WASHINGTON – White House officials told the military they were concerned about efforts to spread pro-American messages on social media, prompting the Pentagon to order a review of covert operations aimed at influencing citizens. abroad, US officials said.
The review follows decisions by Twitter and Facebook over the summer to shut down misleading accounts they identified as sending messages about U.S. foreign policy interests abroad.
Pentagon audit and White House concerns first reported by Washington Posts.
Information researchers say the campaigns largely fall into two camps. Most of the campaigns spread pro-American messages, including memes and slogans praising America. Those programs are similar to how Beijing often spreads misinformation by spreading positive messages about life in China.
However, a campaign targeting Iran has sent divisive messages about life there. The accounts involved pushed out pro- and anti-government views. That disinformation effort resembles the methods Russia used to influence the 2016 US presidential election.
For years, U.S. military orders promoted pro-American news and messages to audiences abroad, sometimes garnering congressional oversight. But the decision by social media companies to shut down some accounts related to the military suggests the activity has gone further.
Twitter and Meta, the parent company of Facebook, deleted account that they said they violated their terms of service by engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior”.
A report in August These accounts are promoting pro-American messages in the Middle East and Central Asia, according to the Stanford University Internet Observatory and social media analytics firm Graphika. The two groups allege that some of the accounts taken down by Facebook and Twitter were due to the Trans-Regional Web Initiative, a more than 10-year-old initiative by the Pentagon to send information in support of the United States in regional regions. US military operations.
Posts vary in sophistication. Some of the more elaborate work is aimed at Twitter and Telegram users in Iran and has driven many views. While most of the messages were critical of the Iranian government, the researchers said others supported it, the kind of activity likely designed to inflame debate and sow division in the country.
Several US officials said the suspended accounts were linked to the US military, although they did not say whether there was an attempt to spread the information in Iran.
The show evoked the propaganda campaigns that authoritarian governments have used to promote messages at home and abroad. But disinformation experts say they haven’t been very successful. The researchers noted that most posts received only a “few” of likes or retweets, and only 19% of identified accounts had more than 1,000 followers.
Previously state-backed influence operations on social media were mainly attributed to Russia, China, Iran and other US adversaries.
Russia pioneers Many of these online disinformation tactics use Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks to spread divisive messages. Some of its earliest efforts were aimed at pro-Kremlin propaganda in Eastern Europe. Countries all over the world have imitated Russian techniques.
Over the past eight years, Facebook has named more than a dozen countries that have created Russian-style disinformation efforts, including Iran, Sudan and Nicaragua. The company now publishes monthly reports in which it describes new disinformation campaigns the company has initiated.
China has also used Facebook and Twitter to polish its image and undercut allegations of human rights abuses.
The Cross-Regional Web Initiative began as a Special Operations Command effort in 2008. Over time, U.S. Central Command and other military headquarters also began. send honest but pro-American messages. Central Command’s efforts began with websites posting news stories aimed at audiences in North Africa and the Middle East.
After the counterreport of the Government Accountability Office, the National Assembly passed the defense authorization bill 2013 called for the initiative to go unfunded the following year. Pentagon officials declined to answer questions about the initiative on Monday.
However, other informational activities continue on social media platforms.
Following the Stanford report, several U.S. officials briefed the disputed program that the accounts were unauthenticated, saying that some of the accounts’ profile pages indicated they were affiliated with Central Command.
But it’s unclear how many accounts have made such disclosures, or whether there is a broader effort to conceal their military connections.
White House officials are concerned that the Pentagon’s policy on overly broad information operations and covert programs could undermine America’s credibility, even if the document released is accurate. , said the government official.
In a statement, Brig. General Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, said it was the Defense Department’s policy to conduct information operations in support of “national security priorities”.
“These operations must be conducted in compliance with US law and DOD policy,” General Ryder said. “We are committed to enforcing those protections.”
Julian E. Barnes reported from Washington, and Sheera Frenkel from San Francisco. Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper Contribution report from Washington.