Thursday, April 25, 2013

Social Media Influence — Sock Puppets and Government Trolls (reposted from Roundtree)

Go ahead…. read the want ad below from a unspecified government agency. Does it sound like the job might be just a little off the beaten path, even for the government?
Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries. Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user’s situational awareness by displaying real-time local information. The daily rotation of the user s IP address prevents compromise during observation of likely or targeted web sites or services, while hiding the existence of the operation.
The job described above is something that would have been completely alien 5 years ago. In some ways, it’s also a testament to the start of a new era in society. The age of social media, of  interconnections of people that transcend physical boundaries. Networked social consciousness and opinions. Even if you don’t take the political power of social media seriously, you can rest assured that governments are.
The applicant securing this job would be in charge of something called “persona management software.” Such a technology allows single individuals to command virtual armies of fake, digital “people” across numerous social media portals. Known as “Sock Puppets”, they’re virtual creations that appear online as actual people in the social media world including background information that completes the picture.
A single person may be able to manipulate these personalities, whether it is 50 or a 100 different personae, and view the interaction in real time. Creating or skewing information, developing alliances or destroying credibility. A new battlefront in the war of world opinion, shaping the hearts and minds of the unsuspecting.
Several operations are in process as this post is being written. One particular past operation was designed to influence opinion in the Iraq and Afghanistan war, with 200 million dollars allocated to CENTCOM for something called “Operation Earnest Voice.”
In testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March last year, General David H Petraeus stated….
“OEV is the critical program of record that resources our efforts to synchronize our information operations activities, to counter extremist ideology and propaganda, and to ensure that credible voices in the region are heard.  OEV provides CENTCOM with direct communication capabilities to reach regional audiences through traditional media as well as via websites and regional public affairs blogging. In each of these efforts, we follow the admonition we practiced in Iraq, that of trying to be “first with the truth.”
Social media is indeed rapidly shaping up to be one of the forefronts of political activity. One just has to look at the role of Tweeting, Facebook, and other social media in some of the revolutions that have occurred in the Middle East, and in particular, Egypt.
The recent incident between HBGary Federal and ANONYMOUS revealed some information about using social media and forming a “corporate information reconnaissance cell” with discussions of tactics such as creating online personas to infiltrate activist Web sites and planting false information to embarrass U.S. Chamber Watch and other groups.
In addition, the security firms would use powerful computer software for trolling and to access personal information. There is no doubt that social information is being mined for patterns and actively steered in directions unknown to the unsuspecting user.
For example, in about 30 minutes I was able to find a database of personal information of approximately 100 million Facebook users that I could download and use.
If information is power, then Social Media is immense power… networked.
Other countries as well are getting into the act of trolling and sock puppets to influence public opinion. Israel has announced that it is setting up a network of bloggers to combat websites deemed “problematic” and trying to change opinions on issues such as the Palestinian occupation and its Middle East policies.
As reported by Haaretz Daily, the Israeli Immigrant Absorption Ministry, Erez Halfon, announced they were setting up an “army of bloggers,” to be made up of Israelis who speak a second language, to represent Israel in “anti-Zionist blogs” in English, French, Spanish and German.
With all this influence and deception running parallel with the growth of social media, one might be wary of whom they’re commenting with and sending messages back and forth to.
They may just be talking to one of the new “ghosts in the machine”, created especially for your group in hopes of influencing your opinions on everything from the wars in the Middle East to the Koch Brothers. That annoying troll on your Facebook thread might actually be a government-sponsored propaganda tool.
Oh…. these are dark days indeed. If you can’t trust your computer,  just whom can you trust?

Reposted from: Social Media Influence — Sock Puppets and Government Trolls