Part of the US Government has been caught trying to buy software that would allow it to generate 500 fake personas generally known as sockpuppets. They plan to use Facebook, Twitter, and blog comments. This particular leaked email refers to a submission from the Air Force, and apparently for use in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the details reveal that “persona management software” is a spookily mature market sector. Who knows how widespread this is already?
Astroturfing by community organizations is one thing. But Establishment anti-news, non-points, and funded fake opinions are quite something else. When the Establishment sponsors the activists and the activists post fake messages, taxpayer funds are used against the taxpayer. Is it happening? How would we know?
The story is starting to spreading through blogs.
According to an embedded MS Word document found in one of the HB Gary emails, it involves creating an army of sockpuppets, with sophisticated “persona management” software that allows a small team of only a few people to appear to be many, while keeping the personas from accidentally cross-contaminating each other. Then, to top it off, the team can actually automate some functions so one persona can appear to be an entire Brooks Brothers riot online.
The source of the quote above, and for publicizing the revelation is Happy Rockefeller on The Daily Kos.
Washington’s Blog “The Empire Fights the Net” has a useful description of the power involved.
Unfortunately, the Air Force’s contract description doesn’t help dispel their suspicions either. As the text explains, the software would require licenses for 50 users with 10 personas each, for a total of 500. These personas would have to be “replete with background history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent.” It continues, noting the need for secure virtual private networks that randomize the operator’s Internet protocol (IP) address, making it impossible to detect that it’s a single person orchestrating all these posts. Another entry calls for static IP address management for each persona, making it appear as though each fake person was consistently accessing from the same computer each time.
They apparently want top-dog programmers:
I [Happy R] have rummaged through the leaked email, some of which contain resumes for employees there. These guys are recruiting people with incredibly advanced skills from many different agencies and top universities like MIT.
Happy Rockefeller was astonished it was posted openly, and so were the contractors:
I can’t imagine why this is posted on an open site. And when this was discovered by a couple of HB Gary staffers, they weren’t too happy about it either:The first email just had the title, “WTF Dude?”
The response email said, “This is posted on open source. Are you fucking serious?”
Black Propaganda is used in wars as a way to demoralize the enemy, but the tactic must be o-so-tempting for government sectors that “need” consensus support (and what sector in a democracy doesn’t?). Happy Rockefeller worried that it was designed to use against “progressive bloggers” but doesn’t realize that since progressives usually like big-government, those bloggers and the black propaganda guys are often on the same team. In the end, it doesn’t matter what kind of blogger they are if the government can use active lies and crafted deceit against its own people. It’s a dark art.
The freedom and transparency of the internet pose a grave threat to anyone intent on deceit. Now, even if there are no government sockpuppets, the seed of doubt has been planted. The doubt undermines the legitimacy of real petitions and real throngs. Who is real? Who isn’t? In five years time, how will we know?
PS: John Brookes, and Mattb (where are you Matt?) are both verified real people. Please respect that, and if you know a real AGW fan, with a real name, invite them to come comment here too.