The move comes after Twitter and Facebook blocked accounts that purported to send messages aimed at promoting US foreign policy.
The Pentagon has ordered a review of covert operations aimed at influencing people overseas after White House officials raised concerns.
Source: New York Times, Julian E. Barnes, Shira Frenkel
Translated by readers of the Les-Crises website
WASHINGTON – White House officials have raised concerns with the military about its efforts to spread pro-American messages on social media, U.S. officials said, urging the Pentagon to order a review of covert operations aimed at influencing people overseas.
It follows Twitter and Facebook’s decision over the summer to shut down deceptive accounts they determined were sending messages about US foreign policy interests.
Pentagon audits and White House concerns were first reported The Washington Post.
According to disinformation researchers, propaganda falls into two camps. Most of the campaigns contained pro-American messages, including memes and slogans praising America. The plans were similar to Beijing’s frequent disinformation campaign by planting positive messages about life in China.
However, a campaign aimed at Iran delivered divisive messages about life in the country. Related accounts promoted opinions both for and against the Iranian government. This disinformation effort was similar to the methods used by Russia to influence the 2016 US presidential election.
Over the years, U.S. military commands have promoted pro-American messages and messages to audiences overseas, sometimes drawing the attention of Congress. But the decision by social media companies to shut down some accounts associated with the military suggested the activity had gone further.
Facebook’s parent company Twitter and Meta have removed accounts they believe have violated their terms of service by engaging in “concerted untrustworthy behavior.” »
These accounts spread pro-American messages in the Middle East and Central Asia, according to an August report by Graphica, an Internet monitoring and social media analysis firm at Stanford University. Both groups attributed some of the accounts deleted by Facebook and Twitter to the Trans-Regional Web Initiative, a decade-old Pentagon program that disseminates pro-American information in regions where the US military operates.
The level of sophistication of messages varies considerably. Some of the more detailed works were targeted at Twitter and Telegram users in Iran and featured a variety of perspectives. While most of the posts were critical of the Iranian government, others were supportive, researchers said, which could be designed to fuel debate and sow divisions in the country.
Several U.S. officials said the suspended accounts were linked to the U.S. military, but they did not say whether the efforts were aimed at spreading information inside Iran.
The program discussed the propaganda campaigns used by authoritarian governments to get news at home and abroad. But disinformation experts say they haven’t had much success. Most posts received only “a few” likes or retweets, the researchers noted, and only 19% of identified accounts had more than 1,000 followers.
Previous nation-state-sponsored influence activities on social media have often been attributed to Russia, China, Iran, and other adversaries of the United States.
Russia is behind these online disinformation tactics using Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to spread divisive messages. Some of the country’s oldest efforts were aimed at spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda in Eastern Europe. Countries around the world are following Russia’s techniques.
Over the past eight years, Facebook has cited more than a dozen countries as sources of Russian-style malpractice, including Iran, Sudan and Nicaragua. The company now publishes monthly reports detailing new false campaigns it has eradicated.
China uses Facebook and Twitter to boost its image and refute allegations of human rights abuses.
The Cross-Regional Web Initiative was launched by Special Operations Command in 2008. Over time, US Central Command and other military headquarters also began broadcasting honest but pro-American messages. Central Command’s efforts began with websites that published news articles aimed at audiences in North Africa and the Middle East.
After a critical report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress passed a defense authorization bill in 2013 that would defund the initiative the following year. On Monday, Pentagon officials declined to answer questions about the initiative.
Other information activities continued on social media platforms.
In the wake of the Stanford report, some US officials have described the scheme, arguing that the accounts are unreliable, with some accounts’ profile pages indicating they are affiliated with Central Command.
But it is not clear how many accounts contain this reference, and it is not impossible that there was a wider effort to conceal their military connection.
White House officials have expressed concern that the Pentagon’s information operations policy is too broad and that secret programs could undermine U.S. credibility, even if the information released is accurate.
In a statement, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, said it is Department of Defense policy to conduct information operations in support of “national security priorities.” »
“These actions must be carried out in accordance with US law and DoD policy. [Departement of Defense, NdT] General Ryder said. “We are committed to upholding these safeguards. »
Julian E. Barnes reported from Washington and Shira Frenkel from San Francisco. Eric Schmidt and Helen Cooper reported from Washington.
Source: New York Times, Julian E. Barnes, Shira Frenkel19-09-2022
Translated by readers of the Les-Crises website
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