Rumors have long floated around about government shills spreading disinformation on websites that are at odds with the governmental party line. Now it’s official: the US government has awarded a contract to a company in California to create software to manage “online personalities”. The software will allow one person to manage up to 10 personas, and will be used to counter “extremist ideology and propaganda”.
Those who visit forums and websites that tend to object to the actions of the current government won’t be surprised to hear that paid trolls are roaming the Internet with the clear purpose of manipulating opinions via social media. Last year, an anonymous author confessed that he had worked as a paid shill targeting several popular alternative websites to spread disinformation.
The online personalities, known as “sock puppets”, will allow the 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.”
Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks said: “The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US.”
He said none of the interventions would be in English, as it would be unlawful to “address US audiences” with such technology, and any English-language use of social media by Centcom was always clearly attributed. The languages in which the interventions are conducted include Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto.
Centcom said it was not targeting any US-based web sites, in English or any other language, and specifically said it was not targeting Facebook or Twitter. (source)
In other words, the military is going to do its best to take over the websites where many alternative media readers exchange ideas, share information, and discuss current events. People conversing in forums or chatrooms may very well be talking with a cyber-soldier whose goal is to influence participants’ thinking with government-issued propaganda.
The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries” (source)
The “controllers” will use different servers to make it look as though the comments are coming from a variety of locations. They will use “traffic mixing” techniques in order to blend in with other visitors to the sites.
Centcom vows that this operation is not directed towards American citizens, but with the recent revelations about PRISM, it would be difficult to believe that those who would spy on our every move online would have any qualms about manipulating us online.
The Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda was a Nazi government agency to promote their ideology to the masses. Had the Internet been around during World War II, there is little doubt that they would have fired up their keyboards in a similar fashion.
The US government seems to really dislike the comparisons to totalitarian regimes of times past.
But when the jackboot fits…