Yesterday’s Independent newspaper reports that HMG has let a contract with five companies to monitor social media such as twitter, facebook, and blogs for commentary on Goverment activity. The report says:
“Under the terms of the deal five companies have been approved to keep an eye on Facebook, Twitter and blogs and provide daily reports to Whitehall on what’s being said in “real time”.
Ministers, their advisers and officials will provide the firms with “keywords and topics” to monitor. They will also be able to opt in to an Orwellian-sounding Human-Driven Evaluation and Analysis system that will allow them to see “favourability of coverage” across old and new media.”
This seems to me to be a modern spin on the old press cuttings system which was in widespread use in HMG throughout my career. The article goes on to say:
“The Government has always paid for a clippings service which collated press coverage of departments and campaigns across the national, regional and specialist media. They have also monitored digital news on an ad hoc basis for several years. But this is believed to be the first time that the Government has signed up to a cross-Whitehall contract that includes “social” as a specific media for monitoring.”
Apart from the mainstream social media sites noted above, I’d be intrigued to know what criteria are to be applied for including blogs in the monitoring exercise. Some blogs (the “vox populi” types such as Guido Fawkes at order-order) will be obvious candidates. Others in the traditional media, such as journalistic or political blogs will also be included, but I wonder who chooses others, and by what yardsticks. Would trivia be included? And should I care?
According to the Independent, the Cabinet Office, which negotiated the deal, claims that even with the extended range of monitoring by bringing individual departmental contracts together it will be able to save £2.4m over four years whilst “maximising the quality of innovative work offered by suppliers”.
Now since the Cabinet Office is reportedly itself facing a budget cut of £13 million in this FY alone, it strikes me that it would have been much more cost effective to simply use GCHQ’s pre-existing monitoring system rather than paying a separate bunch of relative amateurs to search the same sources.
Just give GCHQ the “keywords” or “topics of interest”. Go on Dave, you know it makes sense.