Watch out whom you befriend on Facebook! The Pentagon is developing software that will allow them to secretly manipulate social media using fake online personas.
In a pretty pathetic attempt at starting up some sort of spy program on the Internet, a Californian company has been awarded a contract with Central Command (Centcom) to develop a system in which militarymen can manage 10 online personas, which includes fake backgrounds, histories, and occupations. In this way, they can nest in forums, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other social media; but also attempt to create some online consensus beneficial to US interests.
I actually don’t believe that in the realm of counterterrorism something like this has never been done before, but ok. We’ll look out for some serviceman in disguise commenting on our blog posts!
Here’s the Guardian article:
The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media using fake online personas designed to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.
A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with the US Central Command (Centcom) to develop what is described as an “online persona management service” that will allow one serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities at once.
The contract stipulates each persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 controllers must be able to operate false identities from their workstations “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries”.
The project has been likened by web experts to China’s attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet.
Centcom’s contract requires the provision of one “virtual private server” in the United States and eight appearing to be outside the US to give the impression the fake personas are real people located in different parts of the world. It calls for “traffic mixing”, blending the persona controllers’ internet usage with the usage of people outside Centcom in a manner that must offer “excellent cover and powerful deniability”.
Once developed the software could allow US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with a host of co-ordinated blogposts, tweets, retweets, chatroom posts and other interventions. Details of the contract suggest this location would be MacDill air force base near Tampa, Florida, home of US Special Operations Command.
OEV is seen by senior US commanders as a vital counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation programme. In evidence to the US Senate’s armed services committee last year, General David Petraeus, then commander of Centcom, described the operation as an effort to “counter extremist ideology and propaganda and to ensure that credible voices in the region are heard”. He said the US military’s objective was to be “first with the truth”.
The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as “sock puppets” – could encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.
Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives.
I don’t buy the latter at all, but they’re welcome to try as far as I’m concerned…