Pentagon to track social media

The Pentagon has plans to develop a program to track and analyse developments on social networking sites such as Twitter. Particularly interesting, and worrying, development given the role of social media in enabling the spread of activism such as the Arab uprisings and the Occupy Wall St protests.

It’s no stretch to imagine that cyberspace will likely serve as another front in the wars of the future. But now, the Pentagon is reportedly kicking things into high gear with a new initiative which sets to track intel across social media. The program could cost up to $42 million and is currently soliciting research proposals.

The new Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program was submitted under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an arm of the Department of Defense. The goal is to “develop a new science of social networks built on an emerging technology base” to help the agency keep abreast with communication technologies, namely Twitter.

The program’s plan is fourfold:

1. Detect, classify, measure and track the (a) formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes), and
(b) purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformation.
2. Recognize persuasion campaign structures and influence operations across social mediasites and communities.
3. Identify participants and intent, and measure effects of persuasion campaigns.
4. Counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations.

It makes sense: Twitter’s gotten a lot of shine as a tool for mass mobilization, none more famous than during the Arab Spring. With over 200 million tweets being sent per day, Twitter has become an unprecedented medium for the mass transmission of information, and the Library of Congress is already archiving every tweet sent.

The SMISC will monitor these newfangled social media channels in order to effectively discern where information comes from and how it spreads. In one scenario, there was a rumor that a certain highly-desired individual had been located, and cries across the social media space reached a “fever pitch,” calling for the location to be stormed.

But the rumor turned out to be just that: a rumor. After monitoring and analyzing the chain of events, the authorities were able to send out messages dispelling the rumor, quelling any calls to action. The SMISC is interested in the dynamics of behavior and the breadth of techniques for doing so.