The U.S. Navy wants to amass 350 billion social media posts for a massive data archive that will provide new insight into how people communicate online.
Details of the project have been revealed in a tender document posted by the Navy's Naval Supply Systems Command.
In the document, the service said that the project is part of ongoing research conducted through the Department of Defense and Analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School. "Our research aims to provide enhanced understanding of fundamental social dynamics, to model the evolution of linguistic communities, and emerging modes of collective expression, over time and across countries," it explained.
The data will also be used for teaching purposes and to help develop students' big data analytic skills.
The Navy wants to acquire "a large-scale global historical archive" of social media posts spanning a minimum time period from July 1, 2014, to Dec. 31, 2016. "Data must consist of all publicly available messages, comments, or posts transmitted on the platform over the specified time period," the Navy said. Data must also include messages from at least 200 million users in at least 100 countries, with no single country accounting for more than 30 percent of users.
The records must consist exclusively of publicly available information, and the document says that no private communications or private user data will be included. However, it does state that "approximate location information, providing self-reported user hometowns, or other publicly available geo-location information, must be included for at least 20 percent of the records."
The information collected for the project must also include messages written in at least 60 languages, with at least 50 percent of the messages written in non-English languages.
Officials, however, do not specify which social media platforms will be used for the colossal research effort. Applications for the project closed May 27.
The military has deep roots in sophisticated online systems. The fortress-like Tor network, which stands for "The onion router," started out as a military project, but now functions largely as a highly clandestine civilian system.