Some better ideas for President Trump than vetting a visa applicant’s social media data

Social media

“It is a joke in Britain to say that the War Office is always preparing for the last war” said Sir Winston S. Churchill in 1948.

Certainly, 'The Last Lion' as he was called, would find both heartbreaking and no laughing matter regarding the challenges plaguing his beloved U.K. and other countries in the 21st century, though that does not diminish the relevance of Churchill’s quip any less today than it did almost 70 years ago.

The recent back-to-back terrorist activities only highlight the importance and controversy surrounding the Trump administration’s June 1st Office of Management and Budget announcement, which rolled out a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants worldwide. It requests social media handles for the last five years and biographical information going back 15 years, among other things.

It raises the question around this new form of “extreme vetting” - whether any government can glean enough meaningful data from a person’s social channels to determine if a visa applicant should or should not be approved to enter a country, that is not of their original origin?

The easy answer is, “It depends.” However, Sir Winston would never simply leave it there.

Today, with the constant media attention from Snowden-level data leaks, which is now as public as “The Imitation Game” was secret, can a government learn enough about a person’s covert intentions trying to enter a country from their social media to get screened and flagged? The answer most definitely is “Yes.”

However, like fighting the last war, it seems highly unlikely that visa applicants with terrorist intentions haven’t already scrubbed their data and covered their tracks to avoid this obvious data booby trap.

The real solution toward finding the bad needles in today’s visa applicant haystacks would be to work with the top social data analytics tools, more so than the social media networks themselves.

Different than a social network, it “might” be useful for the TSA to instead also check applicants that have apps that can send encrypted messages which self-destruct on their phone. For example, Confide, a messaging app which promises to "communicate digitally with the same level of privacy and security as the spoken word." The sad irony of course is that according to Wired, it is a popular app used by the White House staff to leak information.

So, the solution is anything but simple. That is why major corporations are working with companies such as HYPR, Crimson Hexagon, Fullstory and multiple others detailed here, which cross-analyze patterns against multiple social networks that singular networks do not do.

For example, HYPR is the only platform to provide social audience analytics for every influencer in the world. They utilize over 35 databases including publicly available information from social networks, public databases, name databases, image recognition technology and natural language processing. They are capable of indexing over one billion social media accounts.

Crimson Hexagon offers in-depth demographic data about an audience, including gender, age, and ethnicity breakdowns, identifying where posts are coming from, on the country, state, city, or even street level, and informs organizations about the most influential authors taking part in the conversation. Its Affinities feature identifies the interests of the audience, based on their followers, feed, and other posts, as well.

Fullstory measures every click, keypress, page transition and more - intelligently identifying key moments of potential user experience, including frustration and rage, among other things.

Companies ranging from Procter & Gamble to Unilever, Coca-Cola, Diageo and Mondelez are all using EA, otherwise known as “Emotional analytics” which is really the next frontier of big data. The companies that offer emotion-recognition software include Affectiva, Amido, Realeyes and Sticky, among others.

They offer tools ranging from facial recognition and reaction-time that can add a level of scientific rigor that is almost indisputable.

If there is anything that has been learned from the recent Wikileaks data dumps, it is that human interaction is best monitored by Artificial Intelligence. If Churchill was here today, he would most likely repeat one of his other great quotes, “The truth sometimes requires a bodyguard of lies.”

Terrorists will no doubt continue to lie about their true intentions and governments everywhere must be even more vigilant. However, analyzing a person’s social media channels as a source for true insight into their behavior is akin to simply taking their word for it.

Deirdre Catucci is the president of Madison Avenue Social

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