Episode 332 – The Weaponization of Social Media

03/02/201817 Comments

Now openly admitted, governments and militaries around the world employ armies of keyboard warriors to spread propaganda and disrupt their online opposition. Their goal? To shape public discourse around global events in a way favourable to their standing military and geopolitical objectives. Their method? The Weaponization of Social Media. This is The Corbett Report.

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TRANSCRIPT

It didn’t take long from the birth of the world wide web for the public to start using this new medium to transmit, collect and analyze information in ways never before imagined. The first message boards and clunky “Web 1.0” websites soon gave way to “the blogosphere.” The arrival of social media was the next step in this evolution, allowing for the formation of communities of interest to share information in real time about events happening anywhere on the globe.

But as quickly as communities began to form around these new platforms, governments and militaries were even quicker in recognizing the potential to use this new medium to more effectively spread their own propaganda.

Their goal? To shape public discourse around global events in a way favourable to their standing military and geopolitical objectives.

Their method? The Weaponization of Social Media.

This is The Corbett Report.

Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Snapchat. Instagram. Reddit. “Social media” as we know it today barely existed fifteen years ago. Although it provides new ways to interact with people and information from all across the planet virtually instantaneously and virtually for free, we are only now beginning to understand the depths of the problems associated with these new platforms. More and more of the original developers of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter admit they no longer use social media themselves and actively keep it away from their children, and now they are finally admitting the reason why: social media was designed specifically to take advantage of your psychological weaknesses and keep you addicted to your screen.

SEAN PARKER: If the thought process that went into building these applications—Facebook being the first of them to really understand it—that thought process was all about “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever, and that’s gonna get you to contribute more content and that’s gonna get you more likes and comments. So it’s a social validation feedback loop. I mean it’s exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. And I think that we—the inventors/creators, you know, it’s me, it’s Mark, it’s Kevin Systrom at Instagram, it’s all of these people—understood this consciously and we did it anyway.

SOURCE: Sean Parker – Facebook Exploits Human Vulnerability

It should be no surprise, then, that in this world of social media addicts and smartphone zombies, the 24/7 newsfeed is taking up a greater and greater share of people’s lives. Our thoughts, our opinions, our knowledge of the world, even our mood are increasingly being influenced or even determined by what we see being posted, tweeted or vlogged. And the process by which these media shape our opinions is being carefully monitored and analyzed, not by the social media companies themselves, but by the US military.

MARINA PORTNAYA: When the world’s largest social media platform betrays its users, there’s going to be outrage.

ABC HOST: The study to see whether Facebook could influence the emotional state of its users on that news feed.

CNN ANCHOR: It allowed researchers to manipulate almost 700,000 users’ news feeds. Some saw more positive news about their friends, others saw more negative.

CNN GUEST: Well I’m not surprised. I mean we’re all kind of lab rat than the big Facebook experiment.

PORTNAYA: But it wasn’t only Facebook’s experiment. It turns out the psychological study was connected to the US government’s research on social unrest.

MORNING JOE GUEST: This is really kind of creepy.

PORTNAYA: And it gets worse. What you may not know is that the US Department of Defense has reportedly spent roughly $20 million conducting studies aimed at learning how to manipulate online behavior in order to influence opinion. The initiative was launched in 2011 by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, otherwise known as DARPA. The program is best described as the US media’s effort to become better at detecting and conducting propaganda campaigns via social media. Translation: When anti-government messages gain ground virally, Washington wants to find a way to spread counter opinion.

SOURCE: US military harnesses social media to manipulate online behaviour

The DARPA document that details the Pentagon’s plans for influencing opinions in the social media space is called “Social Media in Strategic Communication.” DARPA’s goal, according to their own website, is “to develop tools to help identify misinformation or deception campaigns and counter them with truthful information.”

Exactly what tools were developed for this purpose and how they are currently being deployed is unclear. But Rand Walzman, the program’s creator, admitted last year that the project lasted four years, cost $50 million and led to the publication of over 200 papers. The papers, including “Incorporating Human Cognitive Biases in a Probabilistic Model of Retweeting,” “Structural Properties of Ego Networks,” and “Sentiment Prediction using Collaborative Filtering,” make the thrust of the program perfectly clear. Social media users are lab rats being carefully scrutinized by government-supported researchers, their tweets and Facebook posts and Instagram pictures being analyzed to determine how information spreads online, and, by implication, how the government and the military can use these social media networks to make their own propaganda “go viral.”

As worrying as this research is, it pales in comparison to the knowledge that governments, militaries and political lobby groups are already employing squadrons of foot soldiers to wage information warfare in the social media battlespace.

