FBI Latest Government Agency to Target Social Media

by | Feb 18, 2012 | Videos

by James Corbett

18 February, 2012

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation posted a Request for Information last month calling on IT companies to demonstrate their ability to design software for monitoring, mapping and analyzing social media.

The RFI, posted to the government’s Federal Business Opportunities website in January, reveals the FBI’s desire for software capable of monitoring social media websites like Facebook and Twitter to provide alerts and analysis for publicly posted information. The software would require the ability to:

“Geo-spatially locate bad actors or groups and analyze their movements, vulnerabilities, limitations and possible adverse actions”

“Detect instances of deception in intent or action by bad actors”


“Develop pattern-of-life matrices to support law enforcement planning and enforcement operations.”

The FBI is far from the only US government agency to express an interest in monitoring online social media.

In October 2010 the Electronic Frontier Foundation obtained documents on social network surveillance under the Freedom of Information Act showing that the Department of Homeland Security has established a “Social Networking Monitoring Center” for the collection and analysis of online public communications.

Last year, the Electronic Privacy Information Center obtained more FOIA documents regarding the DHS social media surveillance, showing that the department has contracted General Dynamics to monitor social networks and even the comment sections of various news websites for “media reports that reflect adversely on the US Government [or] DHS.”

Also last year, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York issued a Request for Proposal for “Sentiment Analysis and Social Media Monitoring” software. The request called on companies to develop software to monitor social media such as tweets, Facebook posts and YouTube comments to analyze what people are thinking and saying about the United States’ privately-owned central bank.

As Julie Lévesque notes in a recent GlobalResearch article, however, even more ominous than these passive social media monitoring programs are the various government programs for creating and spreading propaganda through this new medium.

In February of last year it was revealed that the US Air Force had solicited “persona management software” from contractors through an FBO request. The contract called for vendors to develop software which could allow up to 50 users to manage 500 online personas, which would be created “with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent.” The request also called for virtual private servers in specific geographic locations that could allow the social media persona to appear to be from a different part of the globe. When news of the proposal broke and several large websites began to draw attention to it, it was quickly taken offline.

Last July, DARPA, the Pentagon’s research project wing, announced a “Social Media in Strategic Communication” program. The announcement included language specifically calling for the ability to “influence operations” in “the environment in which [the Pentagon] operates,” meaning that it will be used to launch “countermessaging” campaigns online, supposedly to combat the spread of information harmful to the Pentagon’s interests.

Last month’s FBI request for information, too, crosses the line from passive monitoring into active operations. One of the desired attributes of the software that the FBI wants to develop is the ability to “predict likely developments in the situation or future actions taken by bad actors” by analyzing patterns and associations in the target’s online communications. Once envisioned as a science-fiction scenario, America’s top law enforcement agency is now attempting to integrate pre-crime detection into their social media analysis.

Responses to the request are due next month.



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