(Editor's note: This is the second in a series of five Underreported Stories of 2011*)
By Josh Sternberg
Just when you thought it was safe to post that scurrilous update to your favorite social network. Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that the U.S military awarded a $2.76 million contract to Ntrepid, a California corporation, to develop software that will create fake personas (sock puppets) to try to influence dialogue among online denizens while propagating American propaganda (though after the Guardian’s article published, military officials told them these fake personas will not be on Twitter or Facebook).
The program has been described as an “online persona management service,” where a military official can operate up to 10 different identities from all around the globe, infiltrating all sorts of social networks.
As reported by The Guardian, according to Centcom (the division of the military that awarded this project) spokesperson Bill Speaks, “The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the U.S.”
Critics of this project, the Guardian points out, say that this project is like:
China's attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives.
Interestingly, five months later, The New York Times in an unrelated report which does not mention the Ntrepid contract or details of the ‘sock puppet’ project , says that the Pentagon is looking for a few good social media people:
The Pentagon is developing plans to use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter as both a resource and a weapon in future conflicts. Its research and development agency is offering $42 million in funding to anyone who can help.
Social media will change the nature of warfare just as surely as the telegraph, the radio and the telephone did, and the Pentagon is fearful of being caught short.
From the Washington Times:
Former CIA Director and retired Air ForceGen. Michael V. Hayden said in an interview that information operations like those at Centcom, using social media, are the cutting edge of U.S. military and intelligence activities that often require officials to rapidly determine how long-established rules and limits apply in the borderless world of the Internet.
I think a good word would be developmental,” Mr. Hayden said. “Operationally developmental, technologically developmental and legally developmental.”
Read more at: The Guardian
* Five Underreported Stories of 2011: This time of year, media outlets publish their year-in-review articles and lists, looking back on recent history and reflecting on the major events that shaped the past 365 days. In fact, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism conducted a study of the year’s top stories and the frequency of each reported story.
However, for a variety of reasons, there are always some stories that slip through the cracks and don’t get as much attention. This is our list, in no particular order, of five stories that went underreported in 2011.
Monday's story: Number of homeless children highest in American history
(Photo: Getty Images)