U.S. agencies use social media platforms to chart map of Syrian exodus

U.S. agencies use social media platforms to chart map of Syrian exodus

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US: The U.S. intelligence analysts are using social media posts shared by users on Facebook and Instagram, to chart out a real-time map of the Syrian exodus. Though the method cannot provide actual figures, it can fill the gaps for the country’s spy cartographers, said a top defence department official.  

Viewing Defense Department satellite imagery from “space isn’t a great way to sense human activity of that magnitude, but people talking on the ground and people tweeting about lack of food, or pictures about lines at gates at borders is really incredibly useful,” said Sue Gordon, deputy director of the spy map agency, in an interview. “You will have the ability to see what’s going on from an intelligence perspective, but social media will give you that on-the-ground look to help you correlate disparate activities or to get a different view of what is real.”

According to a Defense One correspondent reporting from Turkish Border said, “Russian air strikes are among the first things you hear when spending any time among Syrians constantly monitoring what is happening to family and friends via What’sApp and Facebook. YouTube videos are played and the carnage people are witnessing is discussed.”

“We’re not out there interacting with it and trying to influence it,” said Gordon, during an interview at Esri’s FedGIS conference in Washington. Rather, analysts subscribe to various feeds, open accounts and watch YouTube videos.

This social media monitoring is a passive approach that has its own limitations. Intelligence analysts can get the wrong impression from trolls, propagandists or other users with selective memories, just as Facebook stalkers sometimes feel down when bombarded with pictures of parties and achievements on their friends’ timelines.

“They get depressed because they see all these people having this great life, but I think it makes the point that all this stuff that is produced by humans comes with a perspective and you may perceive it to be true but you still have to think about what it is” indicating, Gordon said. “And then you have other truths that can help out.”

Source: Defense One