In an increasingly digital world, social media platforms are constantly evolving and growing in popularity across the world. In addition to their social and commercial influence, social media also plays a significant role in times of political unrest - particularly in the recruiting and sharing information relating to protests and in some instances even terrorism.
Jared Higgins, CEO of the Arcfyre Group - a leading protective and risk consulting firm - says that, because of its quick and far-reaching impact, governments are often compelled to terminate, intercept or internally access data at the outset of potential political unrest or when terrorist activity is suspected.
“All access to social media platforms, emails, and data services are cut as these are commonly used to rally up support or coordinate strategic anti-government protests which very often turn violent and may put the general public in danger.”
“However, it is difficult to monitor popular instant messaging platforms such as Blackberry Messenger and WhatsApp due to the encryption on these platforms. For this reason, some have accused such platforms as giving terrorists a place ‘to hide’.”
“Following the Westminster attack in London this year, British politician, Amber Rudd, noted that she would be meeting with technology firms to discuss how - in these kinds of situations - intelligence services could get access to encrypted messages in the hopes of possibly uncovering valuable information,” he explains.
Higgins says, in this way social media can in fact fuel unrest in a country, rallying people for a particular cause whether it be it a peaceful protest or a serious act of terror. “There is also a positive aspect to social media in that it can be used to source intelligence that can be used to identify possible terrorist attacks, kidnappings, high-risk individuals, dangerous groups and the likes,” he adds.
For Higgins, through monitoring the discussions taking place and determining the nature, sentiment and location of the threat, a proactive approach can be taken towards possible threats as opposed to a reactive one.
“The practice of social media monitoring is often used by governments and intelligence organisations across the globe. Through monitoring the news and conducting online searches on specific keywords the relevant authorities can potentially reduce a number of potential risks such as unintentionally driving through an active rally or violent protest,” he says.
However, Higgins also strongly recommends that, in addition to developing and implementing a comprehensive risk strategy, incorporating social media intelligence into travel plans and large public events is a must.
“Ultimately, all risks should be considered and the appropriate course of action taken when operating in high-risk environments. While circumstances may be unpredictable, proper and strategic planning can go a long way in mitigating risk and prioritising personal safety,” he concludes.