The Pentagon aims to use social networking as a resource and source of information in future conflicts, yet another way the government is developing technology in cyber-warfare.
Military officials and contractors today discussed goals for using social media for military defense, including using messaging to identify, detect, recognize and even send counter-messaging that would thwart enemy plans. The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has already sent a proposal to several contractors, which promises up to $42 million in funding for any plans that will help it meet its social media goals.
DARPA said companies seeking government funding should submit proposals for plans to employ linguistic cues, determine information flow patterns, analyze topic trends and gather potential dissidents’ opinions by tracking them online, which may help the military pinpoint potential problem spots in the world.
The military has already used social networks to shape action, said DARPA. In its solicitation, DARPA said the military foiled a high-tech lynching, when authorities monitoring social media learned rumors about the location of a suspect.
Authorities monitoring the social networks detected the crisis, sent out messages that dispelled rumors and averted the attack.
DARPA said “luck and unsophisticated manual methods” stopped the attack, not an official, consistent tracking program. It noted the Pentagon is seeking companies to help it automatically search social networking sites so the U.S. military can gain more intelligence about potentially dangerous groups’ actions.
The military is expanding its efforts as social networks have emerged as a key tool in uprisings this year. People used Facebook and Twitter during the Arab Spring to organize their movements and protests in Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab countries as well.
Many Arab countries’ governments ordered Internet and cellular service shut down to cut off dissidents’ communications, showing how much they feared the power of social media sites influencing the uprisings.
The Pentagon’s plans for monitoring social networking may help the military gather information vital when dealing with such upheaval. For example, the military may use developing social media technology to learn whether citizens started a rebellion or whether outside forces wished to take control of a country by inciting its people to protest and riot.
The bidding period for the Pentagon’s proposal is open until late October, which means it may be some time before the military could start friending dissidents on Facebook or re-tweeting them on Twitter. But once the military starts using social networks on a more consistent basis, this practice may influence the ever-changing face of modern warfare.