Pentagon Using Social Media to Predict Protests and to Crush Uprisings

A number of patents, research projects and policies from the Pentagon indicate its growing interesting in using social media surveillance to quell domestic insurrection and rebellion.

The US government is ramping up efforts to monitor social media to prevent major anti-government protests in the US, according to patent filings, government documents and scientific research. The research is part of a wider effort to consolidate the US military’s role in domestic intelligence.

The scale of the effort is reflected in a number of government social media surveillance patents granted this year. The Pentagon’s new technology research may have played a role in amendments this April to the Joint Chiefs of Staff homeland defense doctrine, which widened the Pentagon’s role in providing intelligence for domestic “emergencies,” including “insurrection.”

The Pentagon has long funded Big Data research into social media surveillance to predict large-scale population behaviours, specifically the outbreak of conflict, insurrection and rebellion. The Pentagon spends millions of dollars finding patterns in posts across platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and beyond to enable the prediction of major events.

A US Army-backed study on civil unrest within the “homeland” was published and presented to a Big Data conference in Kiev, Ukraine. The paper is a study of the link between social media and anti-Trump protests after the 2016 presidential elections, titled “Social Network Structure as a Predictor of Social Behavior: The Case of Protest in the 2016 US Presidential Election.” The study was funded by the US Army Research Laboratory.

The paper concludes protests after the US elections could have been predicted by analyzing the Twitter posts of millions of American citizens in the lead-up to the demonstrations. “Civil unrest is associated with information cascades or activity bursts in social media, and these phenomena may be used to predict protests, or at least peaks of protest activity,” the paper says. “Failure to predict an unexpected protest may result in injuries or damage.” Researchers explain their study tries to identify the “structural properties of social networks in order to predict protest occurrence,” by employing “keyword-defined Twitter datasets”.

One patent is titled “Tracking and prediction of societal event trends using amplified signals extracted from social media,” filed in 2013 and granted in 2018. Another patent is titled “Inferring the location of users in online social media platforms using social network analysis,” also filed in 2013 and partially granted in October 2017.

The body of scientific literature related to these patents demonstrates a sophisticated technology  capable of locating users for millions of Twitter accounts, and predicting thousands of incidents of civil unrest from micro-blogging streams. A 2013 slide presentation by patent inventor David A. Jurgens, showcases examples of how the technology can locate people within the United States.



Photo:“Stop Watching Us Rally Against Mass Surveillance” by inthecityof is licensed under CC BY 2.0