Fears about the potential effects of propaganda and fake news remain high, and American officials are determined to keep track of media outlets in a bid to curb these misinformation campaigns. The Department of Homeland Security has put out a call for companies that could create a database tracking over 290,000 “media influencers” around the world, including online news outlets, bloggers and prominent social network accounts. The system would identify contributor details (such as contact info and their employers), and would allow searching for individuals and outlets through categories like their locations, the focuses of their coverage and their sentiment.
DHS expects responses to its request by April 13th.
This isn’t the first time the US has tracked the media (the FBI used to be notorious for it), and there’s no indication this would collect information that isn’t already public. However, the database’s very existence (provided it goes forward) could be problematic. It could help gauge how Russia and other countries try to skew discussions. At the same time, though, there’s concern this could be used to exert pressure on domestic journalists and internet personalities who challenge the official line.
As Gizmodonoted, the DHS’ vagueness is also a concern. It leaves itself an opening for collecting “any other information that could be relevant” about these influencers, and there’s no hint as to what that could be. Is it strictly functional information like work histories, or sensitive data that could be abused? Either way, the database could be troublesome for bloggers and social media stars who aren’t usually under such close government scrutiny.