Police as well as corporations and other organizations can use social media to identify threats. Photo credit: West Midlands Police
Police as well as corporations and other organizations can monitor social media to identify threats. Photo credit: West Midlands Police

As police departments around the country monitor social media more aggressively as a result of the murder of two New York City police officers, public relations departments in corporations, government agencies, and major not-for-profits must now consider more wide-ranging media monitoring to identify and assess threats against their organizations.

Police have already uncovered potential threats through social media in the week following the shooting. New York police arrested seven men largely as the result of social media monitoring, Fox News reported. Most were charged with making terrorist threats after they posted photos of weapons on social media networks and wrote threatening comments directed at police.

Corporations, government agencies, and major not-for-profits can benefit greatly from monitoring news and social media specifically to identify potential threats against their organizations. In addition to monitoring for public relations and reputation management issues, organizations are well-advised to monitor news and social media for overt threats of violence.

Such threats can show up in most any social media platform, including blogs, message boards and forums, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and many other platforms.

The Many Uses of Media Monitoring

Monitoring media for indications of potential violence is only one aspect of threat monitoring. It’s equally important to monitor for legal threats such as lawsuits, investigations by regulators, human resources threats such as protests or strikes, and information technology threats including hacking.

Because non-violent threats can appear in so many different places, they’re difficult and time-consuming to monitor manually using search engines. A media monitoring service is more comprehensive than manual monitoring and usually less expensive than assigning staff to do the monitoring.

The PR department – which usually controls media monitoring — can take on the responsibility of identifying and forwarding any threats to the appropriate department. The PR staff, however, may not have the nuanced understanding of specific types of threats that staff in other departments may have. Therefore, it’s probably more effective for individual departments, including security, legal and human relations to conduct their own more focused news and social media monitoring with queries that hone in on specific issues of concern to their departments.

Some media monitoring services, including CyberAlert, automatically sort media clips into departmental folders based on keywords, enabling each department to review only those media clips relevant to its issues and concerns.

How to Write Media Monitoring Queries for Threat Assessment

Media monitoring queries to assess threats are substantially different from queries to monitor corporate reputation. A typical query to assess PR, corporate reputation or customer service includes only the corporate and brand names.

Queries for threat assessment require a full Boolean construct that includes corporate or brand names together with a specific set of words that may indicate a threat, issue or problem. Unlike the typical social media query where the more delivered clips the better, the hope is that threat assessment queries deliver zero clips. In threat assessment, fewer is better.

A query for the legal department of a bank, then, might look like this:

([Name of Bank] OR [Nicknames of Bank] OR [Stock Exchange Symbol] OR [Names of Executives]) AND (litigation OR legal-action OR legal-issue OR class-action OR lawsuit OR filed-suit OR charges OR trial OR subpoena OR inquiry OR examination OR probe OR investigation OR alleged OR deceptive OR fraud OR warning-letter OR lawyer OR attorney OR lobbyist OR money-laundering OR capital-requirements OR corporate-governance OR Securities and Exchange Commission OR SEC OR Federal-Deposit- Insurance-Corporation OR FDIC OR Federal Reserve Board OR Office-of-the-Comptroller-of- the-Currency OR Dodd-Frank OR stress-test OR settlement OR pact OR hacked OR customer-data OR data-loss OR credit-agency OR tax-evasion OR off-shore-accounts)

The legal department itself or the organization’s media monitoring service can assist in constructing a comprehensive query to identify legal threats. In the realm of legal threats, it’s advantageous to monitor major competitors as well, since many legal and regulatory issues affect the entire industry, but start with specific companies. Major legal firms may also consider conducting media monitoring and threat assessments on behalf of clients.

Query Construct for Employee Relations

The human relations (HR) and security departments may construct queries that identify news articles and social media posts of specific interest to their functions.

In employee relations, the threat assessment is looking for complaints or issues involving employees, former employees and potential hires. An HR query includes employment-related terms involving wages, benefits, and safety along with negative terms such as “unfair,” “discrimination,” “hostile,” and “offensive” indicating displeasure. A query for an organization’s human relations department might look similar to this:

([Name of Organization] OR [Nicknames of Organization] OR [Names of HR Executives]) AND (human-relations OR personnel-department OR human-resources OR employee-relations OR employee-communications OR employee-policies OR hr-policy OR hr-practice OR discrimination OR handicapped OR protest OR strike OR wages OR pay OR salary OR salaries OR benefit OR benefits OR minimum-wage OR intern OR hostile OR unsafe OR unfair OR favoritism OR insult OR safety OR unsafe OR harassment OR stalk OR stalking OR bully OR porn OR intimidate OR retaliation OR discipline OR substance-abuse OR performance-review OR termination OR fired OR hiring OR hire OR recruitment OR interview OR handbook).

Other terms could certainly be added.

The organization’s name in the searches should include abbreviations (e.g.: JPM, Dunkin’) and slang terminology (e.g.: Freddy Mac). Names of executives should include name variations. For instance, William Smith should also be included in the query as Bill Smith.

Search queries for the security department, information technology or other departments will include keywords and phrases specific to the departments’ functions, threats and issues.

Spotting Legitimate Threats

For both police departments and private organizations, one challenge is separating legitimate threats from ranting. Oftentimes, comments that may be perceived as threatening may only be venting. Venting is protected under the First Amendment, say law experts.

When analyzing social media comments, reviewers must ponder if someone presents an imminent danger to an identifiable person or place and if a reasonable person would feel threatened. Threats that represent imminent danger should be referred immediately to the organization’s security department and/or the local police. Threat assessment is not simple. Reviewers must wade through and investigate many “false positive” social media clips. In the corporate environment even the “false positives” for violence almost always require time-consuming follow-up to fix the problem or to better inform the individual who expressed displeasure. The benefit is the opportunity to prevent, ameliorate or correct a potentially devastating and/or costly problem.

Bottom Line: Timely monitoring of news and social media for threats of violence and other threatening activities enables companies, government agencies and not-for-profit organizations to identify problems and take swift preventive or corrective action.

This post originally appeared on the CyberAlert blog.