Social Media Influence – Sock Puppets and Government Trolls

Go ahead…. read the want ad below from a unspecified government agency. Does it sound like the job might be just a little off the beaten path, even for the government?

Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries. Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user’s situational awareness by displaying real-time local information. The daily rotation of the user s IP address prevents compromise during observation of likely or targeted web sites or services, while hiding the existence of the operation.

The job described above is something that would have been completely alien 5 years ago. In some ways, it’s also a testament to the start of a new era in society. The age of social media, of  interconnections of people that transcend physical boundaries. Networked social consciousness and opinions. Even if you don’t take the political power of social media seriously, you can rest assured that governments are.

The applicant securing this job would be in charge of something called “persona management software.” Such a technology allows single individuals to command virtual armies of fake, digital “people” across numerous social media portals. Known as “Sock Puppets”, they’re virtual creations that appear online as actual people in the social media world including background information that completes the picture.

A single person may be able to manipulate these personalities, whether it is 50 or a 100 different personae, and view the interaction in real time. Creating or skewing information, developing alliances or destroying credibility. A new battlefront in the war of world opinion, shaping the hearts and minds of the unsuspecting.

Several operations are in process as this post is being written. One particular past operation was designed to influence opinion in the Iraq and Afghanistan war, with 200 million dollars allocated to CENTCOM for something called “Operation Earnest Voice.”

In testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March last year, General David H Petraeus stated….

“OEV is the critical program of record that resources our efforts to synchronize our information operations activities, to counter extremist ideology and propaganda, and to ensure that credible voices in the region are heard.  OEV provides CENTCOM with direct communication capabilities to reach regional audiences through traditional media as well as via websites and regional public affairs blogging. In each of these efforts, we follow the admonition we practiced in Iraq, that of trying to be “first with the truth.”

Social media is indeed rapidly shaping up to be one of the forefronts of political activity. One just has to look at the role of Tweeting, Facebook, and other social media in some of the revolutions that have occurred in the Middle East, and in particular, Egypt.

The recent incident between HBGary Federal and ANONYMOUS revealed some information about using social media and forming a “corporate information reconnaissance cell” with discussions of tactics such as creating online personas to infiltrate activist Web sites and planting false information to embarrass U.S. Chamber Watch and other groups.

In addition, the security firms would use powerful computer software for trolling and to access personal information. There is no doubt that social information is being mined for patterns and actively steered in directions unknown to the unsuspecting user.

For example, in about 30 minutes I was able to find a database of personal information of approximately 100 million Facebook users that I could download and use.

FaceBook information 2.7 gigabyte Database

If information is power, then Social Media is immense power… networked.

Other countries as well are getting into the act of trolling and sock puppets to influence public opinion. Israel has announced that it is setting up a network of bloggers to combat websites deemed “problematic” and trying to change opinions on issues such as the Palestinian occupation and its Middle East policies.

As reported by Haaretz Daily, the Israeli Immigrant Absorption Ministry, Erez Halfon, announced they were setting up an “army of bloggers,” to be made up of Israelis who speak a second language, to represent Israel in “anti-Zionist blogs” in English, French, Spanish and German.

With all this influence and deception running parallel with the growth of social media, one might be wary of whom they’re commenting with and sending messages back and forth to.

They may just be talking to one of the new “ghosts in the machine”, created especially for your group in hopes of influencing your opinions on everything from the wars in the Middle East to the Koch Brothers. That annoying troll on your Facebook thread might actually be a government-sponsored propaganda tool.

Oh…. these are dark days indeed. If you can’t trust your computer,  just whom can you trust?

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About Krell

I used to have superpowers… but a therapist took them away.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Politics, Science and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Social Media Influence – Sock Puppets and Government Trolls

  1. Norman says:

    Krell, interesting post. If we follow standard operating procedures, we may end up talking to the ghosts. If on the other hand, we become aware of the various ways of the weird, then perhaps we will avoid the pitfalls. I believe that the powers to be, consider an educated mind to be a dangerous mind. So, if one has any good level of smarts, then they won’t be taken in by the B.S. I say this because after a while, the different methods surface, but unless one looks, they are mostly overlooked. That might seem to be an oxymoron, but, there seem to be more morons that inhibit the blogosphere than those that know what the subject is all about. The more they[powers to be] have to spell it out, the easier it is to avoid if you’re one who doesn’t drink the koolaid. Of course, it helps to being addicted to “hi-fructose corn syrup, or corn sweetener as they call it now”, but I think you get where I’m coming from. Norman

  2. Gwendolyn H. Barry says:

    To expand a minute on Norman… and consider that it’s this social networking community within that is creating the major amount of honest news now. And add that we might just learn to use the very same strategies towards an honest, People empowering end. And! the gals over on one of the FB liberal pages’ has been using these ‘tools’ against the corporate wingnut pages very successfully…. but keeping it ‘down low’ is vital for it’s success. I call that a whole new flavor of koolaid.
    It’s a great post Krell. Timely, necessary info… and that’s the thing… if you have the mind to wrap around it, information is the real currency right now.

