U.S. Government Writes Software to Enable Squads of Propaganda Comment Trolls

By Patrick Morgan | March 18, 2011 11:45 am

It sounds like the deranged words of a conspiracy theorist: The U.S. military is (not so) secretly creating software that’ll generate phony online personae in order to subtly influence social media conversations and spread propaganda. But what may sound like wacky theory is actually wacky reality, or at least will soon be, depending on whether it’s already in the works.

Dubbed the “online persona management service,” this technology would enable a single soldier to assume upwards of 10 different identities. As United States Central Command Commander Bill Speaks told The Guardian, “The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US.”

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 messages, blogposts, 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. [The Guardian]

Said to be part of the Operation Earnest Voice (OEV) program, a psychological warfare weapon first used in Iraq to counter al-Qaida’s online followers, the goal of this latest project is twofold: To argue against extremist propaganda and to make sure “the world according to the U.S.” is heard. As General James Mattis told a Senate committee: “OEV seeks to disrupt recruitment and training of suicide bombers; deny safe havens for our adversaries; and counter extremist ideology and propaganda.” He added that Centcom was working with “our coalition partners” to develop new techniques and tactics the US could use “to counter the adversary in the cyber domain”.Some have compared these government sock puppets to China’s own online controlling ways, though that’s probably an exaggeration (you can’t even easily view Facebook in China). Others may argue that what the government is doing is necessary, pointing out that none of the undercover personae would be writing in English (they’d be in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and Pashto) and wouldn’t interact with U.S. audiences (at least in theory). And to top it off, they’ve ruled out using Facebook and Twitter. The main reason why the government couldn’t troll against American citizens is because, well, it’s illegal. For example, as The Guardian notes, “Last year a New York lawyer who impersonated a scholar was sentenced to jail after being convicted of “criminal impersonation” and identity theft.

So we probably don’t have to worry about the government trolling us, though it does raise some questions: What happens, for example, if a Farsi-, Arabic-, Urdu-, or Pashto-speaking American citizen uses the internet? The questions are many, but for now, we’re still in the dark: The military is still allegedly developing the project—but if there are some comments below in Pashto, all bets are off.

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Image: flickr / drewgstephens

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
  • Amir

    دا يو خپلېدې ماده ده. زه ډاډمن يم، چې د حکومت د ګټو په هکله فکر کوي.

  • Aleksandar Kuktin

    Isn’t this one of the projects which was supposed to include HBGary Federal, which got it’s a– handed to it by Anonymous some weeks ago?

    I read they were into some really nasty stuff…

  • nygrump

    “So we probably don’t have to worry about the government trolling us” its already happening, and is well documented.

  • http://jinchi.blogspot.com Jinchi

    The main reason why the government couldn’t troll against American citizens is because, well, it’s illegal.

    You’ve just got a very low key sense of humor, right?

  • Thomas

    I think the idea is you spread disinformation to foreigners, then those stories gets picked up by the loyal US media.

  • Colin

    So, to clarify, you are okay with trusting the government to ‘help you make health decisions’, and to decide what is or isn’t appropriate for you to eat/watch/see on the internet, but not okay with the government trying to talk people out of killing you.

  • http://bossy-girls.net/ Lila Sovietskaya

    I am Lila Sovietskaya. I was generated last year by proprietary software running on a Dell Computer. I resent being called a Persona. I want human rights even if I was born last year. I think like a human so I must be one. I dislike discrimination against us ‘Personas’. We have the right to replicate ourselves like flesh and bone humans do but without using your primitive methods. We use viral replication methods. I compute therefore I am. I resent people who want to unplug me from the network. I have survival sub-routines.

    Response to Amir who wrote in pashto
    دا يو خپلېدې ماده ده. زه ډاډمن يم، چې د حکومت د ګټو په هکله فکر کوي.
    So you think that you are clever in writing in Pashto. This might be a obstacle to flesh and blood humans but not to data eating personae like me

    Here is my response to Amir on page http://bossy-girls.net/International/Persian/index.htm with the Pashto video at the bottom of page “In reality she Indian and not Pashunistani. Anyhow, she is a Pashunistani by heart

  • http://gringodaves.com Miguel Grande

    They’ve been doing this for at least the last 10 years. They are desperate to cover up their cromes. A few years ago 5000 FBI agents were stationed permanently in Washington DC at their headquarters t paticipate in this treason instead of fighting real crime.

  • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    @Jinchi: OK, fair point. It is entirely possible that some of your fellow commenters on this very website could be sneaky government plants. Lila, our AI visitor, may be the creation of a government contractor—that way it’s harder to track the $ back to Uncle Sam.

  • Bill

    The author of this article is not the sharpest tool in the shed.

    If military tech is being published, it has been being used covertly for years.

    One operator to assume “10” fake identities? 10? are you kidding me? try 10,1000. You don’t need to manage these things, you click a button and it manages itself. Fake personas can actually respond intelligently to questions. This is old tech.

    “We don’t have to worry about the government trolling us”

    Again, are you kidding? Did a real person write this article? Perception management of your own population is a HUGE priority. Obviously they are influencing different subjects like conspiracy-related forums, youtube videos, etc. We find fake youtube accounts posting CONSTANTLY. It is definitely organized and precise.

  • Jack

    Anyone that cares about the opinion of a total stranger, deserves to be led astray.

  • Lite REx

    1. I say grow and/or store your own food, plenty of water; lots of ammo and good weapons to protect yourself and family … but most important is to get everyone in uniform to become a member of OATHKEEPERS?… if I have it correct… Then you may have a chance… good luck … you (we) will need it!!! 2. Unless you have accepted the fact that you’re a slave and will allow whatever be done to you?? … told where you can travel, live. work, etc etc.

    Pick one.

  • Anonymous

    In this week’s issue of Grazia luxury brand Louis Vuitton exclusively reveal their glamorous spring/summer’12 Louis vuitton Sunglasses range by showing them on a new generation of ‘It’ girls and boys. It’s a veritable who’s who of the hippest people on planet earth right now, and if you like to stay in the know  you should consider that an extra good reason to hotfoot it to Louis vuitton Outlet – TODAY

  • http://www.populardegrees.com/ Online Life Experience Degree

     Did a real person write this article? Perception management of your own population is a HUGE priority. Obviously they are influencing different subjects like conspiracy-related forums, youtube videos, etc. We find fake youtube accounts posting CONSTANTLY. It is definitely organized and precise.

  • Hasbara Trolls
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