U.S. Military Counters Extremism with Truth, a.k.a. Lies

The U.S. Military is creating fake profiles on foreign social media web sites designed to counter extremist viewpoints and paint a more attractive portrait of American policy. The new software is called the cutting edge of psychological warfare.

“The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries,” The Guardian reports. Apparently Facebook, Twitter, and sites operating in English will not be targeted because well, that would be engaging in psychological warfare on our own people.

The reasons why a fake profile approach is bad seem pretty self-evident but let’s lay them out anyway:

  • American credibility in countries these profiles are targeted, places with languages such as Farsi, is already pretty low. Folks there are going to get wind of this little trick. That means any posting by anyone remotely pro-American is going to be even more suspect. Misrepresentation cheapens genuine public support.
  • Lessons should be learned from the oft-criticised State Department “Shared Values” campaign from the Bush era. Only a handful of researchers have suggested the program actually worked. Whether such propaganda was successful or not, isn’t really the point. Truth should be the hallmark of American messages if we want to have real relationships with our world neighbors, Sheldon Rampton argued. Propaganda is the tool of those who merely wish to maintain power.
  • Misrepresentation is a lie that insults the intelligence of an enemy and frankly places that enemy outside the social contract, Sissela Bok believes. Creating fake profiles is just another way of saying, “They are lying so anything we do is justified.” So, lies are told to promote a greater truth. That’s a pretty twisted justification for an effort encouraging American-style democracy.

In one of my first reporting jobs, my colleagues and I were pretty frustrated with how we were being managed. Our supervisors created a cash award for whomever was deemed to have the best attitude. Rather than actually listening to us or trying to make better working conditions, they tried to buy us off. It didn’t work. I can’t help but wonder if the situation is that different in the Middle East. Rather than trying to trick people into thinking favorably about Americans, perhaps we might actually engage people with integrity. Perhaps we could try actual truth spoken by real people, instead of pretend truth created by fake people.

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