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One use that's confirmed, however, is the manipulation of social media through the use of fake online "personas" managed by the military. Raw Story recently reported that the US Air Force had solicited private sector vendors for something called "persona management software." Such a technology would allow single individuals to command virtual armies of fake, digital "people" across numerous social media portals.
These "personas" were to have detailed, fictionalized backgrounds, to make them believable to outside observers, and a sophisticated identity protection service was to back them up, preventing suspicious readers from uncovering the real person behind the account. They even worked out ways to game geolocating services, so these "personas" could be virtually inserted anywhere in the world, providing ostensibly live commentary on real events, even while the operator was not really present.
A fake virtual army of people could be used to help create the impression of consensus opinion in online comment threads, or manipulate social media to the point where valuable stories are suppressed.
Ultimately, this can have the effect of causing a net change to the public's opinions and understanding of key world events.
The US military awarded a contract for software to create 500 fake personas on social networks in order to secretly influence online debate in its favour, it has been reported. By Christopher Williams, Technology Correspondent 4:54PM GMT 17 Mar 2011 The $2.76m contract was won by Ntrepid, a Californian firm, and called for an "online persona management service" that would enable 50 military spies to manage 10 fake identities each. The personas should be "replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent", a US Central Command (Centcom) tender document said. It added: "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 project would be based at MacDill Air Force base in Florida, The Guardian reported. The contract was first revealed by The Raw Story, a US news website.