U.S. social media warfare
Recently the United States was caught red-handed, once again, over another of its fake social media campaigns aimed at spreading disinformation through different social platforms intended to trigger unrest, sedition, violence and ultimately regime change in other countries.
U.S. social media warfare – The latest discovery by Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory is just the tip of the iceberg. But it does highlight how Washington has lost confidence on placing boots on the ground and is now more optimistic on using social media to sow discord and division against its adversaries.
After Iraqis through resistance kicked out American forces from their soil in 2011 and following America’s disastrous 20-year occupation of Afghanistan that resulted in sheer embarrassment and failure in 2021, the Pentagon is increasingly resorting to other strategies to lower costs and lives of its soldiers.
It should be noted that this new strategy is nothing new. According to years of damning reports by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog set up Congress, multiple U.S. administrations knew the Afghan war was a failure but just failed to devise a successful plan to withdraw from the quagmire.
The fact that major social media platforms operate inside the U.S., the Pentagon has the advantage of using them for psychological warfare operations and has done so for many years.
But only when the social media accounts are publicly disclosed American officials are forced to acknowledge their existence and claim to launch an internal review.
As the Washington Post reported recently, the Department of Defense has done just that; but only after research led to the revelation of the Pentagon’s latest psychological warfare operations with fake social media accounts promoting pro-West disinformation.
That came after Twitter and Facebook removed more than 150 U.S. military accounts in August suspected of such activity.
The Post reports that the Pentagon claims to have ordered an internal review of the military’s use of clandestine psychological operations online, including creating fake social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. These social media accounts had been posting disinformation targeting the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China.
The covert Pentagon program targeting Iran spread fake messages about life in the country, with multiple accounts spreading fake news.
Twitter and Meta, the parent company of Facebook, took down the accounts, only after they came to light, saying the posts violated their terms of service by taking part in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
Anti-Iran postings are said to be varied widely in their sophistication. Some of the disinformation campaign was aimed at Twitter and Telegram users inside Iran and pushed a wide variety of different views. Researchers say most of the posts were the kind of activity that are designed to inflame debate and sow divisions in the country.
Have you ever wondered where the news about relatives of deceased Afghan refugees allegedly reporting that their bodies were returning from Iran with missing organs? Well now you know.
This piece of fake disinformation was sent to Iranian Twitter users and linked to a video that was part of an article published on a U.S.-military affiliated website. In fact, several American officials are reported to have said the suspended social media accounts had been affiliated with the U.S. military.
“Consistently across the campaigns we saw them advancing narratives in support of the U.S. and allies, and particularly criticizing Russia, China and Iran,” said Jack Stubbs, Graphika’s vice president of intelligence.
The U.S. disinformation campaigns used measures that involved, among other tactics, the creation of fake personas with artificially generated profiles that had accounts across different social media platforms as well as creating fake news sites that frequently copied articles from unproven sources on the internet or anti-Iran news sites.
Experts say the links between U.S. administrations and warfare social media platforms are closely interconnected. The fake social media accounts against Iran, for example, are in line with the false statements made by White House officials over Iran’s alleged human rights record.
For years, Iraqi officials have called for the closure of Facebook in the country for the seditious content being spread on the social media giant that has in recent years incited Shia-Shia violence. Baghdad accuses the authoritarian regime in Washington of being behind the disinformation campaign that pits the supporters of one Shia political faction against another.
This alleged U.S. backed campaign, which Iraqi officials say is the work of the American embassy in Baghdad and other diplomatic missions across the country, had led to the death of countless number of Iraqi lives.
The latest social media warfare disinformation campaign against Iran, China and Russia came under scrutiny after the Washington Post revealed a research last month by Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory on pro-Western covert influence operations.
Some Iranian officials have accused the U.S. of inciting the recent riots in the country, that have seen Iranian police officers beaten to death in cold blood, with similar warfare tactics. Such acts of violence by Iranian rioters have been welcomed by the West as “courageous” as President Biden put it.
Essentially, the main countries targeted are independent and pursue their own foreign or economic policies. The same countries that the United States cannot defeat through military means or the imposition of unprecedented sanctions.
The investigation by Stanford University’s Internet Observatory and the social media analytics firm Graphika found an interconnected web of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and five other social media platforms that “used deceptive tactics to promote pro-Western narratives in West Asia and Central Asia. The platforms’ datasets appear to cover a series of covert campaigns over a period of almost five years rather than one homogeneous operation.”
Nevertheless, the U.S. resorts to these social media warfare methods across the world. In September 2020, Facebook published a press release acknowledging that it had removed a network of 55 fake accounts and 42 pages, along with 36 Instagram profiles “for violating our policy against foreign interference, which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign entity.”
The U.S. PR firm, CLS Strategies, that launched the campaign is located just down the road from the White House and again was caught red handed running an industrial grade propaganda operation on social media.
On this occasion, the social media warfare blitz used fake accounts and pages to spread disinformation on behalf of right-wing, U.S.-backed governments in Latin America, while deploying secret propaganda to destabilize the leftist governments in the region, among them Venezuela, Mexico and Bolivia.
CLS Strategies, which hires a host of bipartisan U.S. officials, former and present, used its network of fake accounts and pages to push propaganda on behalf of Venezuela’s right-wing opposition and the U.S.-backed parallel coup regime of Juan Guaido.
The company also signed a contract to represent Bolivia’s far-right junta and provide “strategic communications counsel” in the lead-up to the country’s controversial coup that saw the ouster of then President Evo Morales. But the campaign backfired and the party of Morales would later return to power.
Some of the CLS-run Facebook and Instagram profiles even posed as disgruntled Venezuelan soldiers, and called on members of the armed forces to rebel against their government. Other pages claimed to be run by disaffected former supporters of leftist leaders in the region that oppose U.S. meddling.
On Facebook, the American company spent a massive $3.6 million on advertisements to promote this malicious propaganda.