Maintaining Social Licence for Government Use of False Social Media Personas

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

results and the themes assessment of survey comments. Comparing policies and procedures against findings from the survey and the OPC commentary triangulated the research results.



Overall, there was general support for the use of false social media personas by government agencies even though, at the start of the survey, 62.3% of the 248 respondents stated they were not aware that government agencies use false social media personas. This lack of knowledge suggests a possible lack of understanding of how data and information from Facebook can be utilised by governments and organisations. Results may also indicate a degree of apathy or indifference about government agency access to information on Facebook. This inference is supported by the fewer than 30% of respondents showing any concern about the New Zealand government use of false social media profiles.

91% of respondents believed the use of social media is important for detecting crime, and 71% of respondents were concerned that the New Zealand government might fail to detect crime, or a security threat, if social media searching is not utilised. These results suggest a public expectation that government agencies undertake the actions necessary for ensuring safety, including the use of false social media personas.

Scenario-based questions were used to distinguish variations in opinions about different government purposes, such as national security, policing, immigration and tax related offending. These questions aimed to investigate proportionality, and what purposes were considered acceptable for SOCMINT searches. The results indicated that respondents were more comfortable about SOCMINT searches to mitigate against extremist ideology and criminal activity. Respondents were comfortable but to a lesser degree with searches for migrant work visas and those undertaking cash jobs.32 Figure 1 below shows the scenarios relating to the different types of government purposes for false social media personas, and the results.

From the survey comments, 10 themes emerged. The strongest was privacy, followed by public safety and transparent and trusted government. The proportion of comments on privacy indicates maintaining privacy is an issue, despite 69.4% of respondents suggesting they did not feel the use of false social media personas to be an invasion of privacy. Respondents’ concerns revealed the fine line between privacy and what can be searched for by regulatory and law enforcement bodies. This fine line reinforces that, for government agencies using SOCMINT, dealing with privacy is not straightforward and requires proportionality, balancing privacy with protection. Respondents’ concerns point to a need for strict regulatory guidelines and policy surrounding the use and management of information collected from social media.