US government seeks software to mass create fake social networking profiles

Take the increasing importance attached to social networking and its ability to influence the political world. Add in a tradition of wanting to influence the public and other governments. Turn down your ethics meter. Shake together and what do you get? This:

The US government is offering private intelligence companies contracts to create software to manage “fake people” on social media sites and create the illusion of consensus on controversial issues.

The contract calls for the development of “Persona Management Software” which would help the user create and manage a variety of distinct fake profiles online. The job listing was discussed in recently leaked emails from the private security firm HBGary after an attack by internet activist last week.

According to the contract, the software would “protect the identity of government agencies” by employing a number of false signals to convince users that the poster is in fact a real person. A single user could manage unique background information and status updates for up to 10 fake people from a single computer. (Examiner.com)

As David Betz on Kings of War (the Department of War Studies, King’s College London blog) commented,

It is irksome on two fronts, for me at any rate. One, I think that the ‘war of ideas’ really does matter, and that … we are more likely to win the day if we let ideas find their own level. We should be pushing the freedom of the networks, enabling people to say what they think not messing about with the content and playing tricky games…

Two, if you are going to actively manipulate opinion in this manner could you please do it covertly? … I mean if you’re preparing to do something which looks an awful lot like messing with public discourse in a way that is bound to put people’s backs up why put it out to public tender?

In many ways this contract is a logic extension of the numerous methods by which the US and other governments already seek to covertly influence public opinion. And it would certainly make a change from fake profiles promoting flat stomachs, larger appendages and Nigerian financial riches. Though if the security failure over the leaked emails is anything to go by, it may struggle to match them for effectiveness.

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13 Comments

  • David Allen 23rd Feb '11 - 2:15pm

    Facelessbook?

  • Well done Dan!
    I was going to write a post discussing this article but after reading your post I thought ‘what’s the point? as it’s already descended into mudslinging after the first post.

  • Disappointingly obnoxious 1st post.

    As to the article I have to say it is nothing more than expected really, there is software around that can do something similar already, as for why it would be needed by a government or government agency is another question altogether.

    Of course there is also software that can detect and safeguard against this type of attack.

  • Simon McGrath 23rd Feb '11 - 8:37pm

    Dan, excellent!

  • FYI Over at the Grauniad – George Monbiot reckons it is already in use by major corps on Cif and other debates.
    AGW and GM comments threads being stuffed by Energy and Bio companies.

  • Depressed Ex no 253 24th Feb '11 - 8:30am

    As if any real person is going to have a name like Falchitoff …

  • It’s not new as has been said before …

    After all we have our police force infiltrating and acting as agent provacteurs, as evidenced recently.

    Secret Police infiltrate anti-government protestors

    can just as easily refer to the UK as any Pariah state these days.

  • Tony Dawson 24th Feb '11 - 6:44pm

    F Izvestyu nyet Pravdu. F Pravdu Nyt Izvestyu.

    I did not realize that Barak O had his own version of Comintern.

    🙁

  • David Evans 24th Feb '11 - 7:23pm

    Tony,

    Don’t forget that there is a world of difference between Barak O and the US government – Guantanamo etc etc.

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