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Social Media Monitoring Finds a New User: The Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is one of the most important agencies in all of the U.S. government. In the age of extremists and terrorism, the DHS acts as the barrier between Americans and those who wish to do them harm. And while the DHS has a very complex and varied role in American national security, one of its most important duties is knowing exactly what’s going on in all corners of the world at any given moment.

In the olden days, this may have involved having informants transmit reports from outside countries and paying close attention to international newspapers. But in the internet age, newspapers are well behind on reporting breaking news.

In fact, thanks to social media, even news websites are one of the last places to post reports of urgent current events. By the time something makes it to CNN’s home page, there will have been thousands, sometimes millions of tweets, status updates, and other pieces user-generated content pre-dating news story.

A good illustration of this was the news story of the year: the death of Osama Bin Laden. While the announcement of his death came during a spur the moment press conference from the White House late on a Sunday night, by the time president Obama actually got in front of the cameras, social media outlets had been reporting Bin Laden’s death for well over an hour.

In order to keep the proverbial finger on the pulse of the internet, you have to monitor social media. Every day, more and more businesses are doing this to know what people are saying about their brand or services at any given moment. But now it appears that the DHS will be using social media monitoring in order to keep pace with global happenings.

This move was in large part due to the role social media played in the “Arab spring” happenings in the Middle East. While social media wasn’t the cause for the toppling of longstanding regimes in Egypt and elsewhere, it was the primary form of communication amongst those involved with the uprising. Social media was used to report developments in real-time, organize protesters, and devise strategies. It also allowed the whole world to track the events in real-time at their most basic level.

The DHS will now be using social media monitoring as an extra information tool. Although they certainly have other sources of information, monitoring social media platforms around the world will allow them a greater picture of popular sentiment amongst citizens all over the world. This will perhaps allow the DHS to predict political upheaval or other events of great importance before they actually happen.

In other words, we might be able to add “national security” to the list of benefits that social media monitoring can provide. This all goes to show that knowledge is power, as long as you’re paying attention with the right tools.

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