Today is the day after the bombings in Brussels. The news is all about it, and the talk is related to the terrorists, the hunt, the political ramifications, the security, the role of NATO, and many other things. As I sit on the train, I think about what can be done, not only at a government level, but also at a personal level. I see this crisis as I see so many others, both big and small, and ideas come into my head. One stands out and makes me immediately hit the iPad to write: What if there was a Waze-like app for the rest of life?
So you know the Waze app, right? It is the app used for driving directions that uses social input from its users to determine traffic, disabled cars on the side of the road, locations for cops, etc. These inputs can be seen on the map, and the algorithms route you the fastest ways, or Waze, around these obstructions. They also warn you when something is ahead, so you can be aware.
I think about the radical suspects who allegedly pulled off these attacks. They likely lived in a neighborhood in Belgium, where they were radicalized and where they planned. They also lived for a long while in places where life was not as rosy or fulfilling as it could have been, meaning their angst against the world likely started and continued earlier in life — they did not just wake up yesterday and decide to blow things up.
I would also think that other people have known these suspects before yesterday. They must have gone to school. They must have gone to the grocery store. They must have had some interactions with others. And in recent days and years, there may have been times when an interaction could have caused concern with someone. It would be awesome if that someone had a way to voice his or her concern in a way that was easy, non-threatening, and that was captured as a datapoint.
What if one data input could be combined with others, from people who voiced their concerns, as specific as they wanted to be, from the location where they were? Those concerns could be captured, categorized and made available for others to see. Now hot spots of concern would be visible, recorded, immediately acted upon, supported, or given the attention consistent with the concern. And those of us who see something actually can easily say something, knowing our voice is immediately heard and seen.
This could work for big things like radicalization, and also for smaller things like bullying in school or others smaller potential disastrous incendiary events like school shootings. There are many privacy questions that come up and the platform would have to manage that. Yet the concerns are public, the acts that prompt the concerns are public, and the response from the public can be powerful. The social media systems can be used to demonstrate that power.
Terrorism works by single destructive acts generating fear in the public, who are incapable of individually controlling the events and so they retreat, hoping that governments will protect them. But if the voices of the public are able to rise together, the power of that unification is much greater than the individual terror threats. And if our responses to potential catastrophes can start before those catastrophes occur, the public safety would be better ensured by the public who owns it.