Social media a 'primary source' of intel, says FBI

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Count the FBI as yet another federal agency seeking to refine raw social media into intelligence gold.

Among the things the FBI says could be extracted from the mountain of tweet streams, blogs and other, often banal, social media musings are "likely developments in the situation or future actions taking by bad actors" and "pattern-of-life matrices to support law enforcement planning."

"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," the bureau's Strategic Information and Operations Center says in a Jan. 19 request for information posted to FedBizOpps.

The application, the RFI says, will only search publically-available social networking information.

The notion that the future can be predicted by trends expressed in collective social media output is one that has gained increased currency in academic writing. A January analysis published by the Rand Corp. of tweets using the #IranElection hashtag during 2009 and early 2010 found a correlation between appearance of swear words and protests. The study also found a shift that indicated the protest movement was losing momentum when swearing shifted from curses at the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to curses at an opposition figure.

A March 2011 paper published in the Journal of Computational Science (abstract) also posited that movements of the Dow Jones Industrial Average could be predicted to an accuracy of 86.7 percent by changes of national mood reflected in Tweets. According to The Economist, British hedge fund Derwent Capital Markets has licensed the algorithm to guide the investments of a $41 million fund.

For more:
- go to the FBI's RFI for a social media application

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