The struggle for control and ownership of information is the constant, unending war of our time, wrapped up in commerce, innovation and a human desire to connect. By leveraging that information for profit, the information barons of the 21st century have managed to build an unprecedentedly interconnected world of convenience and choice. But it has also opened the door to censorship, propaganda and the exploitation of a person’s private information.
Investment gurus agree that Facebook is overvalued, since the user growth rate has begun to slow and revenue is very low for a company at their valuation. So when they go public Facebook will be under pressure to increase revenue, which means giving companies greater access to their network and user base and maintain that base’s integrity. Threats to the integrity of the data, such as users choosing to identify themselves pseudonymously or posting inaccurate information about themselves have already been disallowed so as not to compromise the network’s value. And, while it seems reasonable that Facebook would police its network for pornography or criminal activity, guidelines recently leaked to Gawker suggest that they go much further than that into the realm of political censorship.
Yet, while you’re not allowed to post fake information about yourself, recent hacking by Anonymous has revealed some details surrounding the Air Force’s project to create large numbers of fake online personalities. A 2010 ad for government contractors that has since been removed solicits an “Online Persona Management Service,” by which a contractor would create profiles “replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent,” right down to scrambling IP addresses (the same thing Silk Road users and some torrent pirates do) and gaming geolocation data.
1. Detect, classify, measure and track the (a) formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes), and (b) purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformation.
2. Recognize persuasion campaign structures and influence operations across social media sites and communities.
3. Identify participants and intent, and measure effects of persuasion campaigns.
4. Counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations.
And how, pray tell, will they accomplish these goals? With research in the following areas:
1. Linguistic cues, patterns of information flow, topic trend analysis, narrative structure analysis, sentiment detection and opinion mining;
2. Meme tracking across communities, graph analytics/probabilistic reasoning, pattern detection, cultural narratives;
3. Inducing identities, modeling emergent communities, trust analytics, network dynamics modeling;
4. Automated content generation, bots in social media, crowd sourcing.
This all ads up to a policy whereby the government has a right to anonymity on the net, but private citizens don’t. DARPA’s project and the Air Force contract are only two especially egregious missteps within an administration that has a consistently terrible record on government transparency and information freedom, even compared to the Bush administration. Check out Jay Carney’s attempt to answer a question from Jake Tapper about the administration’s war on whistleblowers.