  3. Krell says:

    Norman and Gwen… you are both making some great comments and already has gotten me thinking on different angles on this. Not drinking the kool-aid…. having that skeptical eye and making up your OWN mind… this needs to be lessons learned for the ones that don’t already have that survival skill.

    Recognizing the techniques of trolling and sock puppeteering.. (is there such a word).. is going to be the key to utilizing this new tool, this new opportunity. And opportunity it is! A brief moment of opportunity where communication is not entirely controlled, voices can be heard, and like minded groups can form with ideas!

  4. Norman says:

    Gwendolyn, you are so right in you thinking. That’s what’s nice with having a good blog, one where we agree, as well as both male & female contributors, keeping a balance so to speak. I won’t go any further, less I start making a fool of myself. Norman

  5. osori says:

    I’d read of this phenomenon but had no idea of the extent of it. As Norman points out though, an informed person won’t get taken in by it. So I guess information is the only weapon at our disposal.

  6. scaredstiff says:

    Disturbing! So much time and resources being set up to tell you what your thinking.
    I thought that’s why we had the Koch brothers.
    Nice catch Krell! I’ll be thinking about this for days to come.

    • Krell says:

      It’s indeed a scary thought that the government is so interested in your thoughts and opinions. Not so much being responsive to the people but more so trying to shape what that opinion is.

      Big Brother is alive and kicking in 2011!!

  7. This is such a great post and I had no idea our govt was doing this type of fuckery on such a grand scale.

  8. jackjodell53 says:

    Krell,
    Thank you for pointing out both the opportunities as well as the dangers inherent in all of this. While I have ;ong understood and respected the power of social media, I very VERY seldom am on Facebook and am NEVER on Twitter. I personally can’t stand the way that once you’ve logged in, you automatically receive dozens of very unwanted and ridiculous “friend” requests from people you don’t even know as well as from those you have nothing in common with. So my response has been to simply avoid both sites like the plague.

    Gwen tells me you and others post quite a bit of info on Facebook. I encourage that, as it is using that medium for information and to dispel falsehoods. I just choose to not take part in Facebook, that’s all. Undoubtedly sinister right wing forces are already plotting to diseminate their next virulent disinformation campaign on it. I’ll leave it to you, Gwen, Oso, and the rest to combat that garbage. Meanwhile, I’ll stick to email and blogposts…

    • Krell says:

      I think the dangers are only to those who are unaware of their methods. I may be naive but I feel that I could assess the “realness” of a particular interaction in the virtual world. Famous last words, huh?

      As far as FB and other social media usage… we each have our methods and tools in our toolbox to get the job done.

      I would have to say that your “method”, Jack, is the excellent posts that you consistently put out. And I thank you for that.

      • dbc3912 says:

        Famous last words indeed ;). The fact is that assessing the ‘realness’ of a post is difficult, especially when they are being generated by real people. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it is questionable, and other times — well, you never have any doubt so have no idea it wasn’t real!

        Honestly, there is an even larger issues here — that we are exposed to so many differing and divergent viewpoints — and there are a particular type of real person who is more prone to shouting his or her opinion to the world. So we get the most common ‘loudmouth’ type opinion shouted at us most, and what effect does this have? It normalizes us all to having the same opinions, and exposes us to the most extreme opinions — which typically are those full of hate.

        The fact is that people’s opinion of us do affect our own self-worth. That makes the internet dangerous. You see the effects of this in cyber-bullying. While we could avoid those type people in the physical world, in this world we’re constantly exposed to these divergent opinions, stemming often from the most hateful of man, sometimes for nothing other than malice, or other times for purposes manipulation.

  9. Norman says:

    Interesting that this comment above by “dbc3912” arrived today in my in-box. I say this because “rountree 7” changed formats way back when, though has seen fit to censor me from the site. As I’m not into the habit of reading between the lines, I wont do so here.

    I well say this though, as we have all witnessed that Google + has denied those who do not post using their real names, (there do seem to be exceptions) as does F.B., it should be noted how it blends into Krells original post. As events have taken place since the original posting have shown, we live in uncertain times. It is incumbent on those that don’t drink the kool-aid to be vigilant of what they say as well as where they travel here on the web. The word “hate” that gets tossed around by certain people/sites, seems to come to the surface when either a post or event takes place, whether calculated or knee jerk in reaction, such as the recent Norway shooting/bombing. Knee jerk in the initial public pronouncements, calculated in the later ones.

