In a recent article, the FBI talks of monitoring social media and privacy concerns that have been raised. The one reason they cite in the argument for social media is that “social media networks have been trumping police, firefighters and news media when it comes to communicating news of developing incidents and protests. “Social media is rivaling 911 services in crisis response and reporting.”


Does that come as a surprise? These days, probably not. I know most of the breaking news I learn about lately comes from my social networks. I first learned about the passing of Whitney Houston on Facebook, and was able to easily confirm the news online. This is becoming the norm.


The article goes on to talk about the fact that because social networks break news so quickly, the FBI have a unique tool at their disposal through social media monitoring. As we’ve seen with some news stories, it can spread like wildfire online in a matter of moments. This can be beneficial to the FBI when determining possible and credible threats, and predicting potential situations that require action.


They assure the public that the monitoring will be of a general nature, and not person or group specific, at least not on the outset. They will use search terms consistent with terrorist threats; for example, “lockdown” or “bomb”, and use that information to assess situations either before they happen or as it happens.


As you can imagine, this is sparking controversy over privacy issues. How much of what we post online should fall within privacy rights?  I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – as social media continues to evolve, people are going to become more and more transparent and privacy lines are going to smudge into gray matter. I find it very interesting that people talk about privacy concerns, yet have no trouble posting what they had for breakfast and where they’re going shopping online.


This is the type of information that can be used for research purposes; it is no different than running a search through any search engine, though formal social media monitoring programs are more precise and weed out the irrelevant information so you can collect and make sense of the data more efficiently.  I think where people have trouble with privacy concerns is when it falls into social media monitoring being able to gather personal information about users, and even tying that into the comments they make.


I personally have no issue with the FBI using social media data as a tool; because social media networks are so powerful, I think they should use any tools that are available to them to keep the country safe.  It’s time for you to weigh in on this matter – share your thoughts and join the discussion!


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