US military tackles social media with ‘Sock Puppets’
One agent will be able to control 10 fake accounts - but US insists Facebook and Twitter are safe
The US military has hired a private company to develop software that will allow it to manipulate foreign social media sites and spread pro-American propaganda.
According to the Guardian, United States Central Command (Centcom), which is responsible for military actions in the Middle East and central Asia, has awarded a $2.76m contract to Ntrepid, a Los Angeles-based company, to develop an "online persona management service".
The technology will allow one US operator to control 10 fake user accounts at the same time.
The contract is thought to be the latest extension of Operation Earnest Voice, a psychological warfare strategy that was conceived as a response to online al-Qaeda supporters.
Centcom's brief calls for a system in which the fake personae have watertight back stories that will make it difficult for them to be unmasked. Up to 50 controllers should be able to control these 'sock puppets' at a time. The idea is to flood hostile message-boards and social media with pro-American opinion.
In subverting the free speech of the internet to its own ends, the US is being accused of aligning itself with states such as China and Iran. The operation also risks backfiring at a time when public opinion in the Middle East appears to be softening towards the US and hardening against its own despotic leaders. From now on, any pro-American opinion on Arabic sites can be easily dismissed as originating from Pentagon stooges.
However, there is one crucial difference between the US version of internet spying and China's: the technology will be used "to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US" - but it won't be used against its own citizens.
Centcom admitted that any attempt to address fellow Americans using the fake personae would be illegal. Therefore, they will only use foreign languages - including Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto - while US-based websites like Facebook and Twitter will, they promise, be off-limits.
But these are psy-ops agents: they would say that, wouldn't they? ·
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