In early January, officials at the White House met to discuss the possibility of utilizing the current security algorithms which Facebook engineers use to identify and treat possible suicide risks on their site. The current algorithm is able to identify current behavioral patterns by Facebook users that coincide with known, documented qualities of individuals who are about to commit suicide. By this, I mean that actions like posting certain messages to their Facebook Wall or responding in certain ways to others’ activities on the social network can be diagnosed – reportedly up to a 65 percent accuracy rate –  to help stop an individual from committing suicide.[1] Prior to the algorithm’s development, incidents such as this relied solely on a user-submitted “reporting” feature on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Now that the U.S. government thinks this type of online pattern analysis can be evolved to help fight the current recruitment efforts by entities such as ISIS, as well as detect radicalization at the user-level. On Jan. 12, White House officials met with an unspecified amount of security industry professionals to discuss the capabilities of adjusting the current monitoring services on Facebook, and possibly other platforms, to benefit both issues of national security and international terrorism. The intelligence briefing that was discussed during this cooperative effort was made available to the public on Jan. 20.[2]

From the briefing, it appears that the U.S. government’s goal isn’t only to identify and neutralize the threat of current or future terrorism by interacting at the individual level. One of the facets of the intel briefing also was using the various online “patterns of life” to create counter-efforts to supply these environments with the appropriate saturation of anti-ISIS material, as well as other non-Islamic terrorist groups. It’s a possibility that this meeting was provoked by last month’s announcement by the tech firm RAADR, Inc., who went public with their intentions to orchestrate a system to identify and intervene in the matter. The company, until this announcement, specialized in online monitoring software that allows parents to successfully identify if/when their children become victims of cyberbullying.[3] However, RAADR’s product doesn’t appear to focus on the groups or threats themselves, but rather remaining focused on the recruited/targeted individual.

The demand for increased technological monitoring services in the terrorist-recruitment arena no doubt is a reaction to recent ISIS-related domestic attacks, where researchers found after the fact that the shooters were radicalized online over long periods of time, such as the shooting rampage by Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik in San Bernardino, Calif. last December. Forensic analysts found that both shooters were recruited via online methods years in advance, and they were brought together due to their allegiances to the Islamic State and the group’s mission.[4]

The proposed algorithms, once designed, would hopefully be able to detect individuals like the San Bernardino shooters, but also identify and diagram the organizational structures of those entities that reach out to such individuals, based solely on social media activity.

This post was written by Casey Moles, Government Analyst with Thomson Reuters.





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