“No, we don’t know where Tupac is,” the C.I.A. tweeted in 2014.
In 2016, the agency tweeted a real-time account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden on its fifth anniversary. A spokesman for the agency told ABC at the time that the tweets were intended to “remember the day and honor all those who had a hand in this achievement.” However, the move was largely panned and left many questioning why an intelligence agency needed to have a social media presence at all.
The C.I.A.’s own Instagram account features lighthearted series including #humansofCIA, which spotlights employees. The agency, which recently rebranded its website with a starkly minimalist aesthetic, offers a stated purpose for its social media presence similar to MI5’s.
“Our goal is to humanize C.I.A. through our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts so followers can see themselves here and apply,” Nicole de Haay, an agency spokeswoman, said in an email on Thursday. “At times, we incorporate humor.”
Other intelligence agencies, including the F.B.I., which has Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram and YouTube accounts, are active on social media.
Michael Landon-Murray, a professor at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs who has researched social media use by American intelligence agencies, said that social media had become a part of “image and brand management” for intelligence agencies and “a box that needs to be checked.”
“A lot of what intelligence agencies do is kind of inherently ugly business,” he said. Social media can be a way for the organizations to demystify the public about their operations and “look cool, look funny — in a sense, almost hoodwink the public,” he said.
Those who follow intelligence agencies on social media tend to be fully supportive of the agencies or antagonistic toward them, he said.