The internet has become a central part of modern life. And the spread of social media—blogs, web forums, chat sites and media-sharing platforms (often collectively called Web 2.0)—is changing how societies operate. These tools are also attracting attention from national security planners.
In the United States, national security agencies are exploring the potential of social networking tools for diplomatic, military and homeland security applications. The US State Department has over 600 social media accounts to inform and interact with international audiences. And the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought private sector assistance to develop new software that would mine social networking sites in order to predict future trends and identify possible threats.
But the adoption of social media across the national security community has not been consistent or without controversy. Some agencies ban individuals from using Facebook, Skype and Twitter. Concerns over privacy and confidentiality have led to restrictive practices. The capacity of governments to adopt fully Web 2.0 applications for national security purposes remains unclear.
In order to explore further the implications of these trends, we asked a group of Australian and American experts to provide their assessments of how social media is likely to influence national security planning. Their responses point to both the positive and negative aspects of engaging with social media. A central theme of this debate is the cautious balancing of the advantages that social media can bring in terms of informational awareness at the tactical level with the potential downsides of trying to harness the rising ‘ocean’ of data as a national strategy.
* These are the author’s personal views.