There's tons of information on the Web, and tons of people who are interested in gathering and analyzing it. One of the biggest interested parties, of course, are government agencies looking to head off major crimes and terrorist attacks, and to prepare for natural disasters. Now the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has published a call for information about creating an easy-to-read dashboard that will automatically gather and analyze news and publicly available Facebook posts, tweets and other social media posts. The FBI wants to use that information to track suspects and prepare for special operations, and for their routine worldwide monitoring.
According to their published call, the FBI hopes for a program that will show pop-up alerts for important threats, and tell the FBI where those threats are on a Google map or something similar. It would let FBI users search for incidents they're interested in. It would include feeds from weather services and traffic cameras, so users can watch traffic patterns and protestors and flash mobs at street corners.
Why is the FBI so interested in social media? Social media posts are first alerts to events happening around the world, such as last summer's tweets about an earthquake on the East Coast, which outran the seismic waves themselves. And intelligence analysts already use them as a source, according to the FBI's information request. "Social media is a valued source of information to the [ Strategic Information and Operations Center ] intelligence analyst in routinely monitoring events," the request reads. "Social media has become a primary source of intelligence because it has become the premier first response to key events and the primal alert to possible developing situations."
Several projects already collect and map social media information on a smaller scale. HealthMap searches the Web for news, social media and government reports on disease outbreaks, then plots the outbreaks on a map. Companies use social media monitoring tools to find how people feel about their products.
After a request for information like this, government agencies often announce a call for proposals from companies. It's likely that eventually, a company will help the FBI create the social media monitoring tool they want.