Secret Service urgently seeks sarcasm-detecting software

In a work order posted online, the service is looking for software that synthesizes social-media data and weeds out false positives and sarcasm. Oh, and it has to be IE8 compatible.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Is your sarcastic side detectable? EvMoneyTV/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

This all started with the Google boys and Mark Zuckerberg.

They were the ones who insisted that secrecy was pointless. Now they're the ones who are so bravely fighting against the NSA's insistence on that very ideal.

I can't help the way things have gone. Every great relationship starts with a no-secrets policy. Then every great relationship breaks ranks with open source and becomes a sad morass of deception.

Which is why, perhaps, the Secret Service wants to get to the truth. The real truth beyond the feints, the jokes, and the sarcasm that pollute our world today. When I say "our world," I mean, of course "social media."

These days, what else is there? So I am perturbingly grateful to the Washington Post for disinterring a request for proposals, posted for all to see, in which the Secret Service calls for new software.

Solicitation No. HSSS01-14-Q-0182 is called Computer Based Annual Social Media Analytics Subscription.

Here, those defending us call for analytics software that can help synthesize social-media postings and data. The software should seek to define and discover those who truly influence social media at its core.

Moreover, it has to make sense of the constant stream of invective, love, opinion, criticism, emotional support, alleged facts, and news. It has to root out the wheat, the chaff, the gruff, and the guff.

It also has to decipher one of the great imponderables of the social written word: sarcasm.

The request for proposal specifically states: "Ability to detect sarcasm and false positives."

Some might wonder whether this sentence is, in itself, a test. Perhaps the service feels there is no real way of detecting sarcasm as it skips across our screens. You either feel it or you don't.

Or, in the case of Brit Paul Chambers, who sarcastically tweeted he would blow up his local airport if it wasn't quickly cleared of snow, you arrest him and charge him with uttering a terrorist threat. (He won his appeal, but lost his job.)

The request is open for bids until June 9. Though I feel you already dizzying to offer your software, may I tell you that, to comply, your proposal must be compatible with Internet Explorer 8. Well, of course.

A spokesman for the Secret Service told the Washington Post: "Our objective is to automate our social media monitoring process. Twitter is what we analyze. This is real time stream analysis. The ability to detect sarcasm and false positives is just one of 16 or 18 things we are looking at."

Automation. This seems to be the goal of every branch of society.

Governments and corporations love the idea. Humans, too, want to take the drudgery out of, well, other humans.

When we all become so at one with machines that we are machines, confusion will die. Each machine will know precisely what each other machine means. Each machine will know when another machine is cheating or joking. We will all be vehicles for the greater good.

There will be no subterfuge. There will be no poetry. There will only be truth and justice every hour and day.

Now that is bliss.