Sunday, December 17, 2017

The troll wars

Much has been made of the Russian troll threat using social media an fake news to skew election campaigns. No doubt they exist because we in the UK possess similar armies of troll. In fact, the British Army has a special brigade dedicated to the internet wars. The 77th Brigade,  based in Hermitage, near Newbury, in Berkshire, will be about 1,500-strong and formed of units drawn from across the army.

The 77th will include regulars and reservists and recruitment will begin in the spring. Soldiers with journalism skills and familiarity with social media are among those being sought. Against a background of 24-hour news, smartphones and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, the force will attempt to control the narrative.

The Israel Defence Forces have pioneered state military engagement with social media, with dedicated teams operating since its war in Gaza in 2008-9. The IDF is active on 30 platforms – including Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Instagram – in six languages. Public image is also a paramount concern to Israeli officials. The prime minister's office oversees a national initiative for "hasbara" — a Hebrew term that officials translate as public diplomacy and critics call propaganda.  Israel also hired university students to post pro-Israel messages on social media networks — without needing to identify themselves as government-linked.

 In China, members of the so-called "fifty cent army" sprinkle positive, pro-government messages across the web and social media.

Of course, the USA, skilled in the dark arts of psy-ops and media manipulation, use many tactics on the web to present its propaganda spin on events.

86 percent of Freedom House’s budget comes from the US government, primarily the State Department and USAID—uses social media to stir unrest and undermine governments worldwide.   USAID itself secretly creating an entire social media platform to “stir unrest” in Cuba. 

The Defense Department has a $100 million program Operation Earnest Voice software that “creates fake online identities to spread pro-American propaganda.” The US Department of Defense admitted in 2011 that it runs fake social media accounts in Farsi; the vast majority of Farsi speakers live in Iran.

The US Air Force’s 2010 solicitation of “persona management” software designed to create hundreds of sock puppets, “replete with background, history, supporting details and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent.”

While US State Department newly created a $160 million Global Engagement Center, targeting English-language audiences with unattributed Facebook videos.


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