Archive for category: #Media
Thousands of Twitter accounts post stream of praise for former president and ridicule his critics, including Haley and DeSantis
Over the past 11 months, someone created thousands of fake, automated Twitter accounts – perhaps hundreds of thousands of them – to offer a stream of praise for Donald Trump.
Besides posting adoring words about the former president, the fake accounts ridiculed Trump’s critics from both parties and attacked Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador who is challenging her onetime boss for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Polling released Wednesday by Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation reveals half of American adults “feel most national news organizations intend to mislead, misinform, or persuade the public,” which could impact the future of both the industry and U.S. democracy.
report is the second in a series that began with a publication in October and builds on a body of research that Gallup and the Knight Foundation have conducted about Americans’ trust in the news media since 2017.
“This data offers further evidence that sustainable journalism begins and ends with trust,” said Knight Foundation president Alberto Ibargüen in a statement. “We believe a citizenry that trusts the news is more informed, more engaged, and better prepared to participate meaningfully in our democracy.”
Key findings from the latest survey include that 53% of about 5,600 Americans across political affiliations have an unfavorable view of the U.S. news media overall, compared with just 26% who hold a favorable view. In line with previous polling, younger adults have less favorable views.
“Americans don’t seem to think that the national news organizations care about the overall impact of their reporting on the society.”
The survey shows a stark difference between how Americans view national versus local media. While nearly three-quarters believe national outlets “have the resources and opportunity to report the news accurately and fairly to the public,” just 35% think such organizations can be relied on to provide needed information and generally care about how the impact of their reporting.
“Americans don’t seem to think that the national news organizations care about the overall impact of their reporting on the society,” John Sands, senior director for media and democracy at the Knight Foundation,
told The Associated Press.
According to the polling, 52% of Americans don’t believe that most national news organizations “care about the best interests of their readers, viewers, and listeners.” Just 23% say national media do care about those interests.
“That was pretty striking for us,” Gallup consultant Sarah Fioroni told the
AP. Summarizing her, the outlet added that “the findings showed a depth of distrust and bad feeling that go beyond the foundations and processes of journalism.”
Meanwhile, when it comes to local news, 65% say such organizations have the resources they need. Over half of those surveyed also think that most local outlets care about the impact of their reporting and can be trusted to deliver needed information.
Additionally, nearly half of the respondents believe that local media care about readers, viewers, and listeners, and that such outlets do not intend to mislead, misinform, or persuade the public.
The researchers also examined emotional trust in media and found similar trends: 44% have high emotional trust in local media, while only 18% have low trust in these outlets; 41% report low trust in national news, and just 21% say they have high trust in such organizations.
“Nearly half (47%) of Americans who prefer to get most of their news online report low emotional trust in national news organizations, while only 15% report high emotional trust,” the report notes. “In contrast, only 28% of Americans who prefer to get most of their news from television report low emotional trust in national news.”
According to the publication:
- 45% of Americans who name a cable news outlet (CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC) as their top news source exhibit low emotional trust in national news organizations overall; only 19% report high emotional trust.
- Network news consumers are more trusting of news. Only 17% percent of those who turn most often to U.S. network news outlets (ABC, CBS, or NBC) report low emotional trust in national news organizations, while 37% report high trust.
- Of U.S. adults who turn to news sources outside of the top 20 most commonly used in America, 70% exhibit low emotional trust in national news organizations, while only 5% of these news consumers report high emotional trust.
The pollsters found that “low emotional trust in national news is associated with feeling unable to sort out facts or be well-informed.” It is also linked to “a negative outlook on the state of our democracy” and being “more doubtful of the political process and the opinions of experts.”
There is also a potential financial impact of low trust in media. The report says that “the more emotional trust Americans have in news organizations, the more willing they are to pay for news in the future.”
“This study affirms the importance of a more nuanced understanding of Americans’ deeply rooted and growing distrust of the national news media,” the publication stresses. “The data provide compelling evidence that efforts by national news organizations to gain the trust of the public may need to focus on communicating more directly with audiences about how their reporting affects society at large.”
“While emphasizing transparency and accuracy in news remains important, it is just as important for news organizations to demonstrate the care they have for their readers, listeners, or viewers,” the report adds. “Having a financially stable fourth estate that fuels confidence in Americans’ ability to be well-informed and greater optimism about the state of U.S. democracy today may depend on it.”
Last year, when the survey was conducted, national corporate media outlets came under fire for the quality of reporting on issues including
GOP efforts to cut Medicare and Social Security, inflation, student loan debt cancellation, and threats to reproductive rights.
The poll results come as former President Donald Trump—known for his frequent declarations of “fake news” and attacks on the media that were embraced and echoed by his supporters—seeks the GOP presidential nomination for 2024. Rolling Stone reported in November that Trump was soliciting advice for imprisoning journalists if he is reelected.
The term “culture war” or “cultural war” can be traced back to 1992, when far-right Patrick Buchanan ran against President George H.W. Bush in a bitter, divisive GOP primary before railing against Democratic nominee Bill Clinton during the general election. Speaking at the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston, Buchanan declared that the United States was facing a “cultural war” in which liberals and conservatives had radically different visions for the country.
Buchanan told the crowd, “There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself. For this war is for the soul of America.”
Back then, Buchanan was considered a fringe figure in the GOP, but his ideas later found a home in Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and the MAGA movement. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is often described as one of the Republican Party’s most prominent “culture warriors.”
READ MORE: ‘I struck a nerve’: Robert Reich lays out a case for calling Ron DeSantis a ‘fascist’
But in an article published by The Guardian on February 14, philosopher Jason Stanley objects to DeSantis’ agenda being called a “culture war.” Trying to eliminate ideas one disagrees with, Stanley argues, is not about waging a vigorous debate — it is “fascism” and naked authoritarianism.
“A wave of Republican enthusiasm for banning concepts, authors and books is sweeping across the United States,” Stanley explains. “Forty-four states have proposed bans on the teaching of ‘divisive concepts,’ and 18 states have passed them. Florida’s Stop Woke Act bans the teaching of eight categories of concepts, including concepts that suggest that ‘a person, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex’…. Administrators and teachers have been forced out of their positions on the suspicion of violating these laws, and what has started as a trickle may soon become a flood.”
Stanley adds that in January, the Florida Board of Education, with DeSantis’ blessing, banned an advance-placement African-American studies course from public high schools on the grounds that it violated the Stop Woke Act of 2022.
“These laws have been represented by many as a ‘culture war,’” Stanley writes. “This framing is a dangerous falsification of reality. A culture war is a conflict of values between different groups. In a diverse, pluralistic democracy, one should expect frequent conflicts. Yet laws criminalizing educators’ speech are no such thing — unlike a culture war, the GOP’s recent turn has no place in a democracy.”
READ MORE: ‘A deeper civic purpose’: Author explains why Ron DeSantis’ views on Black studies are dead wrong
Laws like Florida’s Stop Woke Act, according to Stanley, don’t promote a competition of ideas — their goal is to repress ideas that DeSantis and other MAGA Republicans are uncomfortable with.
“Most frighteningly, these laws are meant to intimidate educators, to punish them for speaking freely by threatening their jobs, their teaching licenses, and more,” Stanley warns. “The passing of these laws signals the dawn of a new authoritarian age in the United States, where the state uses laws restricting speech to intimidate, bully and punish educators, forcing them to submit to the ideology of the dominant majority or lose their livelihoods, and even their freedom.”
Stanley adds, “It is clear that the chief agenda of the GOP is to advance a set of speech laws that criminalize discussion in schools of anything but the white heterosexual majority’s perspective. The media’s portrayal of these laws as moves in the ‘culture wars’ is an unconscionable misrepresentation of fascism.”
READ MORE: Scholars and lawmakers are outraged over DeSantis’ rejection of AP African-American curriculum
Read The Guardian’s full article at this link.
A new study of Russia-based Twitter posts by New York University researchers buries the liberal canard that Russian bots played any significant role in swinging the 2016 election for Donald Trump.
