A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with the US Central Command (Centcom) to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities at once.
The contract stipulates each persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 controllers must be able to operate false identities from their workstations "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries".
The project has been likened by web experts to China's attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet.
Centcom's contract requires the provision of one "virtual private server" in the United States and eight appearing to be outside the US to give the impression the fake personas are real people located in different parts of the world. It calls for "traffic mixing", blending the persona controllers' internet usage with the usage of people outside Centcom in a manner that must offer "excellent cover and powerful deniability".
Once developed the software could allow US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with a host of co-ordinated blogposts, tweets, retweets, chatroom posts and other interventions. Details of the contract suggest this location would be MacDill air force base near Tampa, Florida, home of US Special Operations Command.
Will sock puppeteering replace phone sales as the new job for the desperate? A science fiction writer would like to know.
At any rate, please do read this piece and then Phoebe Connolly's How Social Media Is Science Fiction. I'd be very interested to hear what you'all think.