Department of Defense to invest millions in 'Twitter tracking'

Summary:The Department of Defense is investing millions in a social media project to analyse "the spread of ideas" and "identify participants".

According to Time, the U.S. Department of Defense is working on a new initiative to track information -- and misinformation -- across the Twittersphere, in order to collect valuable intelligence.

Though this new initiative will focus on social media as a whole, from citizen journalism through to publicly available content from social networks, it is believed to focus mostly on Twitter as a goldmine of potential intelligence.

(Image via Flickr)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is a subsidiary of the Department of Defense, spends millions on weapons development to major technological breakthroughs.

DARPA's latest initiative -- prepare for another glorious acronym -- is the SMISC, the Social Media in Strategic Communications project, designed to "develop a new science of social networks built on an emerging technology base".

The project has four objectives, as set out by DARPA:

  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. Recognise 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.

In effect, the spread of information on Twitter and social media is to be mapped out and analysed, to understand where information comes from, how information becomes 'misinformation' and measure how powerful the role of citizen journalism and social media is.

It was Twitter, granted unbeknown to the user, which was used in the reporting of the death of Osama bin Laden.

Revolutions during the Arab Spring were spurred on by social media, and in some cases instigated the mass uprising of citizens' against their governments.

The activities on Twitter and the impact it can have on democracy and world events is enough to spook -- excuse the pun -- the U.S. government.

Costing up to $42 million, it will take quite a chunk out of the defense budget.

It also appears, from point 4, that the project is looking at ways of countering the mass-effects of tweeting information; almost like 'playing telephone' on a vast scale.

As one publication put it: "Big Brother just signed up for a Facebook account".

Related content:

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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