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Pentagon To Investigate US Military’s Alleged Secret Internet Influence Campaigns

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The Pentagon has ordered an audit of the U.S. military’s recent efforts to spread pro-U.S. information through fake social media accounts, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Twitter and Facebook had repeatedly taken down accounts they suspected had direct ties to U.S. military branches, including U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), an investigation from Stanford University and Graphika in August found. Undersecretary for Defense Policy Colin Kohl on Tuesday directed the U.S. military commands that conduct online information warfare to submit a report on clandestine influence activities in October, the Post reported, citing officials familiar with the matter.

The military’s information operations uphold “national security priorities” and are beholden to existing U.S. policy and laws, Air Force Brig. Gen Pat Ryder told the Post. “We are committed to enforcing those safeguards,” he added.

The review seeks to determine what types of internet information operations the military is conducting, who they are targeting, what tools are being used and why and whether the operations were successful, according to the Post.

The White House, State Department and some Defense Department officials expressed concern over the alleged violation of Twitter and Facebook rules by the U.S. military, the Post reported, citing defense and administration officials familiar with the matter.

Twitter de-platformed at least 173 accounts purporting to represent individuals or media outlets between March 2012 and August 2022 thought to originate in the U.S. or Great Britain, according to Stanford and Graphika’s report. Facebook’s parent company Meta also removed 39 Facebook profiles, 16 pages, two groups and 26 Instagram accounts, which it attributed to the U.S.

Many of the accounts were taken down within the past three years, U.S. officials told the Post. Some accounts decried Russia’s “imperialist” war in Ukraine, although the report found that in general most profiles did not receive much engagement on their respective social media platforms.

Researchers did not find any conclusive connection to the U.S. military. However, the accounts demonstrated a heavy focus on events in Central Asia and the Middle East, overlapping with CENTCOM’s area of responsibility.

In 2020, Facebook took down fake Arabic, Farsi and Urdu-speaking accounts attributed to CENTCOM that spread information countering China’s claims that the coronavirus had emerged from a U.S. Army lab in Fort Detrick, Md., officials familiar with the matter told the Post.

CENTCOM has not commented on its use of social media accounts to manipulate viewers. Such activities would put the U.S. in line with Russia, China and Iran, known for their widespread use of bots and state-controlled social media personas in an attempt to sway audience opinions on sensitive issues, and would “absolutely be a violation of doctrine and training practices,” a defense official told the Post.

“Our adversaries are absolutely operating in the information domain,” another senior defense official told the Post. “Ceding an entire domain to an adversary would be unwise, but we need stronger policy guardrails.”

The Pentagon, CENTCOM, Facebook and Twitter did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s requests for comment.

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