AL-JAZEERA ANCHOR: The Pentagon’s got a new plan to counter anti-American messages in cyberspace. It involves buying software that will enable the American military to create and control fake online personas—fake people, essentially—who will appear to have originated from all over the world. The plan is being undertaken by CENTCOM (US Central Command), and the objective of the online persona management service is to combat enemy propaganda by influencing foreign social media websites. CENTCOM has hired a software development company called “Ntrepid,” and, according to the contract, the California-based company will initially provide 50 user licenses, each of which would be capable of controlling up to 10 fake personas. US law forbids the use of this type of technology, called “sockpuppets,” against Americans, so all the personas will reportedly be communicating in languages like Arabic, Persian and Urdu.

SOURCE: Persona Online Management, Fake Online Personas, Sock Puppets, Astroturfing Bots, Shills

CTV ANCHOR: So is it okay to have the government monitor social media conversations and then to wade in and correct some of those conversations? With more on this, let’s go to technology expert Carmi Levy. He’s on the line from Montreal. Carmi, do you think the government’s monitoring what you and I are saying right now? Is this whole thing getting out of line, or what?

[…]

CARMI LEVY: It opens up a bit of a question. I’d like to call it a Pandora’s box about, you know, what exactly is the government’s aim here, and what do they hope to accomplish with what they find out? And as they accumulate this information online—this data on us—where does that data go? And so I think as much as we should applaud the government for getting into this area, the optics of it are potentially very Big Brother-ish. And the government really does need to be a little bit more concrete on what its intentions are and how it intends to achieve them.

SOURCE: CTV Confirms Government(s) employing Internet Trolls, Shills & PR Agents to ‘correct misinformation’ 

4WWL REPORTER: New evidence that government-owned computers at the Army Corps of Engineers office here in New Orleans are being used to verbally attack critics of the Corps comes in an affidavit from the former editor-in-chief of nola.com. Jon Donley, who was laid off this past February, tells us via satellite from Texas, in late 2006 he started noticing people presenting themselves as ordinary citizens defending the Corps very energetically.

JON DONLEY: What stuck out, though, was the wording of the comments was in many ways mirroring news releases from the Corps of Engineers.

[…]

SANDY ROSENTHAL: These commenters tried to discredit these people . . .

4WWL REPORTER: And when Rosenthal investigated, she discovered the comments were coming from users at the internet provider address of the Army Corps of Engineers offices here in New Orleans. She blamed the Corps for a strategy of going after critics.

 ROSENTHAL: In the process of trying to obscure the facts of the New Orleans floodings, one of their tactics was just verbal abuse.

SOURCE: Government Sock Puppets

NAFTALI BENNETT: Mo’etzet Yesha, in conjunction with My Israel, has arranged an instruction day for Wiki editors. The goal of the day is to teach people how to edit in Wikipedia, which is the number one source of information today in the world. As a way of example, if someone searches the Gaza flotilla, we want to be there. We want to be the guys who influence what is written there, how it’s written, and to ensure that it’s balanced and Zionist in the nature.

SOURCE: Course: Zionist Editing on Wikipedia

These operations are only the visible and publicly-admitted front of a vast array of military and intelligence programs that are attempting to influence online behaviour, spread government propaganda, and disrupt online communities that arise in opposition to their agenda.

That such programs exist is not a matter of conjecture; it is mundane, established, documented fact.

In 2014, an internal document was leaked from GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA. The document, never intended for public release, was entitled “The Art of Deception: Training for a New Generation of Online Covert Operations” and bluntly stated that “We want to build Cyber Magicians.” It then goes on to outline the “magic” techniques that must be employed in influence and information operations online, including deception and manipulation techniques like “anchoring,” “priming” and “branding” propaganda narratives. After presenting a map of social networking technologies that are targeted by these operations, the document then instructs the “magicians” how to deceive the public through “attention management” and behavioural manipulation.

That governments would turn to these strategies is hardly a shocking development. In fact, the use of government shills to propagate government talking points and disrupt online dissent has been openly advocated on the record by high-ranking government officials for the past decade.

In 2008, Cass Sunstein, a law professor who would go on to become Obama’s information “czar,” co-authored a paper entitled “Conspiracy Theories,” in which he wrote that the “best response” to online “conspiracy theories” is what he calls “cognitive infiltration” of groups spreading these ideas.

“Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action. In one variant, government agents would openly proclaim, or at least make no effort to conceal, their institutional affiliations. […] In another variant, government officials would participate anonymously or even with false identities.”

