FBI Seeks Disasters Social App and Twitter Announces Censorship

Mike Halsey MVP
Jan 27, 2012
Updated • Jan 4, 2018
Companies, Internet, Twitter

The FBI is looking to develop an emergencies early warning system that works by "scraping" information in real time from social networks.  The US policing and intelligence bureau has asked contractors to suggest possible solutions and to come up with ways in which this might work.  In a post on the Federal Business Opportunities website called "Social Media Application" they say...

The Federal Bureau of Investigations is conducting market research to determine the capabilities of the IT industry to provide a social media application. The tool at a minimum should be able to meet the operational and analytical needs described in the attachment.

This is actually harder than it might appear.  On the face of it such a program would scour Twitter, Facebook and other websites for key words.  However disasters can never be predicted and, as such, determining the language people will use at the time is extremely difficult.  Even harder would be to determine where an event is taking place.

In theory such a program would also be able to highlight major crimes when people mention them online.  People have until February 7th to submit their ideas to the bureau.

In other Twitter news the company behind the hugely successful micro-blogging site has today announced that they have developed a way to selectively censor tweets on a country by country basis.  In it's blog they said they could now "reactively withhold content from users in a specific country".

It is curious as to why Twitter, a company that has always encouraged free speech, would make such a move.  Social networks were used extensively in the uprisings in Egypt and the middle-east last spring, and were widely hailed for helping protestors galvanise such huge crowds of support.

Having the ability to censor specific types of tweet in individual countries could potentially prevent this type of thing from ever occurring again.

As justification the company said "that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression" going on to cite France and Germany for banning pro-Nazi speech.

Anything that curtails freedom of speech online will not be welcomed by many people who believe the Internet simply should not be censored in any way, and it remains to be seen is there will be any negative impact on Twitter for enabling this feature.


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  1. Roman ShaRP said on January 28, 2012 at 6:36 pm


    it’s something you just can’t help.

    You might want to read this:
    InfoQ: Blog Sentiment Analysis Using NoSQL Techniques

    “Corporations are increasingly using the social media to learn more about what their customers are saying about their products and their company. This presents unique challenges as unstructured content needs analytic techniques that involve taking words and associating quantitative metrics with them to interpret the sentiment embodies in them.”

    The social media monitoring and sentiment analysis is something that WILL be done for sure – not by FBI and state agencies only, but by business, for commercial reasons.

    Projects of this kine are already up and running.

    Want we it or not, now we are moving to somewhat “Minority report”-like world. Monitoring, personalized ads and so on. I read BBC Tech News for 4 years, and “Minority report” is most often mentioned there film.

  2. JohnMWhite said on January 27, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    I have a feeling Twitter are less concerned with somebody posting pro-Nazi tweets in Germany than they are with rich people suing them for tweets which violate the UK’s ridiculous super-injunction system. When a soccer player was caught cheating on his wife in 2011, he somehow managed to have the entire UK media prevented from reporting on it, AND (here’s the ‘super’ bit) the fact that they weren’t allowed to talk about it was also not allowed to be talked about. To speak of either the affair or the suppression of discussion of the affair in public became a crime purely because he had lots of money to spend on making it so. Naturally, nobody in the UK establishment could foresee that people would just talk about it on Twitter, which caused an uproar and discussions in the UK judiciary and Parliament about whether it was ok to arrest people for tweeting suppressed information.

    I do generally despise the press and I don’t think the private lives of famous people are ours to know about or their job to report. However, I take serious issue with the idea that money can simply be thrown at the courts in the UK in order to get what you want buried and then that suppression must be suppressed as well. This is yet another case of trying to artificially split up a network which is by definition interconnected and global. Artificial walls will always be circumvented by people who have the will to do so, so all that will happen is regular users will suffer because some idiot in an office has decided it is not good marketing to allow x tweet to appear in y country until next Tuesday.

    1. Chris said on January 27, 2012 at 8:35 pm

      Really FBI, you’re just now figuring this out? That’s kinda not reassuring. It’s best not to use the word “Scraping” either. Carry on.

  3. ilev said on January 27, 2012 at 11:35 am

    FBI : MegaUpload Users Plan to Sue the FBI following the take down.


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