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Homeland Security Set to Use Social Media for Terror Alerts

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April 07, 2011

Homeland Security Set to Use Social Media for Terror Alerts

By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor

It seems the government has even found value in the use of social networks to communicate with its constituents. According to this Associated Press (News - Alert) report, the U.S. federal government is not only changing its five color-coded terror alerts to two levels, elevated and imminent, they will also be communicated to the public only in certain circumstances and often using Facebook and Twitter.

The public may be kept in the dark completely if an announcement threatens to risk exposing an intelligence operation or an ongoing investigation, according to a Homeland Security report obtained by the AP.

The official document describes the step-by-step process that would occur behind the scenes whenever the government believes terrorists could be threatening the country or its citizens. It also describes the sequence of notifying members of Congress, and then counterterrorism officials in states and cities, then onto governors and mayors, and finally the public.

The new terror alerts would be published online on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook (News - Alert), whenever the government deems it appropriate. This will only happen, however, after all federal, state and local government leaders have been notified. The new system is expected to be in place by April 27.

Often criticized for using a system that was too vague to be useful, the government has developed this new advisory system to be easier to understand and more specific. The frequency of the messages available on social media, however, will always depend upon the threat and the intelligence behind it.

The intelligence community needs to believe that the terror threat is serious enough to issue an alert and that waning would include specific information for specific audiences. The draft plan specifies that an “elevated” alert would warn of any credible threat against the U.S. and would likely not specify timing or targets.

The “imminent” alert would warn when a credible, specific and impending terrorist threat or an on-going attack against the U.S. is suspected.

According to James Carafano, there was no established system in the past for determining whether to raise or lower the threat level. This new program is truly what he refers to as a gut call. And, while the plan is not yet final, it appears the social media platform is a key element for spreading notice to the masses.

Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMCnet and has also written for To read more of Susan’s articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Janice McDuffee

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