Companies Can Use Social Media to Predict Potential Threats

By Carlton Purvis

The Occupy movement took hold last year, sweeping up grassroots organizers, courting unions and blue-collar workers, and sparking protests outside of corporate offices. Cold weather and disappearing camps have slowed the movement to a crawl, but a massive demonstration is planned to try and reignite the embers that may have survived through the winter. “Shut Down the Corporations” on February 29 will target ExxonMobil, Bank of America, BP, Monsanto, Pfizer, and Wal-Mart locations nationwide, according to the Occupy Web sites.

Twitter and Facebook have been some of Occupy’s primary mediums for organizing since its inception, so for companies looking to predict the impact of Shut Down the Corporations on their own operations, information valuable to investigations sits hidden in plain sight on the Internet.

Data pulled from open sources, like forums and social media profiles, can go a long way to protecting a company’s personnel and assets, according to a librarian turned investigator Cynthia Hetherington. The Occupy Web sites provide general information for people interested in assembling, but tuning in to social networks can provide more detailed logistical information, Hetherington says.

“In the past most of it was spoken word, but now you could be scanning the Internet social networks for this type of behavior,” Hetherington said in an interview Wednesday. Hetherington has more than 15 years’ experience in research and investigations for various clients. Using her background in in library science, she started the Hetherington Group, a research and investigation firm that specializes in uncovering connections between people and assets and predicting potential threats.

Security managers should be looking for mentions of their company, its CEO, or other high level employees. “That’s going to be a target of a lot of their anger,” she said of upcoming protests.

She provided this example during an earlier online presentation for members of ASIS International: A man wrote in an online forum that the employees of a company should be killed. In half an hour, analysts at Hetherington Group were able to provide the company a dossier on the man that included his picture and location.

Hetherington Group uses software to provide these types of alerts. Analysts will flag posts that seem particularly negative or threatening and gather more information about the poster and other relevant data. “We’ve been able to prevent a few protests that are about to happen, whether it’s an animal rights group gathering its forces or other sources,” Hetherington said.

Because protestors are becoming increasingly aware that they are being monitored, posts on Facebook and Twitter contain less information and instead direct supporters elsewhere online. Hetherington found that organizers are using sites like Craigslist to try and fly under the radar.


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