Campus & Community

Technology's Impact on Government: Stevens Students Collaborate with U.S. State Department

Two Computer Monitors
Twitter, Facebook, and other online searching, media and communication tools have become a significant focus of counter-terrorism efforts.

The role of Twitter, Facebook, and other online searching, media, and communication sites in the goal of eliminating terrorism efforts is unclear and ever changing. Governments around the world, to varying degrees, have asked these companies to engage in account monitoring and shut downs for suspected terrorists. According to a recent article from Forbes, Twitter has suspended over 235,000 accounts in the last six months to prevent the spread of terrorist material.

In a partnership with the U.S. State Department’s government-academic collaborative Diplomacy Lab, Stevens students--under the guidance of Professor Lindsey Cormack in the College of Arts and Letters--have analyzed the efforts of U.S. police departments in the social media sphere as a part of their strategies to counter violent extremism.

During the spring 2016 semester, students created a database and a series of case studies to describe the practices of various U.S. police agencies in regards to social media. Of the 38 police departments of particular interest for countering violent extremism, 84 percent use their own Twitter accounts to connect with citizens and 87 percent use Facebook. Having their own entry points into the social media sphere is a way for law enforcement to attempt to interject their own narratives on violent extremism and reach out to at-risk communities in a preventative way in the hopes of improving police-community relations.

This fall, in an effort to understand more about the impact of emerging technology on government, the Stevens Diplomacy Lab students will be working with the State Department’s Bureau of Political Military Affairs, Innovation Forum, and Strategy Lab on a project called, “State of the Future: How Emerging Technology Trends Will Impact Foreign Policy”.

Over the course of the semester, the students will work in teams of four or five to determine which emerging technology trends, like social media or virtual reality, the State Department should be tracking: which advancements will create new foreign policy concerns, alter the environment in which we conduct diplomacy, shift the global balance of power and empower new actors, require new treaties and regulations, or any other implications that affect equities under the Department’s jurisdiction.

On September 14, over 40 students in the current Lab had their first call with Zvika Krieger, the U.S. Department of State's Representative to Silicon Valley and Senior Advisor for Technology and Innovation. Krieger challenged the students to think proactively about emerging technology trends and how the State Department could maximize the positive impact of those trends and handle the international implications.

“Technology knows no borders,” Krieger told the students. “The advantage of your insights as Stevens students is your ability to apply your scientific understanding of these emerging technologies to the way we need to be thinking about its impact on government and foreign relations.”