Last week, the New York Times reported that Rielle Hunter’s lawyer, who issued a statement in December that Hunter was not carrying John Edwards’ child, and Andrew Young’s lawyer, who shortly thereafter issued a statement that Hunter was carrying his client’s child, were not unconnected to each other. Instead, both had worked on legal cases with Fred Baron, the influential trial lawyer and former finance chairman of Edwards’ presidential campaign. The link between two supposedly independent players via a key Edwards advisor suggests that attempts to control the scandal have been much more extensive than first reported.
We would have known all this from the start if the three lawyers, like so many millions of other people, had set up profiles on a social networking site such as LinkedIn or Facebook and connected to each other. But, of course, high-profile lawyers don’t tend to spend much time on such sites, and when they do, they’re not likely to announce connections they’d rather the rest of us not know about.
Most of us have our own networks of friends, classmates and colleagues – largely invisible to the outside world – that we vigorously tap when looking for a new job or trying to get our children into selective schools. Even so, we never fail to be surprised, if not shocked, when other people’s invisible connections turn out to play an important role in explaining events. We rarely think to look at the world through a network lens except when we want something or when things don’t go as we expect.
Indeed, a remarkable number of our after-the-fact analytical activities, from investigative reporting to seething about being passed over for a promotion, are ultimately attempts to piece together other people’s networks, even if we don’t always recognize them as such. We would be better off if we assumed from the start that networks and connections play an ongoing role in shaping people’s priorities and behaviors, including our own.
I can't wait for the public beta. :-)