Hillary Clinton at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina on July 5, 2016. (Melina Mara / the Washington Post)
Amid the generalized media crack-up that surrounded the 2016 presidential election, the bogeyman of “Russian bots” quickly became a load-bearing concept. A Russia-based social media campaign, or so it was said, had saturated sites like Twitter with fake accounts and, in doing so, helped to swing the election for Donald Trump. Becoming axiomatic in liberal circles, this story soon took on a life of its own. It’s since played a prominent role in mainstream media narratives of the 2016 election, been the subject of highly publicized congressional hearings, and also loomed large in the wider global discourse about “fake news.”
That the Russian government preferred Trump to Hillary Clinton and that Russia-connected actors engaged in digital skulduggery related to the election are not really in dispute. Much of the mainstream discussion around Russian bots, however, has been premised on unexamined assumptions about the scale and effectiveness of these efforts. Powerful states including the United States, after all, regularly engage in the likes of online propaganda and sock-puppeting campaigns. Whether they have a more than negligible impact on real world events, electoral and otherwise, is another question.
It’s notable, then, that a new analysis published by the Center for Social Media and Politics at New York University finds no evidence whatsoever that Russia-based Twitter disinformation had any meaningful impact on voter behavior in 2016. In place of the terrifying bot army menace that’s periodically been invoked, the researchers instead detail an enterprise with minimal reach or influence, and one overwhelmingly concentrated among partisan Republicans already inclined to vote for Trump.
They estimate that as many as thirty-two million US Twitter users may have been “exposed” to tweets from Russia-aligned accounts over the eight-month period preceding the 2016 election.” In numerical terms that may sound like a lot, but it actually isn’t when you factor in the sheer volume of posts and information encountered by social media users on a daily basis. As the report puts it:
While, on average, respondents were exposed to roughly 4 posts from Russian foreign influence accounts per day in the last month of the election campaign, they were exposed to an average of 106 posts on average per day from national news media and 35 posts per day from US politicians. In other words, respondents were exposed to 25 times more posts from national news media and 9 times as many posts from politicians than those from Russian foreign influence accounts.
Sheer exposure, of course, doesn’t even necessarily amount to influence. Like advertising, politically motivated content can functionally be background noise if it fails to reach particular audiences or in turn doesn’t have an impact on those that it does. In both respects, the study is quite unequivocal: not only were Russian Twitter efforts dwarfed by posts from media and politicians, but actual exposure to them was highly concentrated within a subset of partisan conservatives:
Results . . . show that the amount of exposure depends substantially on users’ self-identified partisanship: those who identify as “Strong Republicans” were exposed to roughly nine times as many posts from Russian foreign influence accounts than were those who identify as Democrats or Independents.
Even then, in fact, it was unlikely to produce changes in attitude or behavior. As the researchers conclude:
We did not detect any meaningful relationships between exposure to posts from Russian foreign influence accounts and changes in respondents’ attitudes on the issues, political polarization, or voting behavior.
While there are, as the study’s authors hasten to note, some limits to the analysis (it’s confined to Twitter posts as opposed to other kinds of media content or posts on other networks) it nonetheless offers persuasive evidence that the “Russian bots” narrative of the 2016 election has greatly overstated the impact of Russia-based social media efforts on the outcome. The result has been an account of 2016 sometimes quite unmoored from reality, wherein what was in practice a relatively impotent operation has elicited a torrent of angst-ridden and often frenzied media coverage.
If the Russian bots story gained momentum without having much of an empirical foundation, one reason is that it offered traumatized liberals a tidy and straightforward explanation for an outcome they had spent the preceding year believing was impossible. Sinister as the idea might be, a foreign campaign of digital sorcery was always going to be a neater culprit than the litany of institutional and political failures that actually enabled Donald Trump to become president.
In a different kind of world, November 2016 might have inspired some actual introspection on the part of those implicated in said failures. Instead, it became an occasion for hyperbolic and often flimsy partisan narratives that rather conveniently avoided asking the necessary questions — and in turn let the triangulating ideology of Clintonite liberalism off the hook.
Twitter executives have claimed for years that the company makes concerted efforts to detect and thwart government-backed covert propaganda campaigns on its platform.
Behind the scenes, however, the social networking giant provided direct approval and internal protection to the U.S. military’s network of social media accounts and online personas, whitelisting a batch of accounts at the request of the government. The Pentagon has used this network, which includes U.S. government-generated news portals and memes, in an effort to shape opinion in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, and beyond.
The accounts in question started out openly affiliated with the U.S. government. But then the Pentagon appeared to shift tactics and began concealing its affiliation with some of these accounts — a move toward the type of intentional platform manipulation that Twitter has publicly opposed. Though Twitter executives maintained awareness of the accounts, they did not shut them down, but let them remain active for years. Some remain active.
The revelations are buried in the archives of Twitter’s emails and internal tools, to which The Intercept was granted access for a brief period last week alongside a handful of other writers and reporters. Following Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, the billionaire starting giving access to company documents, saying in a Twitter Space that “the general idea is to surface anything bad Twitter has done in the past.” The files, which included records generated under Musk’s ownership, provide unprecedented, if incomplete, insight into decision-making within a major social media company.
Twitter did not provide unfettered access to company information; rather, for three days last week, they allowed me to make requests without restriction that were then fulfilled on my behalf by an attorney, meaning that the search results may not have been exhaustive. I did not agree to any conditions governing the use of the documents, and I made efforts to authenticate and contextualize the documents through further reporting. The redactions in the embedded documents in this story were done by The Intercept to protect privacy, not Twitter.
The direct assistance Twitter provided to the Pentagon goes back at least five years.
On July 26, 2017, Nathaniel Kahler, at the time an official working with U.S. Central Command — also known as CENTCOM, a division of the Defense Department — emailed a Twitter representative with the company’s public policy team, with a request to approve the verification of one account and “whitelist” a list of Arab-language accounts “we use to amplify certain messages.”
“We’ve got some accounts that are not indexing on hashtags — perhaps they were flagged as bots,” wrote Kahler. “A few of these had built a real following and we hope to salvage.” Kahler added that he was happy to provide more paperwork from his office or SOCOM, the acronym for the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Twitter at the time had built out an expanded abuse detection system aimed in part toward flagging malicious activity related to the Islamic State and other terror organizations operating in the Middle East. As an indirect consequence of these efforts, one former Twitter employee explained to The Intercept, accounts controlled by the military that were frequently engaging with extremist groups were being automatically flagged as spam. The former employee, who was involved with the whitelisting of CENTCOM accounts, spoke with The Intercept under condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
In his email, Kahler sent a spreadsheet with 52 accounts. He asked for priority service for six of the accounts, including @yemencurrent, an account used to broadcast announcements about U.S. drone strikes in Yemen. Around the same time, @yemencurrent, which has since been deleted, had emphasized that U.S. drone strikes were “accurate” and killed terrorists, not civilians, and promoted the U.S. and Saudi-backed assault on Houthi rebels in that country.
Other accounts on the list were focused on promoting U.S.-supported militias in Syria and anti-Iran messages in Iraq. One account discussed legal issues in Kuwait. Though many accounts remained focused on one topic area, others moved from topic to topic. For instance, @dala2el, one of the CENTCOM accounts, shifted from messaging around drone strikes in Yemen in 2017 to Syrian government-focused communications this year.
On the same day that CENTCOM sent its request, members of Twitter’s site integrity team went into an internal company system used for managing the reach of various users and applied a special exemption tag to the accounts, internal logs show.
One engineer, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that he had never seen this type of tag before, but upon close inspection, said that the effect of the “whitelist” tag essentially gave the accounts the privileges of Twitter verification without a visible blue check. Twitter verification would have bestowed a number of advantages, such as invulnerability to algorithmic bots that flag accounts for spam or abuse, as well as other strikes that lead to decreased visibility or suspension.
Kahler told Twitter that the accounts would all be “USG-attributed, Arabic-language accounts tweeting on relevant security issues.” That promise fell short, as many of the accounts subsequently deleted disclosures of affiliation with the U.S. government.
The Internet Archive does not preserve the full history of every account, but The Intercept identified several accounts that initially listed themselves as U.S. government accounts in their bios, but, after being whitelisted, shed any disclosure that they were affiliated with the military and posed as ordinary users.
This appears to align with a major report published in August by online security researchers affiliated with the Stanford Internet Observatory, which reported on thousands of accounts that they suspected to be part of a state-backed information operation, many of which used photorealistic human faces generated by artificial intelligence, a practice also known as “deep fakes.”
The researchers connected these accounts with a vast online ecosystem that included “fake news” websites, meme accounts on Telegram and Facebook, and online personalities that echoed Pentagon messages often without disclosure of affiliation with the U.S. military. Some of the accounts accuse Iran of “threatening Iraq’s water security and flooding the country with crystal meth,” while others promoted allegations that Iran was harvesting the organs of Afghan refugees.
The Stanford report did not definitively tie the sham accounts to CENTCOM or provide a complete list of Twitter accounts. But the emails obtained by The Intercept show that the creation of at least one of these accounts was directly affiliated with the Pentagon.
“It’s deeply concerning if the Pentagon is working to shape public opinion about our military’s role abroad and even worse if private companies are helping to conceal it.”
One of the accounts that Kahler asked to have whitelisted, @mktashif, was identified by the researchers as appearing to use a deep-fake photo to obscure its real identity. Initially, according to the Wayback Machine, @mktashif did disclose that it was a U.S. government account affiliated with CENTCOM, but at some point, this disclosure was deleted and the account’s photo was changed to the one Stanford identified as a deep fake.
The new Twitter bio claimed that the account was an unbiased source of opinion and information, and, roughly translated from Arabic, “dedicated to serving Iraqis and Arabs.” The account, before it was suspended earlier this year, routinely tweeted messages denouncing Iran and other U.S. adversaries, including Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Another CENTCOM account, @althughur, which posts anti-Iran and anti-ISIS content focused on an Iraqi audience, changed its Twitter bio from a CENTCOM affiliation to an Arabic phrase that simply reads “Euphrates pulse.”
The former Twitter employee told The Intercept that they were surprised to learn of the Defense Department’s shifting tactics. “It sounds like DOD was doing something shady and definitely not in line with what they had presented to us at the time,” they said.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
“It’s deeply concerning if the Pentagon is working to shape public opinion about our military’s role abroad and even worse if private companies are helping to conceal it,” said Erik Sperling, the executive director of Just Foreign Policy, a nonprofit that works toward diplomatic solutions to foreign conflicts.
“Congress and social media companies should investigate and take action to ensure that, at the very least, our citizens are fully informed when their tax money is being spent on putting a positive spin on our endless wars,” Sperling added.
Nick Pickles, public policy director for Twitter, speaks during a full committee hearing on “Mass Violence, Extremism, and Digital Responsibility,” in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18, 2019.
Photo: Olivier DoulieryAFP via Getty Images
For many years, Twitter has pledged to shut down all state-backed disinformation and propaganda efforts, never making an explicit exception for the U.S. In 2020, Twitter spokesperson Nick Pickles, in a testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, said that the company was taking aggressive efforts to shut down “coordinated platform manipulation efforts” attributed to government agencies.
“Combatting attempts to interfere in conversations on Twitter remains a top priority for the company, and we continue to invest heavily in our detection, disruption, and transparency efforts related to state-backed information operations. Our goal is to remove bad-faith actors and to advance public understanding of these critical topics,” said Pickles.
In 2018, for instance, Twitter announced the mass suspension of accounts tied to Russian government-linked propaganda efforts. Two years later, the company boasted of shutting down almost 1,000 accounts for association with the Thai military. But rules on platform manipulation, it appears, have not been applied to American military efforts.
The emails obtained by The Intercept show that not only did Twitter whitelist these accounts in 2017 explicitly at the behest of the military, but also that high-level officials at the company discussed the accounts as potentially problematic in the following years.
In the summer of 2020, officials from Facebook reportedly identified fake accounts attributed to CENTCOM’s influence operation on its platform and warned the Pentagon that if Silicon Valley could easily out these accounts as inauthentic, so could foreign adversaries, according to a September report in the Washington Post.
Twitter emails show that during that time in 2020, Facebook and Twitter executives were invited by the Pentagon’s top attorneys to attend classified briefings in a sensitive compartmented information facility, also known as a SCIF, used for highly sensitive meetings.
