The Department of Defense’s R&D agency has committed $42M to fund social media research projects geared toward strategic communications as it sees current analysis tools to be too “dependent on chance.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, is known for its key contributions to the creation of the Internet as well as advanced weapons and vehicle systems, said in an agency announcement July 14 (PDF) that the spread of blogs, social networking sites and media sharing technology like YouTube provides an opportunity for armed forces to better understand the environment in which they operate.

“Events of strategic as well as tactical importance to our Armed Forces are increasingly taking place in social media space,” reads the DARPA document on the planned program. “The tools we have today for awareness and defense in the social media space are heavily dependent on chance.”

DARPA is soliciting technical proposals for the SM research through August 30 (PDF). It outlines four goals for the program:

1. Detect, classify, measure and track the (a) formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes), and (b) purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformation.

2. Recognize persuasion campaign structures and influence operations across social media sites and communities.

3. Identify participants and intent, and measure effects of persuasion campaigns.

4. Counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations.

The DARPA document gives an example of online rumors about the location of a “certain individual” which spread through social media and raised calls for the military to storm the rumored location. "By chance, responsible authorities were monitoring the social media, detected the crisis building, and sent out effective messaging to dispel the rumors and adverted a physical attack on the rumored location," according the DARPA assessment.