Services|August 2, 2011| Author: Kim LaCapria|Tags: , , ,

New Media Experts Are The New Pentagon Target

Earlier this year, it was a bit amusing when it came to light that the Secret Service (the executive branch’s security detail with “secret” right there in the name) had an account on Twitter.

Today, another notoriously national security-focused organization is recruiting experts in new media for- we imagine- helming the organization’s social media fronts. $42 million in funding is up for grabs in developing a Pentagon strategy for networks like Facebook and Twitter, and it would be remiss not to mention the role of such sites in fomenting unrest- creating what would later come to be known as the “Arab Spring.”

Interesting too is the idea that the level of threat or relevance could be shaken out by use of social media. One such anecdote is relayed in a New York Times profile of the initiative unveiled by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency at a meeting earlier today:

It would be useful to know, for instance, whether signs of widespread rebellion were authentic or whether they were being created by a fringe group with little real support. Among the tools the successful seeker of government funding might choose to employ: linguistic cues, patterns of information flow, topic trend analysis, sentiment detection and opinion mining…

Social networks can allow the military not only to follow but also to shape the action. In its 37-page solicitation, Darpa described how a would-be high-technology lynching was foiled: “Rumors about the location of a certain individual began to spread in social media space and calls for storming the rumored location reached a fever pitch. By chance, responsible authorities were monitoring the social media, detected the crisis building, sent out effective messaging to dispel the rumors and averted a physical attack on the rumored location.”

In the instance cited above, however, the government agency notes the “sheer luck” with which the crisis was averted and acknowledges that the averted crisis had little to do with social media expertise or skill on the part of those involved.

In a very meta sense, however, this could highlight a terrifying grey area in social media- one of which we are well aware (considering that political, social, law enforcement and media organizations all use the same networks)- regarding how primed the space is for the spread of information by a source with a very potent agenda. Then again, it’s not like military and defense organizations haven’t used grassroots methods to spread information in the past, and it’s likely not to change drastically with new technologies.

The New York Times piece is here… do you think the Defense Department needs to up its new media game like, yesterday?

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