Twitter also Works for the Pentagon

By Rosa Miriam Elizalde on December 22, 2022

The Intercept has provided evidence this Tuesday of the long-standing and incestuous relationship between the social network Twitter and the Pentagon. Not only has the platform helped “amplify certain messages” in countries targeted as enemies by the United States government, but also executives of the blue bird network have granted the US Department of Defense special privileges for covert Internet campaigns for at least five years.

While promising to shut down covert state propaganda networks and tag media outlets and journalists, behind the scenes Twitter opened a backdoor to the US military’s psychological warfare operations, created fake accounts with artificial intelligence systems and posed as foreign actors to sow discord between countries.

According to the report, the US Central Command (Centcom) in 2017 sent an email to Twitter requesting verification and “whitelisting” of several dozen fake Arabic-language accounts. The platform immediately applied a “special exemption label” granting the privileges that verified accounts have, distinguished with a visible blue checkmark.

Although the Pentagon allegedly promised not to hide its affiliation, the military-operated accounts posed as ordinary users or “unbiased” sources of opinion and information that systematically lambasted Syria, Russia, Iran and Iraq, while drone strikes in Yemen were portrayed as “accurate” and with a near-rational ability to kill terrorists without touching any civilians.

These revelations are in addition to those published in August 2022 by Stanford University’s Internet Observatory, which exposed a covert Washington military propaganda network on Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and other apps using fake news portals, images and memes against US foreign adversaries. Among the lies amplified using this methodology on Twitter was the claim that Iran “floods Iraq with methamphetamine” and “traffics in the organs of Afghan refugees.”

The evidence is shocking, but the news that Twitter works for the Pentagon is not surprising, something that is not the exception but the rule for U.S. platforms. Also this Tuesday, journalist Michael Shellenberger uncovered the plot by which the FBI had given nearly $3.5 million in taxpayer money to Twitter to pay its staff and handle requests from the bureau seeking censorship of messages and account shutdowns.

Twitter CEO Elon Musk has provided access to all this filth that slimes the platform’s previous owners and has said, in relation to the Pentagon and the email scheme between the FBI and the social network, “The government paid Twitter millions of dollars to censor information from the public.” Musk, who is the favorite megarich of the anti-establishment people who adore Donald Trump, has not explained why he has decided to bring all the skeletons out of the closet now, but presumably, true to himself, between the gas can and the truth, he plays with matches.

None of this is surprising, I repeat, but it is terrifying to imagine how much more is still swept under the rug. Since 1982, when the CIA succeeded in inoculating a Trojan horse into the Soviet gas pipeline that blew up, there has been fragmentary and scattered documentation of Defense Department and intelligence agencies’ combat tactics in cyberspace, with blockades, network infiltration, data collection, jamming of wireless signals, spoofed software and attacks via viruses, worms and logic bombs.

In addition, according to the Oxford Internet Institute, the US is the country with the greatest organizational capacity for automated propaganda campaigns and information hoaxes on the Internet. For example, during the coup d’état in Bolivia in November 2019, the Spanish researcher Julián Macías Tovar revealed the participation of a robot coordinated by a programmer with military training, linked to the US Army and capable of sending more than 200 tweets per minute with content favorable to the coup perpetrators.

There can be no more pitiful x-ray of the twilight of an empire than this vulgar episode that links Twitter with the Pentagon and the FBI, while the platform stands as a vestal virgin of freedom of expression and good manners in the community. Ignorance, conspiracy, violence, hypocrisy and moral ignominy are some of the notes of this dismal symphony.

There is more gunpowder in these revelations than in Musk’s match, but the picture of destructive irrationality coming from Washington follows the same pattern of all wars: he who pays, calls the shots.

Source: La Jornada, translation Resumen Latinoamericano – US