Maintaining Social Licence for Government Use of False Social Media Personas

Authors: Cleaver, O. & Nicklin, G.
Published in National Security Journal, 12 June 2020


This study incorporated quantitative and qualitative research methods in a mixed method approach. The first layer was to develop an initial baseline of public perceptions, understood through the use of quantitative research in the form of a survey. The survey enabled the formation of generalisations about public perspectives of SOCMINT use in New Zealand. Analysis of comments made in the survey enabled a deeper assessment of overall perspectives.

The survey was assessed to be low risk by Massey University ethics processes, and so did not go before a committee but was instead assessed online.28 The survey included a mix of Likert scales and scenario-based questions, followed by demographic questions to assist in further analysis. The survey was disseminated via Google Forms and went live between 04 June and 21 June 2019. These dates are important because survey answers may have been influenced by the March 2019 terrorist attacks in Christchurch. The survey was disseminated via Facebook, through Massey University pages and shared on personal Facebook platforms to encourage participation. The survey generated 248 responses, more than twice the baseline of 100.29 While more in-depth research is required to confirm these conclusions, sufficient evidence has been considered here for important indicative findings.

An assessment of themes from the 87 comments was made. Structured analytical techniques, common in the field of intelligence, assisted in developing key findings. This included the use of the inference development model. The inference development model uses deductive and inductive knowledge to develop an inference building on indicators, which can include facts and assumptions.30 Indicators combine to create a premise, which informs an inference. Inferences build into overall findings which work to show what the New Zealand public expectations of social media intelligence are. Establishing the root cause and inferences contributed to overall findings on understanding public expectations of the use of covert social media by government agencies. The assessment of themes enabled a depth of understanding about them and provided a better understanding of survey participants’ expectations.

A discourse analysis compared survey results with relevant provisions of the Privacy Act 1993 and aspects of the State Sector Act 1988. Input from the OPC further assisted in formulating overall findings.31 A discourse analysis also meant that current governance of SOCMINT could be measured against the survey findings. There is no overarching framework for SOCMINT; however, the Privacy Act 1993 and the Public Sector Act 1988 play a part in how agencies manage use.

To further assess the current use of SOCMINT, policies outlining procedures and practices were obtained from MBIE and the New Zealand Police via the Official Information Act. The documents were summarised and assessed in conjunction with other findings from survey