The British Ministry of Defense (sorry, make that Defence) is funding research into the role of social media during crises as well as the “rise of the digital insurgency,” including the “hacktivist” group Anonymous, according to The Guardian, which first reported the news.
Among other things, the Ministry’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory is doling out grants for PhD projects that look at the ways people use Twitter and Facebook during major emergencies, including the spread of rumors and misinformation, either accidentally or deliberately. Another project calls for a researcher to establish contact and interact with members of Anonymous with an eye to understanding its structure, the motivations of its members, its “internal politics,” and the way decisions are made. A third project will examine the way social media is used to organize collective action in scenarios like the Arab Spring or the 2011 riots in Britain.
Unsurprisingly the U.S. government is also interested in social media, both as a tool for monitoring trends related to national security and a means of wielding influence around the world. Here the NSA’s monitoring of online activity, including social media, is just the latest in a series of surveillance initiatives.
Back in November 2012, Accenture Federal Services received a $3 million contract from the Department of Homeland Security to develop a “biosurveillance” system that will allow the Office of Health Affairs to monitor and react to national health emergencies via social media. Also in 2012 the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center solicited bids for for an early warning system for domestic and global threats drawing on information from social networks. And In 2011 the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched a project to identify, track, and eventually counter social media movements that threaten key U.S. interests.