Feds to monitor social media round-the-clock

Soon tweets, public Facebook posts and YouTube videos could be subject to scrutiny round-the-clock by the federal government. A federal tender specifies the government is looking for continuous media monitoring of blogs and social media.
The federal government has tendered a media monitoring contract for continuous monitoring of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. (Joerg Koch/Associated Press)

Big Brother is watching you — on just about every social-media platform you can imagine.

Tweets, public Facebook posts and YouTube videos could soon be subject to round-the-clock scrutiny by the federal government, a procurement document posted this week by Public Works and Government Services Canada suggests.

Welcome to media monitoring in the 21st century, when simply leafing through a stack of newspapers in the morning is about as antiquated as, well, newspapers.

On one level, there is a creepiness factor to this, but then on another level, it's open data, it's open information.- Mark Blevis, digital public affairs analyst

The federal government is seeking a firm that "continuously monitors social media content on a daily basis in near real time and (can) provide web-based, online media metrics and reporting capabilities."

That includes combing through "blogs, micro-blogs, social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter, forums and message boards, traditional news websites and comment sections, media sharing websites (videos, photos and user-generated content websites including YouTube)."

The contractor is also being asked to keep tabs on English- and French-language internet news sites and blogs.

Tone and reach

The document specifies that the contractor must be able to provide the service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Part of the job will be to gauge the sentiment and tone of posts and to determine their reach.

The social-media monitoring service must also come with the ability to filter searches by country, language and key words.

The work, which appears to be on an as-requested basis, runs from next February until January 2019.

Digital public affairs analyst Mark Blevis of FullDuplex.ca said it's not unusual that a government would want to know what people are saying, although he concedes some might find that thought disconcerting.

"On one level, there is a creepiness factor to this," Blevis said in an interview.

"But then on another level, it's open data, it's open information. If it's publicly accessible, why should the government have any less privilege accessing it than anyone else in the public eye?

"What they do with it is going to be the big question."

'Early warning system'

Social media can act as an "early warning system" to alert authorities to major disasters, Blevis said, just as it can be used to track public opinion.

"It depends on the intent. Is it creepy? Yeah, for the vast majority of the public it will seem creepy because the sense is the government is looking over their shoulder," he said.

"But another part of me feels that this is a recognition that this where the conversations are happening now, and they're happening in plain view."

Public Works wasn't immediately available to comment.


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