Is the U.S. Government Obsessed with Social Media?
In the last decade the United States (U.S.) government has become rather aggressive with its eaves dropping and spying activities, especially towards its own citizens. All of this is carried out in the name of ‘War on Terror’. Now the government has decided that online social media is not only a threat to U.S. national security interests abroad, but also a tool used prolifically by both international and domestic terrorists.
In March 2011 it was reported by the Guardian that the Pentagon is developing a piece of software which will:“[S]ecretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.” The article goes on to explain how the software will allow one U.S. serviceman to control up to 10 different ‘people’ online, which can be based all over the world. The online term for these fake personas are “sock puppets”, and they are apparently one aspect of Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which is a psychological warfare operation used against jihadists as a tool for countering their ideologies and propaganda. The Pentagon has stated that such technology wouldn’t be used to target U.S. citizens or Western social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter; yet it still alarming to see that the U.S. is willing to create hundreds of fake online identities to counter enemy propaganda and spread its own.
Another branch of the U.S. government, using online social media to achieve its goals, is the Department for Homeland Security (DHS). It was discovered, after a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit that was filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), that the DHS monitors social media sites for counter-terrorism and event-awareness activities, and has been doing so since 2006. The sites monitored include: Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, Wikileaks, Drudge Report, and the Huffington Post; they inspect the social media for key words and sentences, hoping to get ahead of the curve when a crisis or terrorist attack hits. However, organisations and people such as EPIC and Representative Jackie Speier have heavily criticised the program, calling it an invasion of privacy and waste of taxpayers money. Even stranger still, is that the DHS looks for certain extremely common key words and terms in online social media. The more ridiculous ones, including: ‘2600’, ‘Pork’, ‘Snow’, and the real kicker… ‘Social media’… On a more serious note, the DHS’s Media Monitoring Capability (MMC) team do have the power to:“[T]ranismit personal information […] The MMC watch may provide the name, position and any other information […] over the telephone [to the National Operations Center].” It is even more alarming that in 2009 the DHS monitored residents in Standish, Michigan to see how they reacted to the proposal by the government to move Guantanamo Bay detainees to one of their local prisons.
Now even the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve (Fed), announced plans to start monitoring what is said about it. Aimed at the ‘primary social media platforms’ that are: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, the Fed’s goals are to: “Continously monitor conversations […] Identify and reach out of key bloggers and influencers [and is requesting all information is provided in real-time].” Basically, the Federal Reserve wants to know–in real time– whether its policies and overall public perception is good, bad, or neutral. Once these institutions monitoring activities are combined with those of the NSA, FBI, CIA and all other intelligence agencies, then it makes one wonder, does online privacy even exist in America any more? Or is it just an illusion? Even if most of the public knew of such invasive surveillance, would they really care? Many willingly post in-depth personal information on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and the like, for the whole world to see. Does privacy even matter to the new ‘online’ generation? Unfortunately it seems that privacy for citizens is increasingly just a ‘thing of the past’… All this while evermore the U.S. government guards its activities in a black-hole of bureaucracies and official secrecy due to ‘national security’.
Further Reading and Watching: