The U.S. Secret Service has posted an unusual request on nextgov.com—the agency is seeking software that can detect sarcasm in social media posts. In addition, it wants code that can identify influential people on Twitter, perform real-time analytics on data streams and use heat maps.
“Our objective is to automate our social-media monitoring process,” said Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan. “Twitter is what we analyze. This is real-time stream analysis. The ability to detect sarcasm and false positives is just one of 16 or 18 things we are looking at.”
The posting set off alarm bells for privacy groups who are concerned about the government’s ability to track and analyze the behavior of citizens. And many experts say the task of detecting sarcasm is extraordinarily complicated. “It’s difficult not to be sarcastic about the idea of the Secret Service automatically, algorithmically, examining all of your social-media posts to determine, among other things, that you’re being sarcastic,” Peter Eckersley, technology projects director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said.