Ever since news of the ‘Sock Puppet’ programs used by the military and announced by the Washington Times in March, there has been an eerie pallor of paranoia even surpassing those around at the beginning of the year. The military announced it would be targeting social networking sites and forums used by terrorists. The only problem? Over 400 million users are utilizing these same social networking sites for everyday communication. This wouldn’t be a problem, except for the incidents where the same techniques seem to be used to shape public opinion more than to target terrorists. And of course it’s only fueling concerns of a conspiracy in the works.
In 2008 the Army Core of Engineers was the target of a CBS New Orleans special that shed light on an incident where employees had posed as civilians criticizing those who criticized the Core of Engineers. These ‘sock puppets’ had been in use even all the way back to the event itself as the disaster was unfolding. The Corps, when asked to comment on the incident declared it was an isolated incident that would be dealt with. The series of posts were traced internally to one Colonel who later apologized. Of course this apology didn’t stop some from suspecting there was something a bit strange about the actual number of different accounts involved. Alone it is foreseeable that it could have been an isolated incident that was unrelated to anything unusual. But then 2011 happened and with it, an article appeared in the Huffington Post in March. The article, “U.S. Military Launches Spy Operation Using Fake Online Identities” outlined how a program was being instituted to allow any individual to easily access and create three dimensional believable identities that could be used to sniff out online enemy combatants. It sounds like a dream come true for the intelligence agencies out there.
But several are worried about the software, stating it would have certainly come in handy in 2005 when the Hurricane Katrina PR hoax was occurring. And regardless of whether it was actually a secret government policy or more likely an employee feeling snubbed by the public’s reaction to their long hours of work in a crisis scenario, the same software would be available either way. And with it an individual could give the illusion of a legion of supporters swaying public opinion and giving the impression that the vast majority appeared to feel one way even when the reality was quite different. Of course it could be used for good, help the agency and even possibly save lives. Or it could be used for evil.
Imagine software such as this being utilized in conjunction with other technology available today. Software that can write stories complete with facts and figures, an AI program that can retrieve data similar to IBM’s Watson, and now the ability to look like a sea of human faces while only one person stands at the on or off switch. If this trend were to continue, public relations in government may not even be necessary anymore. Any voice of dissent could be drowned out by the cheering of a hundred million gigabytes of supporters.