Networks in the News – Simple vs. Complex Secrets

A recent American Journal of Sociology article by Georg Rilinger develops a relational theory of complex secrets which explains how corporate crimes often remain secrets even after the fact that critical information has been revealed. The author argues that this type of secrets (i.e., complex secrets) is not enough to be identified secrets as “things,” compared to simple secrets (i.e., discovering a fact reveals a secret). Rather, it requires those who discover secrets to (a) find whole sets of information and then (b) assemble them properly based on a guiding conception. The author demonstrated the case of complex secrets using the Insull’s Ponzi scheme in the 1920s and 1930s. In particular, in this scandal, there were four FTC investigations and early ones failed. The author illustrated that despite the fact that all the investigations had the same sets of information, the early ones relied on a misguided conception, which prevented them from successfully discovering the complex secrets.

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