The CIA is actively monitoring social media, and Twitter specifically, to help predict uprisings or measure the pulse of a particular region.
In their Virginia-based “unassuming brick building”, the CIA follows up to 5 million tweets per day to get a real-time handle on events and moods around the world.
The Associated Press got an exclusive look at the media monitoring arm of the CIA this week, the first organization to be granted press access to this super-secret division.
There are hundreds of analysts working to monitor tweets, blog posts, chat rooms, newspapers, and any other media overseas that the public can contribute to in an open nature.
They usually analyze content in its native language, so you can bet the linguistic skills of its analysts are impressive. And although most of them work out of the headquarters in Virginia, there are several others scattered around the world to be closer to the source of the intelligence.
The director of this Open Source Center (whose team is dubbed the “vengeful librarians”), Doug Naquin, says that his team was able to predict the uprising in Egypt… but wasn’t able to predict when it would actually occur, explaining that his team had “predicted that social media in places like Egypt could be a game-changer and a threat to the regime.”
The Center came into existence after a recommendation made by the 9/11 Commission, but only incorporated tweets into its monitoring repertoire in 2009 after seeing the impact it had during the Green Revolution in Iran.
Here’s a glimpse into how the center analysed sentiment and location in tweets after Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in May:
“Since tweets can’t necessarily be pegged to a geographic location, the analysts broke down reaction by languages. The result: The majority of Urdu tweets, the language of Pakistan, and Chinese tweets, were negative. China is a close ally of Pakistan’s. Pakistani officials protested the raid as an affront to their nation’s sovereignty, a sore point that continues to complicate U.S.-Pakistani relations.
When the president gave his speech addressing Mideast issues a few weeks after the raid, the tweet response over the next 24 hours came in negative from Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, the Persian Gulf and Israel, too, with speakers of Arabic and Turkic tweets charging that Obama favored Israel, and Hebrew tweets denouncing the speech as pro-Arab.
In the next few days, major news media came to the same conclusion, as did analysis by the covert side of U.S. intelligence based on intercepts and human intelligence gathered in the region.”
They’re also doing pretty innovative things with social media, like comparing its social media analysis to polling organizations predicting voting results to see which results are more accurate.