As the Pentagon warns of the security risks posed by social networking sites, newly released government documents show the military also uses these Internet tools to monitor and react to coverage of high-profile events.
The Air Force tracked the instant messaging service Twitter, video carrier YouTube and various blogs to assess the huge public backlash to the Air Force One flyover of the Statue of Liberty this spring, according to the documents.
And while the attempts at damage control failed - "No positive spin is possible," one PowerPoint chart reads - the episode opens a window into the tactics for operating in a boundless digital news cycle.
According to the Air Force documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, a unit called the Combat Information Cell at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida monitored the public fallout from the April 27 flight and offered recommendations for dealing with the fast-breaking story.
Formed two years ago, the cell is made up of as many as nine people who analyze piles of data culled from the Internet and other sources to determine whether the Air Force's message is being heard.
"Damage control requires timely counter-information," but the opportunity for that had passed, the assessment said. The cell recommended acknowledging the mistake and ensuring it didn't happen again.
The other dominant news story at the time was public concern over the spread of swine flu. According to the documents, the same Air Force cell suggested there may be an opportunity to turn the tide. "Government involvement in this incident could be used to frame expected handling of H1N1 outbreak," one of the PowerPoint charts reads.
A Utah Air National Guard unit, the 101st Information Warfare Flight in Salt Lake City, was also monitoring the social sites. "To say that this event is being beaten like a dead horse is an understatement," reads an April 28 e-mail from the unit to other Air Force offices. "Has really taken off in Web. 2.0."
John Verdi of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington said gray zones can emerge while monitoring social networking sites because viewing and participating 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 said. "It would certainly be a major problem if the government were accessing that information under false pretenses."
Paul Bove, an Air Force digital media strategist, said service personnel are instructed not to do that. Nor are they to use aliases or represent a position that's beyond the scope of what they do.
The issue of aliases is at the heart of a complaint stemming for the Army Corps of Engineers' performance in New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina.
On Tuesday, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., asked the Pentagon inspector general to examine allegations that Corps employees posed as ordinary citizens and posted comments on a New Orleans web site defending the organization from criticism following the disaster.
Jon Donley, former editor of NOLA.com, said in a June 9 affidavit that there were as many as 20 registered users who developed a pattern of not only defending the Corps, but at times being "overtly abusive" to any critics. He said he was able to trace their posts to a Corps Internet address.
Ken Holder, a spokesman for Corps' New Orleans District, said it will cooperate with any investigation.
Originally posted by jprophet420
How do you spy on a public website?
Originally posted by Kords21
Obama may not have personally signed off on it, but as President the buck stops with him and as others held Bush responsible for everything under the sun, then the same standard should apply to him.
Originally posted by RRconservative
Anyone who doesn't realize that if you put something out in public forums that someone might read and analyze it is mentally challenged.
I think it is good that government actually cares what the people are thinking....for once.
How do you spy on a public website?