Magic APIs, Exploits, and other fairytales of social media

Social Media Monitoring practitioners routinely bear the brunt of command level frustration over what can and cannot be found online. After years in the discipline it is easy to see where frustrations occur. Much of the conflict is based in misconceptions about SMM technologies. Some of them are actually humorous whereas others are downright aggravating. Below are some of the most commonly encountered:

1. Vaporware: (n) a program that despite what your friend told you, does not exist. I lost count of how many times a discussion has started with, “I want a program that…” and ends with a modern iteration of “SKYNET.” The fact that such a program does not exist has caused many a police executive and security professional to hesitate before buying a product. It seems they are holding out for that one perfect, all-knowing, all-doing, super crime solving software. This is commonly referred to as a “Unicorn” among practitioners. The solution? Go with a program that provides what you reasonably need.

2. “Why can’t you find it?” This is one of the single most aggravating questions any SM practitioner can hear. The easy answer is, “There are approximately 1.2 million terabytes of data available on the commercial web and you want me to find one missing tweet? From six days ago?” Of course this answer will not win friends or convert non believers to the fold. The truth is finding information like tweets and status updates can be extremely difficult. As a rule you need at least two of the four dimensions (User, Content, Location, Time) to vector in on a specific item.

3. Secret APIs- Let’s be clear, even SMM platforms have to abide by rules. As practitioners we know one of the risks in this discipline is the loss of an API. Savvy practitioners will know enough about the various social media sites to “mainline” searches if needed. Ethical practitioners stay away from SMM platforms who claim to have “secret access” to otherwise unavailable APIs. Rumors constantly swirl of platforms negotiating back-room deals with social media sites. In the end, if the data is acquired through suspicious means, it is no good for law enforcement, and may even lead to litigation.

4. Exploit-O-Rama- This is specific to SMM practitioners who gather information for prosecution. As of right now, information obtained via a script or exploit, which would normally not be accessible without a court order, is poisoned fruit. Many a speaker will stand in front of a room and deliver amazing speeches on the power of hidden exploits, but at some point even they must admit their methods will not stand in court. The best advice, “when in doubt, get a court order.”

5. Free is Key- There are plenty of free SMM platforms out there. Some of them like Tweetdeck and Topsy are actually really good. However, at the end of the day nothing beats a paid platform. Competition in this space has benefitted practitioners more than many can imagine. Whereas a few years ago a platform would display information once every 10 minutes, today’s platforms can monitor in real-time, build heat maps, conduct link analysis, and so much more. The old adage truly holds up, “you get what you paid for.”

Livestreaming Meerkats with a Periscope?

Kiev was burning. Fascists, neo-Nazis, “Occupiers”, and nationalists battled in the streets while a country writhed in confusion. “Battle: Kiev” is considered one of the more poignant moments in the evolution of social media, and yet it lacked one major element; streaming video. Of course all of the major news media outlets from Al-Jazeera to Fox were on scene, but the video they chose to share had to pass through many layers before it was broadcast to the world. Fast forward to fall 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri where a handful of quasi-activists used their phones to provide live streaming video of the nation’s most violent protests in many decades.

No filters, no corporate liability, no notions of fair or balanced reports, livestreaming has usurped traditional media in what may prove to be the final blow to a moribund discipline. For those marching on the street livestreamers are advocates and story tellers. They assure the nation, even the world, will see their plight and come to understand their frustration. For law enforcement livestreamers represent a social paradox; are they media, are they concerned citizens, or are they malefactors with smartphones? For security professionals livestreamers challenge long established rules governing the recording of concerts and sporting events. Are they “recording” in the traditional sense or are they circumventing ticketing protocols by providing live video of the event? Truly the newest evolution in social media has brought with it some interesting questions and as always, a duality that bears contemplation.

On livestreaming’s light side we see the ability of people to tell their stories, unedited and as raw as life can be. The recent refugee crisis in Serbia is a great example. Tens of thousands of people trapped in the Serbo-Hungarian border region are unable to move on and unwilling to return to a war zone. Their stories were being livestreamed days if not weeks before traditional media began reporting the problem. As the popularity of real-time documentaries rise, stories like this will begin to fill Face Book timelines and Twitter feeds. The allure of livestreaming is the ability to directly reach an audience without filters and without unwanted bias. The next evolution will see 2016 US presidential candidates livestreaming for their base…if they are smart.

