June 23, 2020
Gathering and analyzing intelligence from social media platforms (Social Media Intelligence, SOCMINT) is one of the intelligence tradecraft’s newest intelligence gathering methodologies. The ability to understand analyze individuals, public opinion and understand phenomena as they happen is a new and crucial intelligence product in the 21st century.
Tactical applications of intelligence gathering and analysis are enriched by SOCMINT and are known to be relevant for preventing terror attacks, researching individuals and more.
However, utilizing SOCMINT for strategic analysis that often combines numerous methodologies to provide both comprehensive research and actionable insights has lagged due to doubts as to the utility of SOCMINT at the strategic level.
The “Arab Spring” and chiefly the uprisings in Egypt illustrated the importance of SOCMINT at a strategic level to intelligence agencies, as well as the inefficacy of traditional intelligence sources and methodologies. SOCMINT’s strength, in this case, is its ability to capture the zeitgeist, and if analyzed properly, provide deep insight into trends in ways that targeted and traditional intelligence gathering cannot. Traditional and targeted intelligence gathering tend to focus on key stakeholders and powerbrokers in any given country, thus presenting a partial picture that is only applicable to the elites and not the general public at large, let alone other relevant groups such as political opposition organizations.
SOCMINT Intelligence: Integrating SOCMINT tools into the intelligence cycle as a key and foundational source can enrich any intelligence organization’s research processes and products, thus acquiring a more accurate and holistic view of any given situation. However, is SOCMINT truly a panacea for the ails of traditional and staid intelligence organizations? Can social media content be effectively translated into a reliable intelligence product? Does cyberspace influence the physical realm?
Generally speaking, the capabilities of modern social media platforms have made them key tools for governmental organizations, or any other actor, which wishes to communicate with the general public on a mass scale. Social media provides any individual or organization direct access to any given target audience as well as the tools to better understand said audience by analyzing their own activity. The benefits of utilizing SOCMINT, however, are only accessible at a scalable and efficient level to those organizations that are capable of developing or purchasing relevant technological solutions that provide them with said capabilities of analyzing social media chatter.
These issues can be remediated by certain capabilities that should be developed for enhancing social media analysis:
At the end of the day, analyzing social media platforms is a key element of the intelligence tradecraft that can enhance and expand any given organization’s understanding and perspective. SOCMINT, despite its importance and capabilities is not a panacea, and thus should be integrated into traditional intelligence disciplines such as SIGINT, VISINT, HUMINT and more. Understanding SOCMINT’s advantages and disadvantages enable agencies to harness its capabilities while mitigating its downsides with other intelligence disciplines to be able to provide a more comprehensive, effective and actionable tactical and strategic intelligence product.