Social Media Stopping Terrorism? The debate of Safety vs. Privacy.


It is Super Bowl weekend. For Americans, the championship game of the NFL is a national holiday. Hundreds of thousands of people are flocking to San Francisco this week for the event. Millions of people around the world will be watching the game this Sunday (so much so that a premium 30 second commercial during Super Bowl 50 costs $5 Million). With so much media attention around the event, the safety of the general public always becomes a concern.

Over the last few months, the world has rocked by terrorist attacks. From San Bernardino to Paris, recent events leave terrorism at the forefront of everyone’s mind. This article references a custom cyber-security platform that searches social media sites for keywords that will “indicate threats and help analysts assign risk scores to data.” Simply put, the FBI and other internal organizations are scouring Twitter and other social media platforms for potential terrorist threats. This security program aggregates data and uses computer algorithms to evaluate information on multiple social media platforms.

Separate from this article, Twitter announced on Friday February 5, 2016 that it has suspended more than 125,000 accounts since mid 2015 due to the terrorism promotion (source Bloomberg News).

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  1. We often view social media as a “platform for expression,” yet where is the line in the sand? How can a computer tell the difference between threat and expression?
  2. Does this cyber-security infringe on privacy rights? The article debates whether this technology is being used to single out people who appear to be Muslim, or if the expanded surveillance capabilities and data collected specifically for the purpose of keeping the Super Bowl safe will continue to be used after the event ends

2 thoughts on “Social Media Stopping Terrorism? The debate of Safety vs. Privacy.

  1. Yes, we do view social media as a form of expression… But there is a difference between using it as a platform to spew borderline terrorist hate speech and posting an artfully filtered Instagram picture of the snow. I can see where there would be issues with singling out Muslims. Unfortunately, especially recently, there are a lot of posts alluding to the fact that all Muslims have terrorist tendencies, which any logical person would know that is definitely not the case. In my opinion, I am totally fine with the surveillance that might cross the line in terms of protecting privacy if it ended up saving the lives of even one person. We often say “how many more of these events have to happen before someone does something”… and then when something like this is done, people get upset because they think the government is going to far. I am sure it takes a lot of man power to filter through all of the social media accounts that trigger an alert, but if we have the man power, it should be put to use.

  2. Although I’m not concerned with the privacy aspect of surveillance on social media, I do not think it will solve anything. Terrorism occurs around the world, not just in affluent parts of the United States or in Paris. The conflict in Syria has left over 250,000 people dead, many of whom are innocent people who are either bombed by foreign nations (a form of terrorism), victims of domestic terrorist organizations, or victims of their own government (another form of terrorism). Attacking the problem by browsing social media accounts does not resolve any of that, so the situation will continue to worsen. Thus, to believe that monitoring Twitter or Facebook accounts will dilute significant potential danger is a bit naive. I think that it will mostly lead to an excess of unwarranted “risk scores,” targeting Muslim people.

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