Government Surveillance on Social Media

The government and law enforcement agencies have multiple techniques to solving problems, solving cases, and keeping citizens under its watch. One of these techniques is through Social Networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.

Research Question

What all does the government and local law enforcement agencies utilize social networking sites for, and what exact methods do they use?




  • Government surveillance – a surveillance in which the government utilizes for motives including solving cases, investigating crimes, and some that are potentially unlawful.

Mass Media

  • Social media – an online environment where members of the site connect with others and share information about themselves in order to deepen their connections with their connections.
  • Twitter – a social media network in which users create profiles, choose who they want to “follow,” and tweet, or update their timelines with a 140-character limit. Web URLs and photo URLs may also be included in these tweets, and they can “retweet” another user’s tweet as well.
  • Facebook – a social media network in which users create profiles, fill them with information about themselves and share posts or status updates. They may actively engage in online games, community groups, etc. Photos, web URLs, etc can also be shared, and users can ‘tag’ other users into these photos or status updates.

Primary Materials

One of my primary materials would definitely include two of the most popular and most-used social media networks – Twitter and Facebook. These are online networks in which users interact with each other and share information through pictures, videos, “tweets,” status updates, etc. They provide examples of how users utilize these social media networks when sharing information about their life that would otherwise be unknown to the rest of us. Being a user of these networks myself, I know first-hand how they are used and how to easily navigate and find particular things on them. Another primary material would be specific articles found on the internet about the government and the specific techniques of surveillance they use for social media networks. These articles provide an insight on the specific government agencies as well as what they seek to accomplish and exactly how they go about accomplishing them. Of course, we’ll never completely know all of their methods, but it is definitely a big start and it definitely contributes a lot of information to my research.

Social networking sites are monitored and surveyed for a variety of different reasons. Evidence from social networking sites can reveal personal communications that might help "establish motives and personal relationships" and thus help law enforcement agencies with solving cases and stopping criminal activity. . The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released a report from the DOJ’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property section, "Obtaining and Using Evidence from Social Networking Sites” and reported that it advises agents that “going undercover” on social media sites can enable law enforcement to communicate with suspects and targets, gain access to nonpublic information and map social relationships, and that monitored data from such sites can provide location information and "prove and disprove alibis.”

It is reported that the IRS uses Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc. to investigate taxpayers. The EFF posted the IRS’ 38-page training that offers detailed tips to agents on how to conduct searches, locate relevant taxpayer information, narrow down and refine results. The FBI requests a program that can quickly identify, display and locate alerts on geo-spatial maps and enable users to summarize the "who, what, when, where and why" of specific threats and incidents. They search for key words such as lockdown, bomb, suspicious package, white powder, active shoot, school lockdown, etc., similar to a technique used by the Department of Homeland Security, which has a monitoring program that tracks a list of approximately 380 words, organized into 9 categories – agencies, domestic security, hazardous materials, public health, infrastructure security, southwest border violence, terrorism, emergencies and weather, and cyber security.

What you post on social media networks can also land you in some unwanted trouble. A Washington Times article discusses a civil liberty group who is concerned about the monitoring of social media by the government and the US Department of Homeland Security. It shares a story of a man who posted a status on his Facebook page that included a negative comment about a presidential candidate. He was interrogated at his home shortly after, as well as greeted at his workplace by authorities. The officer at his house explained to him that the US government has a system to monitor and scan all social sites like Facebook for key words that might raise suspicion of ill intent. This was also similar to a story about The Department of Homeland Security, which have been reportedly spending amounts of $11.4 million dollars to a defense contractor to monitor social media websites. We must be careful with what we post.

So What?

Many people of today’s generation use social media in what could be deemed the wrong ways. With technology vastly expanding, social media networks have become very popular within the new generation. A lot of people publish personal information that they shouldn't publish, that may often times end up in the wrong hands. We should be aware of just exactly how much our harmless tweets and Facebook statuses can be used against us, or seen by people we don’t want them to be seen by, as well as what our postings and statuses are being used for. A big portion of our generation have accounts on social media networks and aren't aware of the potential harm it can cause to its abusers.


My goal is to encourage these users of social network services to be more cautious with what they share with the world. Hopefully my research will open eyes and do just that.

"A word to the wise, Big Brother is watching you."

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