While the Arab Spring was unfolding, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was taking note. For those in need of a refresher on Middle Eastern politics, it’s been nearly a year since mass protests starting sweeping through the Middle East and North Africa. Dictators fell, civil unrest ruled the day, and social media played a hand.
Huh, come again? What does Facebook and Twitter have to do with Middle Eastern despots? Well, given the reach of social and its ability to spread the word quickly and cheaply, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the protesters turned to social to galvanize the masses and “bring the ruckus.” And ya know what. . . it worked. Dictators fell in Egypt and Tunisia, Gaddafi’s dead, and Syria and Bahrain are moving towards more openness.
So, why the concern from DHS? Simple. What happened in the Middle East could happen in the States as well. Anyone remember Timothy McVeigh from the Oklahoma City bombings? Or the Unabomber? That’s precisely the type of activity DHS is worried about. The Arab Spring showcased the power of social media and it opened some eyes at DHS. Social networks can be a treasure trove of intelligence information, and now DHS is keen to leverage social to keep tabs on potentially dangerous elements and threats in society.
Welcome to the social age. Spy movies will never be the same. The next time you see Bond and Bourne, they might be checking their Twitter feeds to see where the bad guys are. Problem with this is “how do I know this information is accurate or reliable?” This conundrum pre-dates social media and has always been a concern for all the government agencies and departments dealing with intelligence.
As DHS is still trying to figure how best to monitor social networking activities without running afoul of privacy laws, now might be a good time for them to start looking towards technology as an ally in the fight against threats, be it cyber or old school. With a deeper understanding of today’s technological capabilities, DHS will be better able to formulate appropriate social media monitoring guidelines and perhaps avoid Oklahoma City and Unabomber-type tragedies in the future.
Failing that, give Jason Bourne a call.