Documenting the Islamists Online
The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.
A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world...
Once developed, the software could allow US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with any number of co-ordinated Facebook messages, 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.
I guess this is actually a cost-cutting program since they already have fake personas operating on the web; the new operation cited here simply makes things more efficient by allowing a single operator control 10 fake identities.
The funny thing is how the report states that the operatives would be functioning only in Farsi, Arabic and languages other than English since it would be "unlawful" to target US audiences.
Well, as a matter of fact it would be unlawful to do so -- true. There are two Federal laws on the books in the US that make the use of public funds for the dissemination of domestic propaganda illegal. However the laws are completely toothless and contain no enforcement mechanism, so they have ever posed a real problem to the US government disseminating propaganda domestically. In fact, this has become common practice.
See, even before we had fake people on the internet, we had journalists and the old-fashioned print and television media that were commonly used to promote "fake news." One simple way to stay technically within the law was to plant articles in foreign newspapers (like in Iraq or Afghanistan), and then just wait for the "blow back", when the same article would be picked up by the news wires, translated and distributed domestically. Voila! No legal problems since US audiences were not "targetted."
But in reality, there have been far more straightforward efforts at targetting US audiences. For example, who remembers the Pentagon's "military analysts" program, where the US military recruited and promoted former military officials to promote the invasion of Iraq in interviews with reporters? This sort of thing isn't limited to news about the war or foreign affairs either, but is a common tactic employed by both Bush on and Clinton despite their technical illegality. "VNRs" or video news releases are a common tactic of promoting fake news too, and a favorite tactic of corporations who want to pass off their press releases as "news".
And what about the fake "letters sent home", supposedly written by US soldiers in Iraq, speaking of the achievements of the US military there in glowing terms? The program was exposed when people noticed that the letters all seemed suspiciously similar.
The truth is, governments manipulating the media through fake news and fake fronts is normal business. As Jacques Ellul noted, democracies are actually more likely to resort to such deception because they can't rely on the overt use of force as can dictatorships. I would add the democracies do a much better job of cultivating a perception of media "objectivity" even if it is entirely false too. This, of course, requires the complicity of the journalists who participate in promoting the propaganda, so often journalists are recruited by intelligence agencies to act as their knowing agents... not just journalists but even the highest executives at news organizations.
In the late 1970s, there were a series of Congressional investigations about this sort of thing, particularly the role of the CIA in the media. These were known as the Church and Pike Committee investigations. One operation that was exposed, for example, was Operation Mockingbird. Also, in February 1967, Ramparts magazine reported that the CIA had been funding the National Student Association through a series of philanthropic foundations.
I won't get into the history of other similar programs -- for example how the FBI and the US military conspired to infilatrate the US peace movement during the Viet Nam war using agent provacateurs such as Tommy the Traveler whose job was, apparently, to encourage the peace groups to engage in illegal activity so they could be discredited and arrested.
Like I said, this is all just normal, standard practice.