Media Monitoring Teams (MMT) stand to gain valuable insight if they can properly leverage livestreams. Street level content allows them to watch what is happening in a much more comprehensive fashion. While standard media monitoring provides unmatched situational awareness, streaming video adds a real-life aspect on top of the real time analysis. For example, a recent protest in Arizona was held outside of a light rail extension grand opening. A standard MMT approach provided little to no information on the protest or the impact on the event. Two livestreamers however provided a ground-level view of the ceremony and the protest. It was easy to see, based on the two streaming points of view, the protest was well attended but peaceful, and the ceremony was barely affected.

Unfortunately, a dark side of livestreaming is also alive and well. A recent scan of 20 random livestreamers around the world revealed 16 female users under 17 years of age. Each of them had an army of followers encouraging everything from flashing their breasts to sex acts. The implications of this are deep and deeply troubling. Livestreaming’s greatest strength, unfiltered information, may also prove to be its greatest weakness. A livestreamer controls the message by virtue of controlling the stream. Just as in Ferguson, one point of view does not the truth make. Biased from its foundation, a nefarious livestream can infect the minds of millions, making them believe an asymmetrical war has been declared on a peaceful population.

Similar to the early days of social media, livestreaming will too see its bumps and bruises. There will be cases of rampant child pornography and literal live action violence, but we will also see humanity triumphing over great odds and visit far reaches of the globe hitherto only dreamt of. Police departments, corporations, and of course governments can send information directly to their audience without interfering media bias. For MMTs the time to learn about livestreaming has come. Livestreaming content is being produced at the speed of life, and we must be prepared to acquire, understand, and evaluate it at the same speed.

Scoring a Touchdown with Social Media

This post originally appeared on Chris Adamczyk’s Linked-In Account in August, 2015

It’s that time of year again. Stadiums are cleaned, fantasy leagues are formed, and season ticket holders clear their Sundays. Football arrives with the same fanfare as Christmas morning, complete with special meals, family gatherings, and drunken comedy. Amidst the joviality in parking lots and stadium concourses, lone offenders lurk and creep their way from victim to victim. Oftentimes fans are so enamored with the exhilaration of  a “red zone” drive, they don’t realize they’ve fallen prey to a nefarious actor disguised as a fellow devotee.

It is a an expensive paradox that despite millions of dollars dumped into physical security and intrusive safety measures, crime still occurs in and around modern stadiums. Interestingly, the one security measure seemingly overlooked, yet ever present, is the personal interest each fan takes in ensuring they have a good time. Chief in that concern is how they communicate, albeit inadvertently, information about crime, suspicious activity, and disruptions. Law enforcement and security just need be in the right place to read what the fans are saying.

Enter, social media monitoring. Whether it’s a football game or a choral concert, attendees can’t wait to show where they are and what they are doing. Unique in sporting events is the sheer volume of social media sharing. Pictures, videos, and “tweets” create a river-like flow of data from each stadium across the country. Within the thousands of packets of data are clues to determining what is happening in the venue. This includes comments about a brewing fight, pictures of a skulking person near the bathroom, and comments about shady suspects avoiding security. A savvy real-time social media monitoring team will see these clues and begin gathering information and passing it to the incident commander.

The first question everyone asks after reading a paragraph like the previous is, “how?” The answer is relatively simple. There are several real-time social media monitoring platforms on the market that will help tread the rough waters of event driven sharing. Some are free and available as “add-ons” to existing accounts while others are third party apps requiring a financial investment. Of course the adage “you get what you pay for” rings true in this space, but the real return on investment comes when law enforcement and security plan their approach, diligently prepare, and communicate their findings effectively.

As Football season arrives, take time to think about the information your team is not capturing. Furthermore, take a moment to consider how the face of event security can change if we vector teams towards problems discovered and shared by fans, minutes before a “911” call is ever made.