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Anyone suspicious of “sock puppets,” those online commenters pretending to be someone they’re not, would be unnerved by the U.S. military’s “online persona management service,” a little-known program described in the Guardian U.K., Raw Story and Computerworld stories unearthed and highlighted by Project Censored.
The U.S. Central Command (Centcom) secured a contract with a Los Angeles-based tech company to develop the program, which enables U.S. service workers to use fake online personas on social media sites to influence online chatter. Using up to 10 false identities, they can counter charged political dialogue with pro-military propaganda. “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,” according to a Raw Story account.
A Centcom spokesperson told the Guardian that the program would only intervene in online conversations in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu or Pashto, and that it wouldn’t initially target Twitter or Facebook. However, critics likened this U.S. endeavor to manipulate social media to China’s attempts to control and restrict free speech on the Internet.