Introduction of social media intelligence

Social media intelligence (SMI or SOCMINT) can be defined as techniques, technologies, and tools that allow the collection and analysis of information from social media platforms. Social media intelligence can be used by government or non-state actors (e.g. private intelligence agencies or marketing companies) to gain knowledge about specific individuals, groups, events or any number of other targets.

Differences between SOCMINT and OSINT

While SOCMINT is often considered to fall into the category of OSINT, there are some key differences worth noting.

SOCMINT is not as straightforward as OSINT because people (especially users and privacy advocates) believe that there are certain expectations of privacy when using social media platforms. While OSINT surveyors may not agree with this expectation, there is another aspect of SOCMINT that is worth considering.

OSINT investigations focus only on publicly available information, but SOCMINT can also use information found on social media platforms that is targeted only to a specific audience. For example, the lines may be blurred if investigators must join private groups or create fake accounts to access information provided by people of interest. These circumstances make it more difficult for those conducting these investigations to navigate SOCMINT, and every effort should be made to comply with laws, regulations, and policies governing intelligence collection and investigations.

In these investigations, government investigators may obtain authorization or permission through the court system to obtain information directly from social media platforms, but often, some SOCMINT techniques have been used to collect documents used to support the release of those documents.

There are many nuances to the SOCMINT field, including the types of information that can be collected and the types of platforms that can be used to obtain it.

It is important to understand that SOCMINT includes all social media platforms, not just social networking sites. Social networking sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, only form part of the platforms that can be used to collect data. Information can be found on media sharing sites such as Instagram, forums such as Reddit, image sharing sites such as Pinterest, video sharing sites such as YouTube, microblogging platforms such as Twitter, social gaming platforms such as Xbox Live, and blogs created using platforms such as WordPress.

Types of information collected from social media platforms

We can divide this information into three main categories.

1. Personal profiles

Static information about a specific user that can be observed by those who visit the profile. For example, on LinkedIn, this might include a user's job title, current and former employers, skills, and contact information.

2. Interactions

Users on social media platforms can interact with the platform or other users in a variety of ways. These interactions can take the form of posting/commenting, replying to others' content, posting images or videos, and liking or reacting to existing content.

3. Metadata

The information found on social media platforms is not limited to text and images. It can also include contextual information about said content. Metadata can include the location of tags in a post, the time the post was posted, and even the type of device used to take the picture.