Multinational architectural firm HDR Inc. has been working in conjunction with the US Government to monitor the social media of individuals and activist groups that oppose plans for constructions of jails and highways in the United States.

Responsible for the designs of over 275 jails and prisons in the US, HDR’s STRATA team, that “leverages large data sets to visually display social and political risk nationwide,” enables the practice to review potential unrest in communities where potential infrastructure will be constructed.

Motherboard, Vice’s tech arm, has uncovered that HDR has surveilled both public and private Facebook groups that are headed by activists that oppose the practice’s projects, including a proposed $2 billion highway that will cut through Arizona’s Moahdak Do’ag mountain. 

It has also been revealed that the practice was able to produce an ‘influencer’ report, that analyses public sentiment on social media platforms. It categorises American communities into certain classifications including “ethnic enclaves”, “barrios urbanos”, “scholars and patriots”, and “American dreamers”. 

Their round the clock ‘social listening’ activities and ‘strategic communications’ programs enables the practice to compose target media campaigns and host public hearings for its clients.

Documents obtained by Motherboard confirm the Board of Commissioners in Greene County, Ohio, utilised HDR and it’s STRATA team for its ‘justice consulting and planning services’ for a new jail that required approval from voters in April of this year. HDR’s social listening program has enabled it to identify risks, influencers, social networks and user demographics for the commissioning board, as well as using it to assist in crafting targeted advertising campaigns.

HDR has displayed ‘soft’ corporate counterinsurgency tactics, meaning that indirect strategies, such as PR campaigns, have been used to counteract resistance to projects. 

HDR’s ability to monitor public opinion on future projects and categorise communities is particularly worrying, especially considering that many infrastructural projects are to be constructed on Indigenous land and/or low-socioeconomic communities. Despite this, the company is seemingly transparent on it’s website in regards to it’s STRATA arm.

“Controversy is costly, both in reputation and in dollars,” a website statement reads. 

“Social and political risk deserves attention at the planning stage of a project or program, where it can be carefully assessed and when there is time to develop strategies to mitigate or diminish risk.”