Psyops: the Militarisation of Social Media

Posted: September 18, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

This entry is a back-up copy of my Facebook post that I originally made on 17.09.2015. For better user experience, please read, like and/or comment the original post on FB.

You have to be extremely wary of political YouTube comments and Twitter replies these days, as these things have been militarised to create an illusion of public consensus on certain issues, by using fake accounts and outright automated bots. They haven’t figured out how to do it automatically on FB yet (although there are troll armies made up of real people, either paid or honestly obsessed, who are well coordinated; too good FB provides decent moderation tools to fight this plague).

RT (Russian Today)​ had its YouTube comment section flooded with russophobic trolls at the beginning of last year (you could tell that it was unnatural because the campaign began suddenly, as a wave, following statements in regards to counteracting “Russian propaganda” made by the US State Department spokespeople). Nowadays, you can also see these hordes on Twitter, flooding topics such as the Ukrainian Crisis and the MH17 tragedy (I’m sure similar methods are used for other issues, such as the Syrian Civil War, although I haven’t been engaged in those discussions anywhere other than FB to notice anything strange).

Just a few of articles on the topic:

How the military uses Twitter sock puppets to control debate (by J. M. Porup)
“The researchers studied Twitter manipulation during the August 2013 Australian federal election, and identified mass participation of sock puppets (fake accounts), meat puppets (“guns for hire”), bots (automated accounts), and cyborgs (bot-assisted humans or human-assisted bots).
Automated accounts, in particular, they discovered, are being used for retweeting messages to spread misinformation and disperse propaganda. These accounts “can be used to trend desired hashtags, and thus bump up a piece of misinformation to a wider consciousness.”
The frightening thing about Twitter sock puppetry, they conclude, “is not that it is just a nuisance, but that it is capable of swaying elections by appearing to be genuine groundswells of support.” This phenomenon they label “slacktivism” — when Twitter followers mistake astroturfed Twitter content for “genuine voices of political conviction.”
Worse, these fake accounts can be used not just to distort debate but to actively suppress dissent”
https://www.contributoria.com/issue/2014-03/52ceefe277e4f13f4300001d

The Real War on Reality (by Professor Peter Ludlow)
“The hack also revealed evidence that Team Themis was developing a “persona management” system — a program, developed at the specific request of the United States Air Force, that allowed one user to control multiple online identities (“sock puppets”) for commenting in social media spaces, thus giving the appearance of grass roots support. The contract was eventually awarded to another private intelligence firm.
This may sound like nothing so much as a “Matrix”-like fantasy, but it is distinctly real, and resembles in some ways the employment of “Psyops” (psychological operations), which as most students of recent American history know, have been part of the nation’s military strategy for decades. The military’s “Unconventional Warfare Training Manual” defines Psyops as “planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.” In other words, it is sometimes more effective to deceive a population into a false reality than it is to impose its will with force or conventional weapons. Of course this could also apply to one’s own population if you chose to view it as an “enemy” whose “motives, reasoning, and behavior” needed to be controlled.”
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/14/the-real-war-on-reality/?_r=1

Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media (by Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain; published way back in 2011)
“The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as “sock puppets” – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.
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 should be able to operate false identities from their workstations “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries”.
[…]
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.”
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/mar/17/us-spy-operation-social-networks

***

From my personal experience, I would say that the best way to go about professional sock-puppets is to simply ignore their comments and avoid engaging them. It’s more about psychological warfare. You waste your time and stamina arguing with these trolls, while you could be doing something else (e. g. doing research or talking to other people). That’s what they seem to be aiming for.
Besides, when you talk to them, you, by default, give them feedback, so they can learn about new arguments and design strategies to dodge them in the future discussions with other people. So, just ignoring them is the most optimal way to go.

Besides mentally exhausting their opponents, they also aim at creating the illusion of public consensus on the issue. That’s a really powerful thing. See, when people are not 100% sure about what to think, they look for others’ opinion (that’s what we have naturally evolved to do, as social beings), therefore, in cases of even a slightest ambiguity, others’ strong opinions can radically change your own perception of reality. It’s been all thoroughly researched by psychologists since the 1950s (see Asch’s Experiments, for instance):

So, yeah, people, be very wary of the political comments on YouTube and replies on Twitter. Nowadays, they can be hijacked by the government intelligence agencies to brainwash you.

(and it’s actually sad, because it minimises the opportunity to have a proper discussion on issues in public cyber-space, and it also, kind of, stigmatises the official US/Western viewpoint, in many cases, because there is no trust in it anymore… *sigh*)

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