The Power of Social Network Analysis

Telling complex stories through visual and interactive methods is an important part of social network analysis, according to Brant Houston, co-founder of the Global Investigative Journalism Network.

Houston walked the audience through the components involved in telling stories through social network analysis in a lecture titled, “Connecting the Dots: Social Network Analysis” on November 16 at the Wits Science Stadium.

He explained how social network analysis figuratively and literally connects the dots between people and institutions. He showed how social network analysis has been used to tell some of the biggest stories in recent history.

A diagram of the September 11 terrorist attacks, for instance, illustrated the social connections between the terrorists before they executed their deadly plan.

Houston said using social network analysis helps readers to easily consume content if “you make it clear and if you keep it simple and allow readers to be able to manipulate it.”

Multimedia is also an essential part of current social network analysis, according to Houston.

“It’s pretty, it’s more interactive and it gives readers more control,” he said.

Ilya Lozovsky, slot editor for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, concurred with Houston that social network analysis’ interactive nature makes it easy for readers to understand complex stories. He pointed to subjects like company ownership and ties with other companies as an example.

“It’s hard to portray that simply through texts,” Lozovsky said. “It’s also important to make sure that the visuals are complementing the narrative.”

Connecting the dots of state capture

The human consequences of state capture need to be communicated better in order for the discussion about state capture to be more accessible to ordinary people.

This was one of the points raised at a discussion about media coverage of ‘State Capture in South Africa’ that took place at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference on Friday. The session was moderated by senior anchor at eNCA, Cathy Mohlahlana.

Adriaan Basson, editor-in-chief of News24, said that although there was valid criticism about journalists’ failure to communicate the state capture revelations in an accessible manner, they had become increasingly better at presenting dense information in creative ways.

“We [News24] are using more videos. The Daily Sun has also been writing more about the Guptas and state capture,” Basson said. He also commended The President’s Keepers, by investigative journalist and author Jacques Pauw, as a “well-written and colourful book. Something many journalists are afraid to do”.

AmaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism’s Susan Comrie, told the conference that, “A huge failing on the part of discussions such as these is that they take place in English. Journalists are also a little too focused on forensic detail and other detail that interests them as journalists.”

However, Thanduxolo Jika of the Sunday Times, cautioned against the notion that the majority of South Africans are not engaging with the content. “As much as South Africans are unemployed, they are not uneducated. They can see what is going on and engage with it.”

The journalists reflected on the uniqueness of the experience of reporting on state capture and the institutions that were necessary to make it a reality.

Comrie said that it was “a systematic form of corruption where a number of groupings work to extract value from the state”.

“The turning point was the firing of [former finance minister] Nhlanhla Nene. We started getting to know the Guptas and the people they were close to. They actually need Treasury to achieve this. I think it was the recklessness of President Zuma that helped us to connect the dots,” said Jika.

Pauw reemphasised this recklessness in reference to the leaked Gupta emails saying that, “They did not try to hide what they were doing.”

Basson concluded that, “State capture is far from one-on-one tenders. It is literally when policy is changed to accommodate it.”

Journalists were encouraged to continue putting these stories out in the public for historical record even when perpetrators are not prosecuted .