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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