Irony on Steroids: Pentagon Assesses Social Media Psyops After Big Tech Removes Fake Propaganda Accounts

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There are tons of fake social media accounts, no matter what platform you use. Many fake accounts are set up as bots to spam adversaries, hackers trying to trick older and humble users into revealing personal information to steal from them, and state-backed hackers trying to gather disinformation.

You might not have guessed that the US military is apparently – allegedly – getting into the fake social media account, albeit badly. This probably isn’t all that surprising to those who have served since the social media boom or bourgeois libertarians.

In perhaps the ultimate twist of irony, Twitter and Facebook – Big Tech – had recently taken down fake propaganda accounts, possibly operated by, by or for the Pentagon, and this has thrown the military and the White House into the fray.

And I have some questions. Like the military trying to ambush our foreign adversaries, or worse… American citizens?

the question

Defense Secretary for Policy Colin Kahl has ordered military commandos participating in psychological operations online to provide a thorough report of all activities related to the operations by next month.

To be a little more specific, what Mr. Kahl is looking for is what types of operations we operate in, who we target with these operations, and what tools we use.

The catalyst for this review comes from a report by Graphika about fake social media accounts. The report states, among other things:

“Our joint investigation found an interconnected web of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and five other social media platforms that used deceptive tactics to promote pro-Western stories in the Middle East and Central Asia.”

No doubt readers will probably also have the same question about all those accounts with Ukrainian flags.

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The report said this activity lasted for five years and did not openly say that these fake accounts came from the US military. Graphika also reported that in the past two to three years, Twitter and Facebook have removed about 150 fake personas or accounts created in the United States.

So if the report doesn’t specifically say these accounts are from the US military, then why the review?

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Nothing new

The truth is that the US military has been tinkering with military psyops cheats for a long time, and the advent of social media created a new frontier to test these possibilities. For example, in 2011, The Guardian reported:

“The US military is developing software that would allow it to secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-US propaganda.”

Later in 2019, Congress passed Section 1631, which allowed the military to conduct covert psychological operations, provided they did not interfere with the CIA’s clandestine operability. Seems innocent enough, right?

A defense official was quoted as saying when section 1631 was passed:

“Combat commanders got very excited…The defense contractors were equally eager to land lucrative secret contracts to enable clandestine influence operations.”

Yes, I bet they were excited. But unfortunately, the military did not invest in training the military leaders to oversee these kinds of new operations.

A previous assessment of these social media activities found that fake military accounts were relaying false information. However, it was decided that this was due to insufficient contractor supervision and staff training versus the deliberate spreading of false information. I suppose that’s something.

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Laundering information

The recent social media activity in question for this Pentagon review brings up several interesting posting activity. Some posts from fake accounts involved attempts to promote an anti-Russian story directly related to the war in Ukraine.

Accounts created with fictitious personas, most notably by the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), have also been removed by Facebook to counter “Chinese disinformation” about the origins of COVID. Others also contain posts promoting anti-extremism.

However, the posts that could put the defense ministry in hot water revolve around a fake account that tweets false information claiming that relatives of deceased Afghan refugees returned from Iran with missing organs. Essentially, the tweet is taken from Iran’s organ harvesting of Afghan refugees.

According to a survey conducted in 2020:

“…the government shares classified information with certain technology companies with the intent that the companies use the information to make attributions that the government wants them to make, but doesn’t want to make themselves.”

Here comes the best and scariest part:

“The companies are actually ‘laundering’ the information for the government, presumably because the public sees the companies as more neutral and objective than the Executive.”

That’s some Big Brother stuff there; Good thing I don’t believe anything I read on the internet. Unless I wrote it of course.

Should we or shouldn’t we?

Pentagon spokesman General Patrick Ryder said of the military’s role in the information sphere:

“military information operations support our national security priorities.”

No doubt he is right. As another senior defense official points out:

“Our opponents absolutely operate in the information domain. There are some who think we shouldn’t do anything clandestine in that space. Giving up an entire domain to an opponent would be unwise. But we need stronger crash barriers.”

I believe in a strong army; we must be deadly in every domain. However, I am not fond of the military conducting psychological operations using fake social media accounts.

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Who’s to say they’re not just pushing a political narrative and targeting the American taxpayer? Luckily, apparently they aren’t very good at it after all.

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cat pictures

According to the report, the “vast majority” of messages from the fake accounts had “no more than a handful of messages and retweets”. It sounds like my Twitter account; maybe i’m a fake military account…

As we went along, the pro-US accounts that could be from the US military tried to appear as if they were real. They used the clever tactic of posting cat photos to give their accounts a touch of authenticity.

Who doesn’t love a great cat photo? Although I’m now starting to suspect that half of my Facebook “friends” are fake military accounts aimed at infiltrating my news feed and gaining my trust with their insatiable cat photos.

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