DHS is listening to what you say — is social listening for profit worse?In Marketing, Social Media
I had a recent Facebook friend who posted an interesting article on Forbes.com. Apparently the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was forced to release a list of all of the terms they monitor on social media. The friend of mine who posted this has been known to post about government overstepping its bounds in the name of security, but reading the comments on the article seem to point to a bigger truth: people assume no one is really watching what they post online.
Now of course people know employers are going to snoop on social media before hiring people and that shady Facebook activity will be used in divorce proceedings–this is pretty much common news, nowadays. But a lot of people think that the idea of searching public social media databases for specific keywords and then monitoring the users is just a step too far.
Now this is something that I do on a daily basis for my job at Networked Insights. Only I do it for companies looking to make a pretty penny, not for governments charged with protecting our nation and our people. So does that make what I do *that* much worse?
The industry employs the same techniques at the DHS, although I must admit we’re technologically much savvier than simply trying to screen every tweet over TweetDeck (their current methods, according to the Forbes article). We look for people talking about our clients’ or competing products or services, see what else they talk about, and learn a bit about the consumer. It’s like using market research surveys, only our survey is anything that is publicly stated. It’s not easy (since we don’t have the ease of Likert scales–just a whole bunch of text), but we can glean a little bit of information about the people we examine since they are speaking in a way they wouldn’t otherwise do with researchers.
Personally, I don’t see a problem with what we do. When people put their thoughts on the web, they are putting them out their in perpetuity. If they don’t want me to see that they talk about my clients’ products and then talk about watching Star Trek: TNG (one of my fav shows), thus letting my client know that would be a good place to put their ads, then they shouldn’t put their thoughts out in public. It would be like me protesting on the streets that I want time travel NOW and then getting upset when Doc Brown tries to hawk me his wares. If you don’t want to be heard, you don’t have to be heard.
And for the record, I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with what DHS is doing. They’re trying to figure out when people discuss “swine” flu or “toxic” fumes coming from “North Korea” to make better security decisions. And if people want to discuss that in public, they should understand that it’s a possibility that ANYONE is watching them. I, for one, am hoping DHS is reading this public post right now and laughing at the time travel protester (go back and click that link if you missed it).