Social media has become a powerful tool, not only for its users, but also for the public data it provides. Social media intelligence is an essential part of keeping people and nations safe in the digital age.
open-source intelligence (OSINT) is moving up the priority ladder for intelligence professionals. In the realm of open sources, social media has spawned another INT — social media intelligence, or SOCMINT — to support security initiatives.
SOCMINT is still nascent within intelligence operations. This means that while social media sites are a valuable source of security information, they also pose various challenges for intelligence teams.
Social media intelligence is the process of collecting and analyzing social media data to gather meaningful insights, usually through specialized tools and methodologies. SOCMINT became an intelligence-gathering discipline after the London riots of 2011, where social media played an important role in the orchestration and documentation of violence.
The term “social media intelligence” is often used for business applications such as marketing and financial services. However, the term was originally coined as an “INT” alongside other national security intelligence disciplines, such as HUMINT (human intelligence) or OSINT.
The term “social media monitoring” is also used to describe the general practice of collecting and analyzing public social media activity, but not necessarily as an intelligence discipline. “Social listening” describes the gathering of larger data sets to extract general trends and insights, and is often used in business and marketing applications.
SOCMINT is valuable to national security for several reasons. The proliferation of social media provides analysts with a plethora of security information that would otherwise not be available through other sources, such as classified INTs.
Social media intelligence also illuminates broader trends in a target information environment. This provides more holistic information, especially when other types of intelligence focus on key targets rather than general populations.
Social media is often the first source of news about milestone events, as passers-by provide updates. This gives intelligence teams the real-time data needed to address immediate crises and generate timely intelligence. Some national security use cases for SOCMINT include:
- Evaluation of information environments. Social media data provides situational awareness related to geopolitics, public opinion, technological developments and activities on the ground in areas of interest.
- Crisis response. Social data provides real-time information about events such as natural disasters, public health crises, and terrorist attacks. This data helps intelligence teams stay alert to significant events, assess impacts, and respond appropriately.
- Analysis of threats to national security. Modern security risks, such as misinformation and terrorism, rely on social media to proliferate. SOCMINT helps intelligence teams monitor evolving web-based national security threats.
As a relatively new discipline, social media intelligence has its challenges. The abundance of data offers significant opportunities but affects the ability of intelligence teams to provide relevant information quickly enough. Social media data is abundant, but analysts lack the resources to sift through it effectively.
Overloaded with data, analysts also risk surveillance. Mainstream social media platforms are well known to intelligence teams, but more secretive sources, like regional, fringe, and anonymized sites, can be overlooked. Intelligence teams that lack the knowledge or tools to access these sources could face significant information gaps, leaving decision-makers uninformed.
There is also the rise of botnets and fake accounts, which can make it difficult to analyze social intelligence. The use of social data also raises privacy concerns. Because social media intelligence is still new, there are questions about privacy and data compliance, even when using open source information.
Intelligence teams need SOCMINT technologies to meet these challenges and transform social data into useful information at scale. Social media intelligence tools vary in their functionality, but generally support the collection, processing and/or analysis of scalable data.
Social media intelligence tools allow users to make very specific queries. This allows analysts to focus on relevant data, reducing noise and false positives. Some advanced tools offer machine learning capabilities, which support human analysis by offloading simple but time-consuming tasks.
For example, SOCMINT tools powered by machine learning models can help filter relevant data, provide context, generate social media analytics, and visualize patterns. In some casesAI can help detect bots and fake social media accounts.
SOCMINT tools help intelligence teams fill information gaps as data sources evolve. Specialized tools include a wide range of data sources in a single interface, spanning traditional social networking sites as well as regional and fringe sites. Data-driven providers give analysts access to sources they might not know about and that would otherwise be underutilized or overlooked.
Not all SOCMINT technology providers have the same position on data privacy and compliance. However, reputable vendors ensure ethical intelligence practices and service continuity by building compliance into their products. This means adhering to regional privacy regulations such as GDPR, as well as restrictions imposed by major social media companies.
Social media provides a window into the activities of any target audience or region of interest. Coupled with other intelligence inputs, this information is invaluable to national security interests, from situational awareness to crisis detection and response.
However, the benefits of social media data are only realizable when analysts can effectively translate large datasets into useful intelligence products. By using advanced SOCMINT tools, governments can improve the quality of their intelligence and the efficiency of their decision-making without sacrificing speed.
Support cybersecurity and physical security missions with SOCMINT
Intelligence practitioners are witnessing a revolution in how OSINT can be used to support cybersecurity and physical security missions around the world. Learn how Flashpoint helps National Security, Public Safety and Enterprise customers leverage OSINT and PAI, including social media and geospatial intelligence, to protect their people, places and assets. .