Predicting World Events With Social Media

Last century, people would say, "It's the power of the press," with press being newspapers. From Watergate to Love Canal, the newspaper reporter would track the story down or provide a safe haven for a whistle blower.

In the recent uprising in Eqypt and other Middle East countries, it was the power of social media that played a key role in letting others in Eqypt and the world know what was happening. The Eqypt page on Facebook was a place many people visited. With one window open to a translating program, we followed the progress of the revolution. If we looked, would we have predicted the uprisings in Bahrain, Yemen and Libya? Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee think so.

MediaPost Publications U.S. Intel Chiefs Used Social Media to Track Middle East Revolts 02/18/2011
Social media's utility as a monitoring and surveillance tool was confirmed this week -- with some acrimony -- during hearings held by the Senate Intelligence Committee to address perceived shortcomings in U.S. intelligence gathering in the Middle East. Led by Chairwoman Diane Feinstein, committee members specifically grilled national intelligence director James Clapper and CIA director Leon Panetta (among others) about their use of social media for monitoring the situation in Egypt and elsewhere.
Clapper and Panetta defended their inactions by citing the volume of the social media accounts, which currently includes 600 million Facebook accounts, 190 million Twitter accounts, and many thousands of hours of video on YouTube.

Maybe the government needs to hire some social media marketers to show them how to use social media effectively. Better still, hire some interns to tracks trends on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Give some poor college graduates employment so they can pay off their financial aid loans.

All kidding aside, I think NSA knows what to do, they just did not do it. Over two years ago, the NSA successfully monitored all the private communications of Americans abroad, including humanitarian workers and U.S. service-members. The NSA even intentionally directed its surveillance powers at well-established humanitarian organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the International Red Cross. For more information, read this post from October, 2008 on Endangered Spaces blog.

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