It is perhaps particularly ironic that the idea that government agents are actually and admittedly spreading propaganda online under false identities is, to the less-informed members of the population, itself a “conspiracy theory” rather than an established conspiracy fact.

Unsurprisingly, when confronted about his proposal, Sunstein pretended to not remember having written it and then pointedly refused to answer any questions about it.

LUKE RUDKOWSKI: My name is Bill de Burgh from Brooklyn College, and I know you’ve written many articles. But I think the most telling one about you is the 2008 one called “Conspiracy Theories,” where you openly advocated government agents infiltrate activist groups of 9/11 Truth and also stifle dissent online. I was wondering why do you think it’s the government’s job, or why do you think the government should go after family members who have questions and 9/11 responders who are lied to about the air, survivors whose testimony conflicts, and also government whistleblowers that were gagged because they released information that contradicts the official story.

CASS SUNSTEIN: I think it was Ricky who said I’d written hundreds of articles and I remember some and not others. That one I don’t remember very well. I hope I didn’t say that. But whatever was said in that article, my role in government is to oversee federal rule-making in a way that is wholly disconnected from the vast majority of my academic writing, including that.

[…]

RUDKOWSKI: I just want to know is it safe to say that you retract saying that conspiracy theories should be banned or taxed for having an opinion online. Is it safe to say that?

SUNSTEIN: I don’t remember the article very well. So I hope I didn’t say either those things.

RUDKOWSKI: But you did and it’s written. Do you retract them?

SUNSTEIN: I’m focused on my job.

SOURCE: Obama Information Czar Cass Sunstein Confronted on Cognitive Infiltration of Conspiracy Groups

Now, a decade on from Sunstein’s proposal, we know that military psyops agents, political lobbyists, corporate shills and government propagandists are spending vast sums of money and employing entire armies of keyboard warriors, leaving comments and shaping conversations to change the public’s opinions, influence their behaviour, and even alter their mood. And they are helped along in this quest by the very same technology that allows the public to connect on a scale never before possible.

Technology is always a double-edged sword, and sometimes it can be dangerous to wield that sword at all. There are ways to identify and neutralize the threat of online trolls and shills, but the phenomenon is not likely to go away any time soon.

Each of us must find our own answer to the question of how best to incorporate these technologies into our life. But the next time you find yourself caught up in an argument with an online persona that may or may not be a genuine human being, it might be better to ask yourself if your efforts are better spent engaging in the argument or just turning off the computer.

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17 comments

  1. Mark44 says:

    I’m not sure of the most appropriate place to put this comment.
    A common theme throughout many of James’ recent videos is the slow but certain demise of Google/YouTube etc. The censorship they are imposing on so many alt-media sites like James’ and others.

    Today I learned of a remarkable tale that is ‘actually taking place today’ (to paraphrase one of James’ favourite sayings).
    1984 on so many levels.

    Some here may or may not be fans of David Icke. I can relate to 80-90% of the stuff he puts out. Regardless, no one on this planet should be subjected to the treatment he received recently by the authorities in England.

    “The extraordinary story of why David Icke met an ‘anti-terrorism officer’ and a council ‘anti-extremist co-ordinator’ at a Leicester police station”

    https://www.davidicke.com/article/461984/extraordinary-story-david-icke-met-anti-terrorism-officer-council-anti-extremist-co-ordinator-leicester-police-station-absolutely-must-watch?mc_cid=c82c7fecd8&mc_eid=d6280ac137

    1. VoltaicDude ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Just saw the video.

      It is disturbing.

      From my seat, it’s the tip of the iceberg.

      The shit is hitting the fan.

      Personally, I like Icke, agree with much of his general import, choose to take the “lizard” stuff as allegory and fable, and find much of the rest very accurate and well intentioned.

      Same thing as with Bill Cooper, I can’t exactly account for everything, but there is undoubtedly truth there.

      We must recognize that organized criminal practices and personnel have been folded into the officialdom.

      That means in the medical realm (a real problem that may end up costing some of us our lives); in the enforcement realm; in the media realm; in the banking realm (which may end up costing some of us our livelihoods); and in the union realm (as in employee representation, which I support in some ways, but is de facto largely mob controlled, often with earnest players as fronts as well as critical mass).

      In this case with Icke the venue was scared shitless Mafia style.

      People need to get their heads screwed on straight and support Icke to appear, regardless of whether they agree with his assertions.

      It must be understood that censuring in this way is a crime.

      First Icke, then…

      1. Mark44 says:

        In this case with Icke the venue was scared shitless Mafia style.