“Facebook have had a series of 1:1 conversations between their senior legal leadership and DOD’s [general counsel] re: inauthentic activity,” wrote Yoel Roth, then the head of trust and safety at Twitter. “Per FB,” continued Roth, “DOD have indicated a strong desire to work with us to remove the activity — but are now refusing to discuss additional details or steps outside of a classified conversation.”
Stacia Cardille, then an attorney with Twitter, noted in an email to her colleagues that the Pentagon may want to retroactively classify its social media activities “to obfuscate their activity in this space, and that this may represent an overclassification to avoid embarrassment.”
Jim Baker, then the deputy general counsel of Twitter, in the same thread, wrote that the Pentagon appeared to have used “poor tradecraft” in setting up various Twitter accounts, sought to potentially cover its tracks, and was likely seeking a strategy for avoiding public knowledge that the accounts are “linked to each other or to DoD or the USG.” Baker speculated that in the meeting the “DoD might want to give us a timetable for shutting them down in a more prolonged way that will not compromise any ongoing operations or reveal their connections to DoD.”
What was discussed at the classified meetings — which ultimately did take place, according to the Post — was not included in the Twitter emails provided to The Intercept, but many of the fake accounts remained active for at least another year. Some of the accounts on the CENTCOM list remain active even now — like this one, which includes affiliation with CENTCOM, and this one, which does not — while many were swept off the platform in a mass suspension on May 16.
In a separate email sent in May 2020, Lisa Roman, then a vice president of the company in charge of global public policy, emailed William S. Castle, a Pentagon attorney, along with Roth, with an additional list of Defense Department Twitter accounts. “The first tab lists those accounts previously provided to us and the second, associated accounts that Twitter has discovered,” wrote Roman. It’s not clear from this single email what Roman is requesting – she references a phone call preceding the email — but she notes that the second tab of accounts — the ones that had not been explicitly provided to Twitter by the Pentagon — “may violate our Rules.” The attachment included a batch of accounts tweeting in Russian and Arabic about human rights violations committed by ISIS. Many accounts in both tabs were not openly identified as affiliated with the U.S. government.
Twitter executives remained aware of the Defense Department’s special status. This past January, a Twitter executive recirculated the CENTCOM list of Twitter accounts originally whitelisted in 2017. The email simply read “FYI” and was directed to several Twitter officials, including Patrick Conlon, a former Defense Department intelligence analyst then working on the site integrity unit as Twitter’s global threat intelligence lead. Internal records also showed that the accounts that remained from Kahler’s original list are still whitelisted.
Following the mass suspension of many of the accounts this past May, Twitter’s team worked to limit blowback from its involvement in the campaign.
Shortly before publication of the Washington Post story in September, Katie Rosborough, then a communications specialist at Twitter, wrote to alert Twitter lawyers and lobbyists about the upcoming piece. “It’s a story that’s mostly focused on DoD and Facebook; however, there will be a couple lines that reference us alongside Facebook in that we reached out to them [DoD] for a meeting. We don’t think they’ll tie it to anything Mudge-related or name any Twitter employees. We declined to comment,” she wrote. (Mudge is a reference to Peiter Zatko, a Twitter whistleblower who filed a complaint with federal authorities in July, alleging lax security measures and penetration of the company by foreign agents.)
After the Washington Post’s story published, the Twitter team congratulated one another because the story minimized Twitter’s role in the CENTCOM psyop campaign. Instead, the story largely revolved around the Pentagon’s decision to begin a review of its clandestine psychological operations on social media.
“Thanks for doing all that you could to manage this one,” wrote Rebecca Hahn, another former Twitter communications official. “It didn’t seem to get too much traction beyond verge, cnn and wapo editors promoting.”
CENTCOM did not initially provide comment to The Intercept. Following publication of this story, CENTCOM’s media desk referred The Intercept to Brigadier Gen. Pat Ryder’s comments in a September briefing, in which he said that the Pentagon had requested “a review of Department of Defense military information support activities, which is simply meant to be an opportunity for us to assess the current work that’s being done in this arena, and really shouldn’t be interpreted as anything beyond that.”
The U.S. military and intelligence community have long pursued a strategy of fabricated online personas and third parties to amplify certain narratives in foreign countries, the idea being that an authentic-looking Persian-language news portal or a local Afghan woman would have greater organic influence than an official Pentagon press release.
Military online propaganda efforts have largely been governed by a 2006 memorandum. The memo notes that the Defense Department’s internet activities should “openly acknowledge U.S. involvement” except in cases when a “Combatant Commander believes that it will not be possible due to operational considerations.” This method of nondisclosure, the memo states, is only authorized for operations in the “Global War on Terrorism, or when specified in other Secretary of Defense execute orders.”
In 2019, lawmakers passed a measure known as Section 1631, a reference to a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act, further legally affirming clandestine psychological operations by the military in a bid to counter online disinformation campaigns by Russia, China, and other foreign adversaries.
In 2008, the U.S. Special Operations Command opened a request for a service to provide “web-based influence products and tools in support of strategic and long-term U.S. Government goals and objectives.” The contract referred to the Trans-Regional Web Initiative, an effort to create online news sites designed to win hearts and minds in the battle to counter Russian influence in Central Asia and global Islamic terrorism. The contract was initially carried out by General Dynamics Information Technology, a subsidiary of the defense contractor General Dynamics, in connection with CENTCOM communication offices in the Washington, D.C., area and in Tampa, Florida.
A program known as “WebOps,” run by a defense contractor known as Colsa Corp., was used to create fictitious online identities designed to counter online recruitment efforts by ISIS and other terrorist networks.
The Intercept spoke to a former employee of a contractor — on the condition of anonymity for legal protection — engaged in these online propaganda networks for the Trans-Regional Web Initiative. He described a loose newsroom-style operation, employing former journalists, operating out of a generic suburban office building.
“Generally what happens, at the time when I was there, CENTCOM will develop a list of messaging points that they want us to focus on,” said the contractor. “Basically, they would, we want you to focus on say, counterterrorism and a general framework that we want to talk about.”
From there, he said, supervisors would help craft content that was distributed through a network of CENTCOM-controlled websites and social media accounts. As the contractors created content to support narratives from military command, they were instructed to tag each content item with a specific military objective. Generally, the contractor said, the news items he created were technically factual but always crafted in a way that closely reflected the Pentagon’s goals.
“We had some pressure from CENTCOM to push stories,” he added, while noting that he worked at the sites years ago, before the transition to more covert operations. At the time, “we weren’t doing any of that black-hat stuff.”
Update: December 20, 2022, 4:17 p.m.
This story has been updated with information provided by CENTCOM following publication.
The post Twitter Aided the Pentagon in its Covert Online Propaganda Campaign appeared first on The Intercept.
- Author Alan Moore thinks adults liking superhero movies can be a “precursor to fascism.”
- He called it an “infantilisation,” and an “urge towards simpler times, simpler realities.”
- Moore is known for comic books like “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta,” but is “done with comics.”
Author Alan Moore, the co-creator of graphic novels like “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta,” doesn’t think superheroes are for grownups.
Moore, who has expressed his disdain for superhero movies for years, told The Guardian in a recent interview that he thinks adults who like them can be a “precursor for fascism.”
“I said round about 2011 that I thought that it had serious and worrying implications for the future if millions of adults were queueing up to see Batman movies,” Moore said. “Because that kind of infantilisation — that urge towards simpler times, simpler realities — that can very often be a precursor to fascism.”
He used the popularity of superhero movies and the election of Donald Trump as examples.
Superheros have dominated Hollywood and the box office for over a decade thanks largely to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But Moore thinks superheroes should still be for children, despite his own involvement in shifting that narrative with “Watchmen” in 1986, which was written by Moore with art by Dave Gibbons.
“Hundreds of thousands of adults [are] lining up to see characters and situations that had been created to entertain the 12-year-old boys — and it was always boys — of 50 years ago,” Moore said. “I didn’t really think that superheroes were adult fare. I think that this was a misunderstanding born of what happened in the 1980s — to which I must put my hand up to a considerable share of the blame, though it was not intentional — when things like ‘Watchmen’ were first appearing.”
While Moore said he “will always love and adore” comics, he has no plans to return to the medium.
“I’m definitely done with comics,” he told The Guardian. “I haven’t written one for getting on for five years. I will always love and adore the comics medium but the comics industry and all of the stuff attached to it just became unbearable.”