The Army is reading your Bradley Manning tweets

Military public affairs officials in WikiLeaks case use software that specializes in tracking Twitter

Topics: Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, U.S. Military, Social Media, Twitter, ,

The Army is reading your Bradley Manning tweetsA sketch of Private Bradley Manning during his Army Article 32 hearing. (Credit: Reuters)


Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports on the extent to which the Army’s public affairs office is interested in public and media opinion of the Bradley Manning case, noting that P.R. staffers prepared daily summaries of the coverage of the ongoing legal proceedings. This bit jumped out at me:

The Army used a commercial service called VOCUS to track traditional and social media coverage of Manning’s hearing. The Pentagon pays close attention to the volume of tweets about the U.S. military during high-profile incidents, like the Air Force One flyover that distressed New York City residents in 2009 …

Here (.pdf), via Gerstein, is the Public Affairs Office media coverage summary that refers to “1,045 social media conversations about the hearing.” It also notes that “the VOCUS media site listed most of the coverage of Manning as negative, the majority of the coverage about the hearing remains balanced and factual.”

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VOCUS, which is based in a Maryland suburb of Washington, offers its customers the ability to “monitor social conversations, mentions and trends,” and:

  • Identify influencers. Rank top tweeters and bloggers by the number of followers, retweets, blog comments, and activity volume, so you can see who you need to be talking to.
  • Cover more blog posts. Vocus monitors more than 20 million of the most influential blogs. Best of all, we filter out aggregator sites, so you don’t get false or duplicated results.
  • Track sentiment and tone. Mentions are analyzed to gauge the feelings of bloggers, tweeters and readers – giving you insight far beyond the lead story.
  • Monitor Twitter in near-real time. Find out what people are saying and analyze all the chatter so you can engage within minutes. Vocus makes it easy to track retweets and identify the originating tweet.

Here are a couple sample screenshots of VOCUS software centering on Twitter. I’ve asked the Army how exactly it uses VOCUS and I will update this post if I hear back.

UPDATE 1/11/12: The Army send along this statement in response to my inquiry, which does not shed much light on how it uses VOCUS:

The Army employs traditional and contemporary public relations methods with which to communicate with its varied publics. Our news-gathering and assessment tools are in keeping with modern practices, and are used to determine the level at which we engage with the public to inform our vast constituencies. The Politico report reflects the Army’s connection with the public, and our transparency in such matters.

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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