment of the state of the citizen-facing digital world indicates disorder and chaos that threatens to undo all the good this platform serves, to say nothing of the increasing threat of actual cyberwarfare.

If unnecessary anonymity leads to the undertaking of abuse and the worst behaviors found online, then the problems of anonymity must then be solved.

 

Anonymity

By 2017, the value of unnecessary anonymity can be seen in the clear results strewn about Twitter, the comments sections of any newspaper/blog article or YouTube video, and various online communities.  Very little of the content produced by these anonymous persons requires anonymity and a notably distinct portion is clearly abusive in one fashion or another.  By comparison, however, the interactions of individuals on platforms more tangibly tied to their real identity -- such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or a variety of online communities organized around a profession -- are much more civil.

For decades, anonymity has been a central tenet of digital culture despite a noteworthy lack of any factual justification for this inherent centrality.  Perhaps now is the time to begin to question this longstanding premise.

Since it is exceedingly rare for persons who deeply intertwine their public, private, and professional identities -- such as academics -- to behave in wildly different behind a keyboard than in front of an audience, this may be an important aspect to pursue.  By connecting the online activities of an individual with their actual identity -- even if only partially -- it seems a reasonable expectation that their behaviors would then typically conform to basic societal norms, as in offline environments.  When reputation matters, behavior can be expected to improve, especially when that reputation is recorded, tracked, and easily cross-referenced.

This is not to say that online anonymity should be completely forsaken, as there will always be a time and a place for important, difficult, or fragile interactions that should not be immediately or easily tied to an individual's identity.  Anonymity provided in the context of social media platforms or certain online communities, however, does not seem to produce enough of these interactions to justify the serious dedication to anonymity.  In fact, when discussing the issues of cyberbullying -- either direct or through organized attacks -- this anonymity within such communities is a well-known facilitator.

Put simply, the worst impulses of humanity should no longer be provided an identity-free delivery vehicle.

 

Solving the Problems of Anonymity via the Private Sector

One option for solving the problem of anonymity can be easily implemented within the private sector with only one minor change to social media and online communities:  private identity verification.

In this solution, each user of a social media service or online community would be required to verify their actual identity -- privately, quietly, and securely -- behind-the-scenes with the service provider or host, by simply providing a scan or photograph of a legally valid, government-issued identification document.  Nothing else would have to change:  usernames, links, and activities would all remain the same as the individual prefers.  However, each user would innately understand that their activities could be easily linked to their actual identity, if necessary.

By requiring each user to identify themselves with each provider or host, the users would likely feel a certain amount of pressure to behave more in accordance with standard societal norms.  In the event that illegal activity were to take place, the issuance of a warrant to the provider or host would then quickly produce the actual identity of the user and make them subject to any applicable legal frameworks.  When engaging in activities that truly require anonymity, the user would have the option to flag it as such, internally with the provider or host, thereby permitting a different and more protected response -- subject to a review of legitimacy -- to the receipt of a warrant.

 

Solving the Problems of Anonymity via Digital Citizenship

Another option for solving the problem of anonymity could be implemented, with some initially difficult preparations, at the level of government:  digital citizenship.

It seems likely that governments may soon be offering a digital form of citizenship to coexist and intertwine with traditional citizenship -- something Estonia seems to have already recognized -- and this digital citizenship can provide an answer to relevant socio-cultural problems.  If countries were to issue digital identification and authentication processes, alongside an enhanced passport and other standard services, this digital identity could be employed within many contexts other than government.  Moreover, by linking online identity and real identity -- as already discussed -- a behavioral change is likely.

Such a process -- also previously, and briefly, discussed --  would issue a unique email account (such as "brady.kyle.robert@citizen.usa.gov") that could be used as internet-wide identity authentication, similar to the present ability to login to services with a Google, Facebook, or Twitter account.  There would be no need to provide any identity information -- such as name, birthday, address, or government identification numbers -- because a service provider or host could simply query the government system for permission to access this information.  More important, however, is the existence of a truly authenticated identity that doesn't require the provision of private information or government identity documents to private sector entities.

In cases where anonymity would be necessary, the same protocol could be employed:  an internal flag for anonymity placed on a specific activity, with specific and reasons reasons identified, and in accordance with certain protocols.  Again, this anonymity flag would be subject to a review of legitimacy by the provider or host, in order to ensure no illegal or abusive behavior is occurring anonymously.  No government would have access to user data without a proper warrant, since all activity data would still be stored by providers and hosts, so the existence of a government-authenticated identity does not affect or jeopardize the use of legitimate anonymity.

 

Conclusion

There are many problems to be solved, quickly, if the digital world is to remain valuable and free.  However, by addressing an underlying and fundamental problem -- anonymity -- that often permits and perpetuates improper, disruptive, or illegal behavior, the digital world would be one substantial step closer to safe, secure, and socially normalized.  The solutions outlined in this post are not going to be easily accepted by all and they would have some difficulty in their implementation, but this does not degrade their importance.

If the issue of needless and abusive anonymity is not soon solved, more draconian and invasive frameworks may be implemented by governments around the world.  It is, therefore, in the best interest of all involved to collaboratively discover and implement a suitable solution before this occurs.  And such a solution, while difficult, will only enhance the experience and utility of the digital world. 

Publishing Note: "Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in the Modern Era: Forms, Framings, and the Future"

My latest postgraduate paper for King's College London ("Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in the Modern Era: Forms, Framings, and the Future") is now out:

Over the course of the past few decades, the world has seen far more insurgency than could ever have been imagined.  Although insurgencies have now inextricably merged with the efforts of terror groups and evolved alongside the quick pace of technology, the very idea of a major modern power facing an insurgency would have seemed quaint only two decades prior:  while failed states occasionally saw civil wars and weak states insurgencies, they were easily quarantined and not a concern of the major powers.  However, in 2017, there exist countless insurgencies -- both traditional and global -- that present a variety of threats to a variety of actors, most surprisingly to Western states.  After over a decade of active military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and many years elsewhere, insurgencies both traditional and global thrive.  The pertinent question, then, is clear:  can and should major military powers avoid counterinsurgency in the future?

Go take a look, either in PDF or at Academia.edu!

Kyle R. Brady

Quarterly Review: June 5, 2017

This is the first in a series I'm calling Quarterly Review:  every three months, I'll be posting a review of all that I've published over that period.  This collection of publications will ensure nothing gets lost and provides an opportunity for some reflection-at-a-distance.

For this Quarterly Review, I'm starting from January 1, 2017.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

Opinion Articles

Postgraduate Papers

Kyle R. Brady