Department of Homeland Security to Dispense Terror Alerts Via Facebook

A draft of the Homeland Security Department’s new plan to revise the National Terrorism Advisory System indicates that Facebook and Twitter may be used to distribute alerts in some cases. Details of what channel the announcement would appear in aren’t available at this time.

Facebook might distribute alerts to the news feeds of those who opt in by Liking a certain Facebook Page, such as that of the Homeland Security Department, similar to how it did in its partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to distribute AMBER alerts. Alternatively, it could use a more unique and prominent method, such as a headline at the top of the home page.

The draft, acquired by the Associated Press, details how the advisory system will change from the five-level color-coded system where the US is always at one of the levels to a two-level system where alerts expire after a certain time. After federal, state, and local government leaders are briefed on a threat, information may be published on Facebook “when appropriate”. For instance, alerts may be held back if announcing them publicly would jeopardize ongoing investigations or expose the depth of US government’s knowledge about a threat.

By distributing alerts via the news feed rather than as a home page banner or interstitial, users who’ve Liked the Page publishing the information could see it no matter what device they access the site from. In the case of America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) alerts, Facebook worked with the government to set up individual Pages for all US states and territories. Users then had the choice of whether to Like the Page and opt in to the alerts, rather than be forced to see them or required to opt out.

However, since national terror threats are arguably of greater concern than alerts about a single missing person, Facebook could choose a different communication channel to distribute terror alerts, such as messages, notifications, or some kind of immediately visible notice on the home page. This would prevent urgent updates from blending in with less pressing social content.

With Facebook reaching 155 million US users per month, and roughly half that number each day, it could be a powerful complement to TV and radio alert broadcasts for announcing changes to the terror threat level.