I don’t want to scare you, but you are being monitored. And I don’t want to sound paranoid, but it might be through your smartphone microphone. Last year, a user did an experiment. For days, he talked endlessly and incessantly about Kit-Kats. Kit-Kats this and Kit-Kats that. He didn’t search for them. He just talked about them. And guess what ads suddenly appeared on his Facebook and Instagram accounts? Kit-Kats. Then he upped the ante, and this time talked endlessly about Lysol. I don’t need to tell you what ads suddenly began to appear. Facebook denied that it listens in through your phone. Not long after the denial, the New York Times discovered that Facebook had filed a patent to listen in on you through your smartphone mic. They don’t use every patent they hold, but it certainly is a strange coincidence.
Whether or not it’s true, it is, in a sense, old news. Facebook spying on users: Film at eleven. And considering the vast amount of personal information users gleefully dump daily into the Facebook machine, what the company does barely qualifies as spying. It’s the equivalent of forwarding your cell phone bills to the National Security Agency, and then acting surprised that they know who you called last month.
The point is that Facebook and espionage go together like peanut butter and jelly. Everything posted on Facebook is fair game. And because it is a treasure trove of information, foreign intelligence agencies love Facebook and other social media sites. It’s great for gathering information. It’s perfect for propaganda purposes. It’s where you want to be if you want to manipulate electorates or just get people agitated in general.
USING IT TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Here’s the good news. Facebook has connected the world. And all of those scary things listed above that peer into your private life? They peer into the private lives of powers hostile to the United States, as well. And the United States is fully aware of this, and has been using Facebook to its advantage. The ClearanceJobs database is teeming with social media jobs. Here is how you can use your social media prowess to your advantage, and how a security clearance can get you a job spying on Facebook.
First: the basics. The vast majority of social media analyst jobs require a Top Secret clearance, with Secret a distant second. The jobs appear primarily in Virginia and Maryland, with Florida—the home of U.S. Special Operations Command—a distant third. (The positions are based almost entirely in the continental United States.) As far as work history goes, two to five years seems to be the requested experience level, though if you are a wizard at a foreign language, there are positions available for those with no experience at all. Almost every job hiring as of November 2018 is for a full-time position.
now hiring: social analysts
The jobs tend to fall into three categories: linguist, open source intelligence analyst, and software developer. (There is sometimes an overlap, so if you are a linguist who can code, you can probably write your own check.) Linguists are the jobs you probably imagine when you think of what a social media spy might do. And you can pick pretty much any language from around the world—Farsi, French, Romanian, Somali—and a job is waiting for you. It’s the sort of job you can even train for. Not a native Somali speaker? Take courses online and learn the language. The bar isn’t especially high in most postings—they don’t need native speakers; just workers with a couple of years of language training under their belts. The job entails doing exactly what you expect: “read, analyze, and draft communications regarding regional and ideological discussions in specified foreign language media environments.”
Jobs for open source intelligence analysts tend not to require foreign language skills, though it’s possible that there might be on-the-job training in that regard. Open source analysts use publicly accessible information and open source intelligence (e.g. Facebook posts, tweets, and newspapers) to support U.S. intelligence operations. The jobs are frequently connected to the Defense Department, and special operations in particular, and you’ll often be required to train special operators in the skill-set that you have cultivated.
Social media software developer listings frequently describe the job as writing code to retrieve, sort, store, and analyze social media posts. (In other words, you’ll be scraping a lot of Facebook data so that some sense can be made of it.) Java, Python, and C# tend to be the most sought-after languages for developing these espionage tools. (Earlier this year, ClearanceJobs posted a four-part C# tutorial that can help you get started in that programming language.)
Ultimately, you don’t have to like Facebook to recognize that it is central to the lives of almost everyone with access to a computer. And those connections are often meaningful—keeping families close despite being separated by distance, bringing old friends back into our lives, and just providing a simple sense of not being alone in an often lonely world. It’s nice to know someone out there knows you exist, cares about you, likes you. That’s where social media is magical. It has, however, an important role in espionage. Keep that in mind if you hold a clearance or work in a sensitive position. And if you are looking for work, know there are jobs out there where you can work to put that Facebook trove of foreign intelligence to good use.