This paper is a review of how information and insight can be drawn from open social media sources. It focuses on the specific research techniques that have emerged, the capabilities they provide, the possible insights they offer, and the ethical and legal questions they raise. These techniques are considered relevant and valuable in so far as they can help to maintain public safety by preventing terrorism, preparing for it, protecting the public from it and pursuing its perpetrators. The report also considers how far this can be achieved against the backdrop of radically changing technology and public attitudes towards surveillance. This is an updated version of a 2013 report paper on the same subject, State of the Art. Since 2013, there have been significant changes in social media, how it is used by terrorist groups, and the methods being developed to make sense of it.
The paper is structured as follows:
Part 1 is an overview of social media use, focused on how it is used by groups of interest to those involved in counter-terrorism. This includes new sections on trends of social media platforms; and a new section on Islamic State (IS).
Part 2 provides an introduction to the key approaches of social media intelligence (henceforth ‘SOCMINT’) for counter-terrorism.
Part 3 sets out a series of SOCMINT techniques. For each technique a series of capabilities and insights are considered, the validity and reliability of the method is considered, and how they might be applied to counter-terrorism work explored.
Part 4 outlines a number of important legal, ethical and practical considerations when undertaking SOCMINT work.