May 11, 2012: Israel is the latest nation to admit that its intelligence services are monitoring and mining social networking sites, especially Facebook and Twitter, for information on threats and any of its own troops leaking dangerous information. This is a particular problem in Israel, where nearly everyone is on a social networking site and most of the troops involved in counter-terror work are reservists who don't like to stop updating their Facebook page while out chasing suicide bombers.
While these sites are most often touted as catalysts for revolution and social change, they have also been a big help to intelligence and police organizations. This can have fatal consequences in dictatorships, where the police and intel groups can use data gathering and analysis tools (developed for marketing via the Internet) to find people who are protesting or rebelling against the government. Even if these Facebook users are using codes and pseudonyms to remain hidden the scanning and analysis tools can often uncover them. Twitter traffic can also be analyzed for useful information on who is doing what and where they are.
Social networking sites are thus a double edged sword. They can be used to organize, inform, and mobilize large groups. But in doing this you provide the secret police a lot of information you would rather not share with them. Islamic terror groups advise their members to avoid social networking sites but that has proved hard to enforce. Social networking was designed to be alluring, as well as useful, especially to the young. For young revolutionaries this can be a fatal attraction.
In many dictatorships, especially China, Western social networking sites are banned and local equivalents are closely watched, and anyone considered a troublemaker is quickly tended to (either online of via a visit from the police).