Know your “friends”

Centcom Enters the World of Social Media

In a Guardian UK article found here, there’s some interesting info on the US military contracting to have “online persona management service” software developed to allow up to 500 (which means 500) fake online personas to be operated by military servicepeople. The concept here is that fake personas are created to troll social media sites  like Facebook, Twitter and blogs like this one in order to ‘counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US”.  Mind you, Centcom claims the focus will be on foreign language posts, specifically Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto, and that this technology will not be applied to English language conversations. I’m guessing this is because the REAL terrorists don’t tweet in English, right?

What I wonder is, how useful will these Centcom “sock puppet” personas be out there on the web? The article states:

” The contract stipulates each persona must have a convincing background,     history and supporting details, and that up to 50 controllers must be able to operate false identities from their workstations “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries”.”

This is all fine and dandy, provided the sophisticated adversaries really aren’t all that sophisticated. Most REAL people that have a strong internet presence including social media, blogs, etc. are very entrenched in the internet.  Heavy internet users spread their information across the web leaving trails all over the place. Unless you make a concerted effort to clean up your internet leavin’s you leave a lot of information floating out there (How’s that old Friendster profile of yours doin?) This can be a double-edged sword… A person with no internet presence cannot be “detected” but also cannot be vetted by other members of the online community. A person with a lot of information on the web, if this info is sifted through at length, is very exposed but can also be vetted. Does this all make sense…I’m a little out of practice with my blog postings!

My whole point here is that there is only so much “convincing background, history and supporting details” that can be created before Centcom’s contractors will be creating actual fake people. I’m not suggesting they will be doing this,  I’m simply suggesting that this sounds like they will be going to great lengths and spending shit-tons of money on what will ultimately be a failed project. Wait a second, I’m talking about the US Government here, OF COURSE this will happen!

Sock Puppet personas that can troll the internet looking to “respond to emerging online conversations with a host of co-ordinated blogposts, tweets, retweets, chatroom posts and other interventions.” will run up against the online community not taking them seriously. Its the internet, people. When a random Centcom faker starts intervening on your blog argument how seriously will you take him and of what use will this be to Centcom?  My guess is their first reported finding from this project will read something like this:

” Internet users were unable, or possibly uninterested or unwilling, to detect our false personas. Access was granted into many online conversations about a variety of topics including US and International affairs, financial markets, US foreign relations, the war in Afghanistan and Justin Beiber.

Military agents found some difficulty in obtaining Facebook friends as most members of the online community “didn’t remeber them from high school” Similar problems we discovered with obtaining Twitter followers as most false personas tweets were considered “mundane”, “stupid” or “really gay”.

After several months, many of the personas were found to be spending more time in chat rooms and discussions about Katy Perry’s boobs rather than investigating possible terror threats. While creating a convincing internet presence and usage mapping is important to this project, we did not expect having to invest so much time cleaning spyware and pornography off of the project’s servers.

The project has suffered significantly since most of the “alleged terrorists” in Afghanistan (our primary focus as suggested by the languages we outlined) lack both internet access as well as the ability to write their own language let alone type.”

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