Secret Service wants a sarcasm detector

The Secret Service wants to hire an Internet analysis company that can detect when people are being sarcastic.

In an online notice posted on Monday, the agency said that it was looking for a “social media analytics software tool” that could “detect sarcasm and false positives,” among other features.


The service should also be able to analyze information in real time, search key words in multiple languages, represent trends in “heat maps” and graphs and divide up Web activity by audience and geography, the Secret Service said.

Companies applying for the five-year contract should be able to “visually present complex data in a clear, concise manner,” “synthesize large sets of social media data” and “provide user friendly functionality to multiple staff members.”

In addition to protecting President Obama and other top government officials, the Secret Service is also tasked with fighting efforts to counterfeit money and undermine the financial system.

An agency spokesman clarified to The Hill that the analysis tool is meant purely for the agency’s public affairs efforts, not to monitor threats.

“We monitor news stories about the Secret Service, trends about the Secret Service, just like any other public affairs office would,” Ed Donovan said.

Trying to detect sarcasm and scan for search terms, he added, is “an attempt not to drink from a fire hose of social media stuff, trying to filter it down and just synthesize all the data that we’re looking at.”

In recent years, much of the focus on protecting top government officials has turned to the Internet. The nature of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, though, has made it easy for users to post seemingly harmless jokes that are interpreted as death threats.

For some offenders, that’s led to jail time, even when they meant their post as a joke or wrote it while intoxicated.

Under the law, threatening the life of the president or other top governmental figures carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. However, the government does not necessarily need to show proof that the suspect actually intended to carry out the plot.