A car bomb just exploded on the other side of the world. You work for an international news agency and you need to know about breaking events like this in any region. Luckily, you’re equipped with specialized software that performs social media threat monitoring and notifies you about the bomb in real time.
But what if you’re a defense intelligence analyst assigned to a specific region? In this case, you’d likely need more targeted information for locations and populations of interest.
These circumstances both use open-source intelligence (OSINT), leveraging social media data among other sources. Social media is often the earliest source of breaking information. Social data sources provide critical alerts and situational awareness as bystanders discuss and post on-the-ground updates.
But because these situations have different requirements, not just any OSINT solution will do.
What’s the difference between a broad vs. targeted approach when it comes to social media threat monitoring, and how can you choose tools that support your needs?
Social media threat monitoring: broad vs. targeted
Let’s start with some definitions.
Broad monitoring means that users need general news alerts that aren’t location or use-case specific. They need to know if and when there’s a critical event, like a shooting or an earthquake, happening somewhere in the world. Professionals in this space often use the term “situational awareness” to describe their goals. They work in fields like journalism or public warning systems where they don’t necessarily provide incident response but still need to know what’s happening ASAP.
Targeted monitoring is practiced by intelligence and security teams assigned to specific assets or missions. They need to stay alert to risks against people, infrastructure, or locations of interest. This allows them to gather information and inform security decisions, usually higher up the chain of command. Applications include geopolitical risk assessments, digital risk protection, and executive protection.
Different requirements need different tools
If you’re broad monitoring global events, using a search term like “bombing” could return a lot of noise. You don’t need to see every social media post mentioning the term “bombing”—you just need to know when and where a bombing has happened so you can get a pulse on the situation.
But if your goal is more targeted, someone live-streaming a bombing on social media is only relevant if it’s happening in your assigned location. You might also want to assess how this event is impacting the current political or social climate in that area. This is the granular information you need to generate intelligence for decision-makers.
Different requirements mean different tools. If you don’t have the right tool for the job, you could be wasting time and resources wading through irrelevant results—or missing critical information altogether. If your goal is to inform the public or protect national security interests, unfit solutions could even cause avoidable damage.
Which tools suit your needs?
Broad Monitoring/Global Situational Awareness
Social media sources are required for broad monitoring. But rather than navigating raw data, users in this space need curated alerts. In other words, they don’t have the time to analyze posts to validate that a bombing happened. They just need a single alert to tell them that it has.
AI is typically required to meet this need. By ingesting text, image, and audio data, AI-powered solutions can be trained to automatically detect global events like shootings, natural disasters, and other news from social media data. This supports broad monitoring environments by minimizing the need to manually analyze raw, open-source data.
Broad monitoring use cases also tend to rely more on widely-used networks where users are more likely to post about breaking events. This includes mainstream social media channels like YouTube and Instagram.
Security teams and intelligence analysts, however, need to interact more with raw data. In our bombing scenario, this would mean getting alerts for a target location and analyzing related content to create an intelligence report. An analyst would likely need to answer questions like: where did the bomb originate and who is responsible? What has the local response been? How are our assets or interests at risk?
A more curated alerting system won’t provide this level of detail. The key here is using tools that give analysts raw data while reducing noise. This is accomplished with OSINT tools that support Boolean operators, offer location-based searching, and leverage machine learning to reduce false positives.
Intelligence teams are also more likely to prioritize predictive intelligence than broad monitoring users. This means they gather data over time to understand trends and predict potential events. This necessitates data analytics capabilities and more hidden data sources like the dark web, imageboards, or regional social networks where early warning indicators may be present.
Flashpoint supports security and intelligence teams with social media threat monitoring, particularly for targeted monitoring. Flashpoint’s Echosec Platform provides raw data from a variety of mainstream, niche, and international sources. It’s also optimized for location-based searching and uses a combination of machine learning and advanced filters so users can narrow in on relevant information faster. The OSINT solutions market is booming. As more tools surface, it can be hard to know which ones are best suited to your specific goals. Choosing the right tools for your requirements can save you time and resources—and in some cases, even protect your most vulnerable assets from harm.