US military conducted social media studies on manipulating users

9 Jul 2014

Members of the Occupy movement, whose online activites the US military is attempting to monitor. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Not so long after Facebook was found to have undertaken emotional studies on its users without consent, the US military has also been found to have conducted its own social media studies to manipulate users’ opinions.

Funded by the US military’s research division known as DARPA, the research project covered a significant number of people, from major celebrities and how they garner online reaction from their fans, to collecting reams of data on posts to social media and even crowdfunding sites, according to The Guardian.

However, similar to Facebook, the researchers taking part in the DARPA study manipulated unsuspecting users by posting particular items to a person’s page and judging how that person reacted.

The US government and other organisations around the world are acutely aware of the growing popularity of online activism and dissent that in their view could harbour the type of person who may pose a threat.

This particular research was part of DARPA’s Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMIC), which had been revealed three years ago, but the extent to which it was engaged in messaging users en masse was only revealed as Facebook’s activities became apparent.

Quotes from DARPA’s studies appear to show how the US government would want to push a campaign message through social media, as it’s more likely to impress upon the personal opinions of that person. “For example, a government campaign on Twitter supporting vaccination can engage with followers who are more likely to take certain action (eg, spreading a campaign message) based on their opinions.

“As another example, when anti-government messages are spread in social media, government would want to spread counter messages to balance that effort and hence identify people who are more likely to spread such counter messages based on their opinions.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic