Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wanted: professional sock puppets

Speaking of social media: Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain's Revealed: US Spy Operation That Manipulates Social Media appears in today's Guardian. Here's the deal:
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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been knowing troll folks for over a decade now. I found that spotting inconsistent personas (sock puppets) is really not that difficult. And people with agendas have been doing search and crash posts for quite some time, too. Most of the people I know on line, whether they're anonymous or not, tend to stick fairly closely to their friends, especially on Facebook, except for people trying to use social media for promotional purposes.

Props to the company that scammed the military into this, though. It reminds me of the company that sells universities real estate on Second Life without telling them that Second Life is not all that educational unless you're interested in looking at pick-up patterns.