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U.S. Government Finds Twitter A Useful Tool For Tracking Public Opinion

Social Media Scanned To Monitor High Profile Events

When Air Force One flew unannounced over the Statue of Liberty for publicity photos, government sources used social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube to gauge public reaction to the event. And they are finding it to be an increasingly useful tool in tracking public backlash to high-profile events. One Air Force document said of the event "No positive spin is possible," admitting that the message is becoming more difficult to control in the new endless digital media cycle. 

Military services limit access to the so-called "Web 2.0", and the Marine Corps recently made its ban official. But the Air Force has a special "Combat Information Cell" set up specifically to monitor blogs, social media sites, and other internet sources for public reaction to major events. According to the Associated Press, in the case of the Air Force One flyover of the Statue of Liberty, The Combat Information Cell monitored about one "Tweet" per minute.  The first assessment of the event said "Web site blog comments 'furious' at best." Local reporting of the flyover was "very critical, highlighting scare factor," it added. Media coverage over the next 24 hours "will focus on local hysteria and lack of public notification," the cell predicted. "Blogs will continue to be overwhelmingly negative."

"Damage control requires timely counter-information," but given the pace at which the story spread, that was not an option, the assessment said. The recommendation was that the government admit it had made a mistake, and that it would not happen again.

  

Air Force One File Photo

John Verdi of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington monitoring social networking sites can be problematic because participation is based on trust. "Lots of times individuals upload private or sensitive information that they expect to share with their friends or family and not the whole Internet world," Verdi told the AP. "It would certainly be a major problem if the government were accessing that information under false pretenses."

FMI: http://www.af.mil, http://epic.org/

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