Public Security Blog
Social Media – Problem or Solution?
By its very nature, social media is huge, raw and anarchic. No wonder some are bewildered by it and would rather run away than try to understand it.
Individuals can get away with ignoring it – especially those of a certain age. But governments and law enforcement organisations certainly cannot – as recent events in some Arab countries and elsewhere have shown. That’s why it was so wrong when, in the summer during the UK riots,there were discussions about shutting down social network sites.
The authorities need to learn that they can use social media against the rioters and criminals. After all, the police and intelligence services have become accustomed to targeting certain internet sites in what has become known as the ‘black web’, sites known to be used by criminals. It is the sheer enormity of having to monitor millions of entries that is the major stumbling block. Public security professionals will argue they simply don’t have the time or the resources to sift through the massive volume of data available to get to just a shred of relevant information.
But technology can provide the industrial scale solution needed.It can also go further than just gathering text-based data. Social media analytics can continuously monitor online data to identify important topics, uncover patterns and build links to understand certain networks of individuals. By using the latest predictive and sentiment analytics combined with advanced risk modelling techniques, those that potentially pose the most threat can be identified.
When SAS Public Security analysed news feeds from the Middle East at the beginning of 2011, there was a clear build up to events in Tunisia and later in Egypt. Analysing millions of tweets during the London riots identified specific locations as targets and pinpointed certain ringleaders.
It’s time we stopped the ‘head in the sand’ approach to social media prevalent in some quarters. Once gathered, the data will be subject to the same scrutiny and decision-making as other sensitive information.
It’s important to recognise that social media is not going to go away overnight. The problem can, in fact, be part of the solution.