Using social media intelligence in public safety operations

Let me start with a confession: I dislike acronyms more and more every year, and unfortunately my world is full of acronyms. While digging into public safety related intelligence, I’ve come across a lot of “xINT”:
  • HUMINT – HUMan Source INTelligence
  • GEOINT – GEOspatial INTelligence
  • OSINT – Open Source INTelligence
  • SOCMINT – SOCial Media INTelligence
  • SIGINT – SIGnals INTelligence
  • TACINT – TACtical INTelligence
  • Etc.

So, influenced not just by my daily work as a public safety expert, but also by my digital volunteering, I’m treating this blog entry as a kind of teaser, because we’d love to hear more about what emergency response organisations have done, are doing or plan to do in terms of using intelligence gathered from Social Networks in their operations. In the meantime, let’s summarise some ideas.

We’ve seen above that SOCMINT stands for Social Media Intelligence, but how can this be applied to public safety? Do you have any interesting examples to share with us?  I know there may be a few police organisations using this, and they are most likely not at liberty to share what they do with us. However,  there may be other Public Safety organisations that have given it a thought or two, maybe even through a collaboration with academics, R&D projects or the industry. Your experience may help others move forward.

There is a whole ecosystem of social networks, some of them fairly new: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, LinkedIn, TikTok, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr… We can add to this classification a whole bunch of messaging apps (WhatsApp, Telegram, WeChat, Line, SnapChat etc.) and also include all those tools we’ve been using non-stop since the pandemic prevented us from meeting in person (Teams, Zoom, Skype, etc.).  And as much as it pains me, we need to also consider demographics in the use of social networks. Younger generations (I’m only 45 ?) don’t use Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn as my generation does, and I admit I’ve never even considered using TikTok (although I know a few people my age that do).

SOCMINT is about analysing conversations, responding to social media posts and synthesising huge amounts of data into actionable information. Unfortunately, we also live in the era of fake news, and let’s be honest, making sense of what some people post on SnapChat or TikTok can be rather challenging …

SOCMINT deals with concepts such as data analytics, data mining, sentiment analysis, and this of course includes image and video-analytics, geo-analytics, and many more. Being able to analyse social networks to retrieve actionable information usually depends on the availability of APIs to connect to private systems, with information encrypted and not publicly available, and of course privacy / GDPR considerations

Connecting to a single network may be tricky, so connecting to many and correlating information from multiple sources may be virtually impossible without the support of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques. And let’s not forget that the real-time aspect of all those things is extremely important in public safety, and that ethical AI must be enforced at all levels.

So, despite technical, operational and even cultural and generational challenges, there’s huge potential in being able to obtain actionable information from social media in support of critical operations.

So again, let’s hear from you. What is your experience? What would you recommend others to do, or not to do?

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of EENA. Articles do not represent an endorsement by EENA of any organisation.

Share this blog post on: