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Could Facebook be used to identify potential terrorists? This was the thought experiment rattling in my head after hearing about bombing in Brussels. Let me explain.
Facebook has the capability to target what they call ‘Lookalike Audiences’ based on a variety of sources such as people who like your Facebook Page, or people who have visited your website, email lists, and phone numbers.
According to CNN, “Per capita, Belgium has the highest number of foreign fighters in Syria of any Western European nation. Experts say nearly 500 men and women have left Belgium for Syria and Iraq since 2012.”
In order to create ‘Lookalike Audiences’ you need to upload at least 20 emails or phone numbers of the particular type of people you want to target restricted to one country. I’m going to assume that law enforcement agencies can get their hands on at least 20 emails starting with the ones involved in the Paris and Brussels bombings. All they need to do is upload it to Facebook and then let Facebook’s algorithm do its thing.
Some potential options Facebook could provide the Facebook ids its algorithm deems as ‘lookalikes’ to law enforcement. OR Law enforcement could create content (posts, ads, articles) targeted to ‘Lookalike Audiences’ with the goal of driving traffic from this audience to websites where more visitor information can be obtained.
Now this is just considering Facebook in isolation. Imagine combining this with analytics gathered from mobile phones, credit cards, browsers to ensure the people identified are the bad guys. In addition Facebook has partnerships with data giants such as Acxiom, Datalogix and Epsilon.
Some of the best solutions have come from industry outsiders. For e.g. Tesla in the car industry, Paypal with regards to banking, Virgin in the airlines industry, Uber in the transportation industry. Maybe the CIA could employ outsiders such as digital marketers who eat, breathe and sleep about converting prospects to customers to utilize their skills to assist with counterterrorism.
Now I’m not a legal expert or privy to how exactly Facebook’s “Lookalike Audiences” algorithm works, but one has to ask the question, “Is is worth trying?”