        People need to get their heads screwed on straight and support Icke to appear, regardless of whether they agree with his assertions.

        It must be understood that censuring in this way is a crime.

        First Icke, then…

        Yes I found the video to be deeply disturbing, hence the need to post it here.

        Is the day not too far off when James has a speaking engagement in country ‘x’, has his tickets booked, arrives in said country only to find that his engagement has been cancelled due to anti-terrorism officers making an irrational decision to intimidate the venue’s operators?

  2. VoltaicDude ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    The documentary linked below is a great resource with probably well over five million views at this point, maybe well over 6mil now.

    Instead of concluding that it is something users want to access, YouTube has more or less isolated and obscured it.

    They removed info on its number of views,
    placed a warning gate-page on it to scare people away,
    shut down comments,
    and manipulated their algorithm to edit it out of general searches that would have previously included it intact with info on how many views
    – so you have to search for it doggedly and very specifically to actually get to this original posting.

    Otherwise, now, you get a plethora of newer postings which confuses the issue; many of them chopped-up into various shorts; you’d have to inspect each one to see if it has been edited, presuming you are already familiar with the original.

    Some newer postings of it are no doubt genuinely well-intentioned uploads by people wanting to make sure it’s still up, even if as chopped-up shorter video sequences – Good Samaritans.

    Clearly YouTube’s disgraceful handling of this, while pathetically see-through, is designed to confuse – which is the real McCoy?

    To me that’s malicious censorship – complicity with the criminals that the film exposes?

    The original’s full length is 3:27:55 – perhaps a bit challenging, but it’s a very worthwhile three and a half hours.

    I think it works best watched in its presented form, but if you want to get a comprehensive synopsis (is that oxymoronic?) you might watch the last half-hour first, and then go back and watch again from the beginning in however many sittings suit you.

    While I originally watched from beginning-to-end in sequential sittings, I’ve also seen the whole film out-of-sequence many times over (I’ve never actually watched the whole 3.5 hours in one sitting).

    JFK to 911 Everything Is A Rich Man’s Trick
    (Everything Is A Rich Man’s Trick)
    5,000,000+ views
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1Qt6a-vaNM&bpctr=1520119235

    I’d like to suggest that in solidarity with the filmmaker we could all direct people to the original posting easily by emailing this URL as a link, and also actually download the movie and copy it onto DVD’s to give away physical copies that could be shared easily – like Good Samaritans ourselves.

    By the way, I had nothing to do with the video’s production or official distribution – I just think it’s a great documentary.

    I don’t expect everyone will or should agree with every detail presented in such a vast overview (although I find it mostly spot-on), but it’s an excellent tool especially for anyone new to the rabbit hole as it brings lots of pieces together in context.

    Would you want to review this doc James? I wonder if Connolly is available for an interview. I have heard him speak well of you in interviews.

    1. john.o ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      I clicked:

      “The following content has been identified by the YouTube community as inappropriate or offensive to some audiences.

      JFK to 911 Everything Is A Rich Man’s Trick
      Everything Is A Rich Man’s Trick

      Certain features have been disabled for this video
      In response to user reports, we have disabled some features, such as comments, sharing, and suggested videos, because this video contains content that may be inappropriate or offensive to some audiences.
      Published on Nov 19, 2014”

      I think the 3.5 hour belabored presentation without footnotes is a bigger issue, though. I am familiar with much of the research, but can’t make it through this thing so far.

      1. VoltaicDude ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

        john.o

        Thanks for following up and checking!

        There is a list of 25 sources at the end of the movie which includes sources such as, e.g.:
        Prof. Anthony C. Sutton
        Dylan Avery
        Dorothy Kilgallen
        Chuck & Sam Giancana

        Not footnotes per se, but more like a bibliography or general source listing.

        That’s not perfect – I too would prefer a set of comprehensive footnotes – and perhaps we can suggest that the author/publisher develop that as an addendum? – I would support that.

        Meanwhile the narrative of this documentary is impressive and generally worthy of note because it integrates a very big picture perspective that isn’t often or generally available.

        I think it’s especially useful for anyone new to the rabbit hole, but also anyone interested in an integrated larger narrative.

        Also, I think most Corbettiers (new word for my dictionary!) are already in agreement with most of this subject matter via prior familiarity with many of the original sources.

        Where there is disagreement here, that also presents an opportunity to fine-tune various understandings of divergence amongst the open community, in good faith.

        I presume you’ve had at least some interaction with viewing the documentary since you are familiar with some of its format.

