There probably aren’t too many Americans who pay attention to the US military’s psychologocial operations. Very few probably realize that the US government is involved with psychological operations on a daily basis, with the supposed aim of influencing foreign actors. The problem with that, however, is that because the internet is universal, operations intended to impact foreign actors will inevitably influence domestic actors. And that’s not good.
Recently, social media companies identified and removed numerous fake social media accounts that were allegedly being run by the US military. Those accounts violated social media companies’ terms of service. And because this revelation proved embarrassing to the government, the Department of Defense has ordered a review of the military’s conduct of psychological operations when it comes to social media.
It also serves as a reminder that everything you read on the internet has some sort of spin to it. And you can’t always trust that the people with whom you’re interacting, or whose content you’re reading, are who they say they are.
Governments around the world are engaged in information operations and psychological operations online, and they aren’t going to stop. The ease of setting up fake accounts and spreading propaganda and false information, or keeping tabs on dissidents, is far too tempting for governments to stop doing it. So it will be up to social media companies to take that threat seriously and take steps to keep that kind of behavior out of their networks.
This should also serve as a reminder that the internet is a powerful tool for manipulation. All it takes is a few vulnerable people on the margins to fall victim to psychological operations for major mayhem to ensue. So keep in mind that the next time you hear about the online threat from “domestic extremists”, there’s a very good chance that much of that could be influenced by government psychological operations.
It’s doubtful that we’ll ever find out the full extent of the US government’s online operations, as certainly much of it is probably classified. But the fact that somebody was worried that these operations might have been going rogue should serve as a wake-up call to all Americans.