The US military is developing software that will allow it to secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda. A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with US Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop an “online persona management service” that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to ten separate identities based all over the world. 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 be able to manage false identities from their workstations.
The multiple persona contract is thought to have been awarded as part of a program called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which was first developed in Iraq as a psychological warfare weapon against the online presence of al Qaeda supporters and other extremists resisting the US military and political presence in Iraq. This effort proved successful and is now being used elsewhere in the Middle East and beyond with assurances that none of these interventions would happen here at home, as it would be unlawful to “address US audiences” with such technology.
“Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media,” Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain, Guardian, March 17, 2011.
Student Researcher: Michael Smith, San Francisco State University
Faculty Evaluator: Ken Burrows, San Francisco State University
Student Researcher: Wend-Kouni Deo-Gratias Nintiema
Faculty Evaluator: Julie Andrzejewski, St. Cloud State University; Mickey Huff, Diablo Valley College