US Secret Service need help spotting sarcasm


The US Secret Service, as a matter of routine, investigate all threats (or perceived threats) against the President – but what to do in an era of social media, where millions of messages are published every minute?


In a great spot by the Washington Post, the US government has put out to tender for proposals to try and gauge the sentiment of Twitter messages – so the Secret Service can more easily figure out if someone is making a genuine threat, or if they’re just being a twat on Twitter.

This isn’t a hypothetical either – earlier this year we saw the case of an American teenager getting into trouble after idiotically claiming to be part of Al Qaeda. And of course, there’s the case of Paul Chambers, who posted an obvious joke about Robin Hood Airport and ended up having his life ruined as a result of over-zealous security services (luckily he won his appeal so can now get on with life).

Computationally too, its an interesting dilemma as figuring out sentiment and what the words actually mean is tricky business. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone figures out how to do it.

We’ve no word yet on whether the plan is to later expand the programme in order to help Americans figure out irony.

James O’Malley
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