How to create mini-NSAs to spy on social media

The NSA, the National Security Agency, is America’s super-agency for monitoring global communications. While it’s only nominally no to spy on US citizens, the policy is more honored in the breach than in the observance.

But, still, local law enforcement agencies can’t access the massive cache of our digitally expressed thoughts and feelings, and. my. how they’d like to.

So what to do?

Well, why not start with create a program to monitor social media for all the things cops want to know?

From the University of North Carolina, Charlotte:

Yong Ge, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the College of Computing and Informatics’ Department of Computer Science.  Through funding from the National Institute of Health, Ge has developed a tool that leverages social media data to help analyze use patterns of illegal drugs by young adults across the country.

“Up until now the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration conducts a national survey once a year in which thousands of people are randomly selected to supply information,” says Ge.  “Essentially it tries to determine what types of illegal drugs people are using. Not only was it very costly but it generated hundreds of pages of information, some of which might not even be accurate based on the responses of those being surveyed.”

Ge says by doing the survey only once a year it makes it nearly impossible to capture the dynamics of illegal drug usage on an ongoing basis. He says through the use of social media analysis that has all changed.  Ge says they can now capture and analyze data on an ongoing basis, track trends, etc., which gives them a much more powerful tool to figure out what is actually going on out there.

Ge says another challenge is creating a database for all of the different names being used to describe drugs.

“People use many different street names to describe illegal drugs,” says Ge.  “Therefore we need to capture that data in order to get a good sampling of what people are using. It is very rare that folks will use the real names of the illegal drug.”

Ge says by tracking illegal drug use via social media analysis they are able to see where certain illegal drugs are being used, sort patterns of usage of drugs, detect new ways of using drugs, etc.  He says as they acquire this real time information they will be able to detect and report immediately what is trending and where.

Ge says eventually they hope to be able to supply this information to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and law enforcement authorities.


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