According to Motherboard, it’s a real threat.
A global conference of senior military and intelligence officials taking place in London this week reveals how governments increasingly view social media as “a new front in warfare” and a tool for the Armed Forces.
The overriding theme of the event is the need to exploit social media as a source of intelligence on civilian populations and enemies; as well as a propaganda medium to influence public opinion.
. . .
The event, the Sixth Annual Conference on Social Media Within the Defence and Military Sector, is sponsored by the Thales Group, the tenth largest defense company in the world, which is partially owned by the French government.
Participants in the conference—chaired by Steven Mehringer, Head of Communication Services at NATO—will include military and intelligence leaders from around the world, especially “social media experts from across the armed forces and defense industry.”
. . .
“Social Media is increasingly important to the portrayal of armed forces, at home and abroad on operations; raising awareness of institutional issues; and gaining support through successful recruitment campaigns,” said conference Chairman, NATO’s Steven Mehringer, in an invitation brochure for the event.
The military’s goal of using social media to influence the beliefs of populations to win wars is alluded to in the description of other panels. A proposed panel titled ‘NATO’s Digital Outreach: Creating a Global Conversation’, describes NATO’s aim of “cultivating a global audience through social media to support The Alliance.”
Another panel discussion makes direct reference to the role of social media in covert US military ‘psychological warfare’ operations—i.e. propaganda—as well as the use of social media to support mass surveillance.
There’s more at the link.
At first I assumed that the conference was about nothing more or less than the usual propaganda exercises employed by all sides in any conflict. However, reading between the lines, it appears that they’re talking about more active – and more covert – interventions, such as ‘sock-puppeting‘ comments on or reactions to articles, blog posts, etc. that they don’t like. In other words, they wouldn’t act openly, or say that this is the view of a particular party; so one wouldn’t be able to exercise informed judgment on what they have to say.
I know some of the more totalitarian governments have been doing this for decades. (The so-called ‘Great Firewall of China‘ is a good example, and it’s now morphing into a ‘citizen score‘ for every person, upon which will depend their ability to get good jobs, get loans, or even eat well.) If Western nations are now starting to venture into the same territory, we’ll have to be on our guard.
To coin a phrase: Big Brother is not your friend.