How many remember the flack that emerged when someone impersonated the Dalai Lama two years back leading the Twitter founders to believe they could create "enlightenment in 140 characters" - only to learn he was an impostor leaving them no recourse but to exile him from the site. Well, now the government is condoning this activity as they enter the game of creating 'fake online identities' in hopes of using social media to counter anti-U.S. messaging around the world.
In a US Central Command contract with the California software company Ntrepid, 10 false online personas (aka "sock puppets") will be created - each "replete with background, history, support details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent." They will also use a static IP address for each sock puppet to instill the belief that they are a 'real' person.
US Central Command contract with Ntrepid
The multiple persona strategy was first developed in Iraq as a psychological weapon against the online presence of al-Qaida supporters and Jihadists that existed throughout the Middle East and were found infiltrating Iraq after the US's entry into the war.
Unfortunately for Twitter and Facebook fans (who would like to follow this covert activity), the technology would not be used in America, or by American owned companies since the government is said to not to be targeting U.S. audiences. Instead, Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks told the Guardian that the software would target classified blogging activities on foreign-language Web sites where violent extremists and terrorists are known to hang out.
However if "Operation Sock Puppet" is successful, what's to stop the military from using the tool domestically some time in the near future? According to the Guardian report, persona management by the U.S. military would face legal challenges if it were turned against citizens in the States, where a number of people who were engaged in 'sock puppetry' have faced prosecution in the past.
Impersonating others (even if it's a fabricated personality) is a slippery slope - and if the government can act as a puppet master, what's to prevent others from following suit? What's to stop those inclined from creating a plausible back-story and cover under the guise of a sock puppet? Oh wait, that's already being done.
While not exactly sock puppets, the creative team at "Mock the Dummy" have often assumed the identities of contemporary pundits and political figures to make their point. Using parody as their weapon of choice, their impersonations of Glen Beck and Sarah Palin have the dynamic duo taking on heady geo-political issues such as the recent Egyptian Revolution?
Now if this type of material were to land in the hands of the enemy, they might actually think that there was a revolution under foot in the States. And as we know, that's something we'd rather keep under wraps - as that would be too much enlightenment - even for the military to handle.