    We live in very tense times today, Our liberties are being stripped away in the fog of war. Unless we look carefully at who is behind this, the country as we know it to exist today, “wont”! Food for thought.

    • dbc3912 says:

      @Norman: Not sure if you meant my post was interesting, or you found it suspicious in some way? I am no sock puppet, used my real email (which is my real name), and linked to my sole proprietorship in the URL… just to clear that up ;).

      I was just rambling, so take what I’ve said with a grain of salt. I mostly get frusted by all the trolling that goes on, and the influence it has on our own values and perceived self-worth. Of course, in some cases, people call any difference of opinion ‘trolling’ — as happened to me once.

      • dbc3912 says:

        @Norman: Not sure if you meant my post was interesting, or you found it suspicious in some way? I am no sock puppet, used my real email (which is my real name), and linked to my sole proprietorship in the URL… just to clear that up ;).

        I was just rambling, so take what I’ve said with a grain of salt. I mostly get frusted by all the trolling that goes on, and the influence it has on our own values and perceived self-worth. Of course, in some cases, people call any difference of opinion ‘trolling’ — as happened to me once.

        EDIT: Oh, and my experience with the darn sock puppets and troll comes from running a Forum. They are getting more and more sophisticated. Of course, I just get the SEO type people.

        • Norman says:

          dbc3912, had nothing to do with your comment. It has to do with the time lag of the original posting back in April and your posting today. Also, about roundtree 7. My apologies if you took it as a slant.

  10. dbc3912 says:

    I apologize for the duplicate post above, I had hit ‘reply’ again to see if I could edit the message and it appeared in the text-box, so I assumed this capability existed. I was wrong. @Norman: No problem, didn’t know what you meant. Sorry you got censored, that doesn’t sound right.

    Scarily enough, I saw a related post about this type of thing today:
    Title: Pentagon Seeks a Few Good Social Networkers
    Link: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/02/pentagon-seeks-social-networking-experts/?smid=tw-nytimesbits&seid=auto

    Now, in this article, you do have to read between the lines a *little* .. but it seems clear what this would entail. This is our Pentagon. Welcome to the future I guess. Of course, if you believe corporations haven’t been doing this for a long time now – well, you’ve been living in a cave. Fox News is evidence of that (nothing against their political views, but calling themselves ‘fair and balanced’ makes it all a lie).

    I wonder just how manipulated we already ARE ….

    • Norman says:

      Consider this: “An educated mind, is a dangerous mind”, as far as the Government &/or the manipulators are concerned. Yes, there are some things one has to read between the lines to get a better handle on, though for the most part, if you understand your subject, then it isn’t necessary, if at all. Today, we are quite along the way to being somewhere between 1984 Orwell and the fantasy “Terminator”. Though we are still considered free, our freedoms have been eroded in the name of terrorism. If you look carefully, you will find that since 9/11, the terrorists that have plied their craft in the U.S.A. have been home grown, not any foreign born brand. So, what does that tell you?

      • dbc3912 says:

        You are preaching to the choir, so to speak. I can’t say much more, as I must keep appearances of neutrality since I revealed my identity (like an idiot). I really must begin posting truly anonymously. The random alias was just to prevent people from searching to see every comment I’ve ever made, but I generally have a policy of at least authenticating myself when I comment to prove I’m no sock puppet (as I suspect there are A LOT of them around). Sadly, this prevents me from saying what I sometimes would like to elaborate on. However, in the end, when you get down to it, the sins of man (not to be religious) are responsible for everything. Greed in particular. Of course, capitalism encourages that – the greedier and the more ruthless, the richer people become – and they are celebrated for their exploitation of others. Macro or micro, the concept holds. From there, cynicism, as depressing as it is, becomes the most plausible truth.

      • dbc3912 says:

        Last comment: Military industrial complex. War. 1984. You know 😉

  11. Norman says:

    As is said, “A man has got to know his limitations” so be it, nice chatting with you. Keep in mind as you go forth, “that each new day, is the first day of the rest of your life”.

    • dbc3912 says:

      Indeed, couldn’t help myself but to reference the ‘war on terror’ .. as if terrorism is something so new that we have to declare a whole war against it. Gotta love it. TTYL.

  12. “That annoying troll on your Facebook thread might actually be a government-sponsored propaganda tool.”

    Or corporate tool. Corporate propaganda has been running deep and strong for over 100 years.

  13. Norman says:

    Goodness, this is still ongoing. I’m sure the others might feel as I do today, we haven’t changed, but the disinformation sure is running hot & heavy. Anyone think otherwise? Perhaps were all on the same list? Norman

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