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  • “What’s down” side of “What’s up?”

    Human rights, privacy and protection of confidentiality are important issues, but so are the requirements of intelligence agencies which have to contend with the inhumane activities of terrorist groups and individuals.

    April 07, 2017

    The 'Social Media' Challenge to National Security: Impact and Opportunities: A Conceptual Overview

    The monograph hopes to succeed in providing a conceptual framework to understanding this emerging challenge and draw up a set of best practices and recommendations for policy makers and law enforcement agencies to move forward with.


    Laxmi asked: How do social networking sites affect India’s security? Should it be regulated?

    Shruti Pandalai replies: Social networking sites (or social media) and the challenges that it throws up in the space of cyber-warfare are indeed issues that have drawn the attention of security and law enforcement agencies in recent times. The mass exodus of a number of northeast Indians from many parts of India in the aftermath of the ethnic strife in Assam, triggered by a cyber hate campaign in 2012, was a major turning point (for more on this, refer to my comment, “Don’t Shoot the Messenger: The ‘Un-Social’ Strategy”, at However, from a long term perspective, shooting the messenger may not be the most ideal solution. As technology grows, so will the challenges. In such a scenario, engaging with the medium and optimising its potential for our advantage is the way forward.

    Social media analysis generated intelligence or SOCMINT is being developed as a successful model in many countries abroad to isolate hotspots or subjects that go viral and is used as a predictive tool. India too is looking at these models, but is still at the stage of experimentation, trial and error. The Mumbai Police has launched a project called “Social Media Lab”, the first of its kind in the country. The lab would monitor relevant information from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, as well as all other open sources in the public domain. About 20 specially-trained officers are supposed to work in shifts.

    We need many more such pilot projects across the country to develop a truly credible data base and this will require huge investments in terms of both infrastructure and human resource. We also need to work on network availability constraints, language barriers and, most importantly, organisational adaptability in terms of this new medium. There are also pressing questions regarding rights to privacy, misuse of data and loopholes in the legal regime that needs to be navigated.

    This is still a work in progress, yet I believe engagement and not regulation is truly the way forward.

    Manish Sawankar asked: How internet-based social media could be a threat to security, and what can be done about it?

    Cherian Samuel replies: Internet based social media is per se not a threat to security. It follows in a long line of technological innovations that have enhanced human interaction, enabling both the conveying of information, news and opinion at a rapid pace, as well as widening and deepening the democratic discourse. Like any other advancement in technology, its use comes with challenges, making it a double edged sword, in this case, for those involved with safeguarding public security. They are concerned by its potential for disrupting public order, either involuntarily through the unchecked spread of rumours, or deliberately through the propagation of misinformation with the intent of creating enmity between groups. A combination of the two was witnessed recently and has led to calls for regulating social media. However, the nature of the medium is such that it has raised valid questions as to whether such regulation is possible without infringing on the fundamental rights of the citizen relating to freedom of speech and privacy.

    Even as that debates continues, there are many other steps that the government can take to get in front of the problem. In the first instance, the authorities can use the same medium to provide correct information and nip rumours in the bud. Existing technologies and laws provide sufficient leeway to the authorities to effectively monitor internet traffic, including social media, in real-time, but are under-utilised for a variety of reasons, largely to do with coordination. In fact, along the matrix of cyber security challenges, social media pales in comparison to other challenges, such as securing critical infrastructure and countering cyber espionage, which are much more pressing and can have greater negative consequences.