        The effect of your criticism is to cast doubt on its accuracy, but that in turn should be addressed to particular assertions that you believe absolutely require sourcing information and/or that you specifically do not believe to be accurate.

        I actually think that could be helpful.

        It would also be especially worthwhile if specific assertions that you might find dubious or objectionable were on an order that significantly swayed the bigger picture, as that is, again, the point here, and pursuing those types of points in that light would help avoid unnecessary quibbling.

        Life is short and there’s lots of real work to be done.

        If you find the 3.5 hours simply onerous (again, I happened to find it worthwhile), you are not obliged to engage a good faith conversation on specific and significant assertions – and honestly, indeed, considering the 3.5 hours, you’re probably not alone on that.

        But likewise, if you haven’t seen it, you haven’t seen it.

        1. john.o ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

          Basically, I have skipped through segments trying to get into a groove with it over the past tear or so on a few occasions. It has been around for awhile and I have tried. As I said, I recognize the research.

          I am not casting doubt on its accuracy and apologize if that is the way it came off. On the contrary, from what I did see it is based on similar understandings of history to my own.

          I shouldn’t have said its length was a worse problem than censorship either. I simply meant, the censorship hadn’t prevented ME so far. Now of course it may prevent people from seeing it.

          It really is a matter of time, taste and, perhaps, the point in life at which these things hit one. Right now, I would rather get through Joe Plummer’s synopsis of Tragedy and Hope or dip into Quigley himself or study the Rothschild’s in 19th century literature or whatever. If I were new to this, it might be just the thing that opened my eyes. As it is, yes to me it moves unnecessarily slow when I am fairly certain I know where it’s going. It presumes suspense when I feel impatient. This is not a universal judgment by any means. But I prefer a documentary style like Corbett’s, who presents amazing amounts of material crisply and quickly with notes and sources as needed.

            1. john.o ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

              Well, if I came off as shooting anything, that was my fault. Apparently, because of the loyalty it inspires, the delivery has its place. I will say this, though: the current lockdown of YouTube and the public net in general makes pith more important than ever. If you believe in the helpfulness of this particular presentation, I would encourage you to boil it down, brief the audience like our time is important. If there are things the longer presentation can do that a shorter can’t, tell us about that.

              This is important, even if it’s just to do quick teasers on Youtube to get people over to see it on Steemit.

      2. Mark44 says:

        I think the 3.5 hour belabored presentation without footnotes is a bigger issue, though. I am familiar with much of the research, but can’t make it through this thing so far.

        What exactly is stopping you from making it through the video?
        YouTube or something inside you?

        I watched this film at various sittings a couple of years ago and found it to be spot on and very powerful.

  3. HomeRemedySupply ( User Karma: 30 ) says:

    Fluoride News – Superb, extremely well written article…
    A big man-hug to Derrick Broze for his article Court Decision Could Lead to EPA Banning Water Fluoridation.
    https://www.activistpost.com/2018/03/court-decision-epa-banning-water-fluoridation.html

    Find out more about the Lawsuit in this video
    A Primer on FAN’s Fluoride TSCA Lawsuit – Michael Connett (FAN Conference 2017)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t486r-BlWOc

    The target on this lawsuit will effectively shut down the U.S. water fluoridation program.
    Dr. William Hirzy, a former risk assessment scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency, explains… (one minute)
    https://youtu.be/lPafTxFpArk?t=29m19s

    F.A.N.
    Fluoride Action Network also known as FluorideAlert.Org
    http://fluoridealert.org/

    Please email the Dallas City Council members telling them to stop the water fluoridation program for the 25 cities it administrates.
    http://www.DallasForSaferWater.com also known as http://www.dogsagainstfluoridation.com/

  4. scpat ( User Karma: 2 ) says:

    Cass Sunstein: “those who hold conspiracy theories typically suffer from a crippled epistemology…the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups.”

    Translation: “Those who question the government narrative and mainstream consensus are extremists who need to be dealt with. We can’t have free thinking individuals roaming around our streets, spreading their damn truth!”

    In my opinion, some decent solutions to the govt’s disinfo campaign is to have multiple sources of information, think critically about each, and don’t take websites or media figures’ words as gospel truth on everything.

    To add to Corbett’s presentation, here is more information on the govt’s information warfare against us:

    ​Behind The State Department’s $40 Million Troll Farm
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=cgRSD6Ym8Wc

  5. pcwise555 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Am I the only one who has noticed that someone likes to take old conspiracy type videos on MaoTube, and re post them unchanged but with “Flat Earth” in the title. Tricky little bastards.

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