The United States Military can now add Facebook trolling to its growing list of endeavors. As ridiculous as that sounds, according to an exclusive at The Guardian, that's exactly what is going on.
They report that United States Central Command (CENTCOM) has contracted a newly created California company, Ntrepid, to develop software referred to as an "online persona management service." The contract will add $2.76 million to military spending, which of course is paid for by John Q. Taxpayer. The program would allow military personnel to control up to 10 separate (fake) online identities per person. The purpose of these "sock puppets" would be to sway internet posts and discussions in favor of pro-American sentiments.
What, you say?
The contract states that each fake persona must have a convincing background and detailed history so as not to tip anyone off that it is fake. The contract also sets the number of possible US-based controllers of the identities at 50. Doing the math, that is 500 fake identities that could do anything from comment on Facebook posts and blogs to Tweeting and so much more.
The Guardian quotes CENTCOM spokesman Commander Bill Speaks as saying, "The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable CENTCOM to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US." That's right, foreign language sites. The program is said to only be available in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and Pashto. It is apparently not to be used to influence English speaking audiences.
The new program is part of a larger program known as Operation Earnest Voice (OEV). The Guardian reports General James Mattis talking about the aim of OEV:
"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."
Exactly how scary is this? Do you think corporations and marketers could try to duplicate this model in the future? Could this actually work in turning some anti-American sentiments the other way?
Let us know what you think.