The Air Force Is Reading Your Tweets, Watching Your YouTube Rants

Air Force One Flying Over New York
Air Force One Flying Over New York

I read this article today by Jeremy Scott originally posted on, and it really got me to thinking. Does the Navy do this?  As a ex-military member I often think who’s listening to the Social network waves, the navy has people who translate languages and listen to radio transmissions, but who’s listening to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube?

The Air Force Is Reading Your Tweets, Watching Your YouTube Rants


A new story from the AP today reveals how the U.S. Air Force used social media sites like Twitter and YouTube to track the fallout from the whole “Air Force One Flyover PR Disaster.”

You may remember that the Obama Administration decided to have the President’s plane do a flyover of New York City—you know, the city where giant airliners crashed into buildings a few years back and put everyone there forever on edge?—all for a photo op.  They also had Air Force One trailed by a couple F-16s.  Oh, and they decided not to give anyone any kind of advance warning of the event.

Turns out that citizens were rather alarmed to see a jumbo jet trailed by two fighter jets soaring over their skyscrapers.  As New Yorkers are wont to do, many of them tweeted about it or shot video of the event with their video cameras and phones.  Many thought the city was under attack again (Not so easy to tell from the ground, apparently, that the plane was Obama’s).

Anyway, the AP article discusses how the Air Force was tracking tweets and scoping out the views and comments on YouTube videos of the flyover to gauge the public’s anger levels.

Turns out there was one tweet per minute regarding a pair of F-16s chasing an airliner, though the AP doesn’t indicate what overall interval of time that covers (“one tweet per minute” over the course of five hours is a much bigger deal than “one tweet per minute” over the course of something like five minutes).

I don’t think it should come as any kind of surprise that the government monitors things like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube to see what the public is saying.  In fact, it makes me wonder if “consumer surveys”—where companies ask their customers what they’re doing right and wrong—aren’t going the way of the dinosaur right before our eyes.  Monitoring Twitter to see what the country thinks of your brand is a heck of a lot easier than hiring a market research company (unless you hire a market research company to do the Twitter-monitoring, of course).  But is Twitter a reasonable cross section of the general population?  Maybe not yet… but it’s getting there.

The best part of the entire article are the droll & dour comments by staffers monitoring the web, regarding their thoughts and recommendations on the “scandal”:

  • “No positive spin is possible”
  • “Blogs will continue to be overwhelmingly negative.”
  • “Has really taken off in Web 2.0”
  • “Damage control requires timely counter-information.”
  • “To say the event is being beaten like a dead horse is an understatement.”


So while the Marine Corps bans their people from using social media sites, the Air Force is actually paying theirs to follow tweets and watch YouTube videos.  Interesting to see such wildly differing approaches to handling social media from two branches of the military.

Let me know what you think?

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