How Worried Should 'Media Influencers' Be About Homeland Security Tracking?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 12, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What, exactly, is a media influencer? According to Influencer Marketing Hub, influencers are individuals who have a following in a particular niche, with which they actively engage. Influencers can include "industry experts and thought leaders," like journalists, academics, and industry experts.

These definitions are handy if you're trying to make sense of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's announcement that it will be compiling a searchable database of media influencers that can be used to monitor social media and traditional news sources. So how scared should these media influencers be to show up on a government list?

The What and the Who

DHS submitted an online request for vendor information last week, seeking companies to provide "traditional and social media monitoring and communications solutions." Specifically, the department wants to "monitor traditional news sources as well as social media, identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event," and obtain "media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers."

DHS wants to track almost 300,000 news services worldwide, and in over 100 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, and Russian. The department also wants:

  • "Ability to analyze the media coverage in terms of content, volume, sentiment, geographical spread, top publications, media channels, reach, AVE, top posters, influencers, languages, momentum, circulation"; and
  • "Ability to build media lists based on beat, location, outlet type/size, and journalist role."

The Why

Compiling such a list, in and of itself, probably isn't illegal. But how the information is used could run afoul of the Constitution. While such a database could have legitimately useful goals -- Bloomberg notes it could allow U.S. authorities to combat foreign sources of fake news -- the vendor request has raised quite of few eyebrows from the press and free speech advocates.

Forbes wonders, "Will those on the DHS media database be questioned more harshly coming in and out of the country? Will they have trouble getting visas to go to certain countries for their own reporting or personal vacations? Worse?" And when it comes to U.S.-based journalists, the Trump Administration has a history of barring reporters or outlets with which it disagrees. Finally, as Gizmodo noted:

"The implication of a stridently anti-press administration with a database of journalists is troubling, yet, given the surveillance power of the American government, feels almost inevitable."

While the request for bids to compile the database remains open, DHS's dream of a "media influence database" remains just that. But it could be just around the corner.

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