www.guardian.co.uk -- Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social mediaMilitary's 'sock puppet' software creates fake online identities to spread pro-American propagandaJeff Jarvis: Washington shows the morals of a clumsy spammer* o o Share15K o Reddit o Buzz up * Comments (589)* Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain * guardian.co.uk, Thursday 17 March 2011 13.19 GMT * Article historyGeneral David Petraeus Gen David Petraeus has previously said US online psychological operations are aimed at 'countering extremist ideology and propaganda'. Photograph: Cliff Owen/APThe US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.The project has been likened by web experts to China's attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives.The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as "sock puppets" – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.
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