5 February 2017
The defence secretary, Michael Fallon, appears ignorant of well-established UK and US military programmes designed to modify public perceptions in conflict zones (Nato must counter Russia’s ‘weaponising’ of lies – Fallon, 3 February). A prototype system was first reported in detail by Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain in the Guardian nearly six years ago – just as Nato began air attacks on Libya (Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media, 18 March 2011).
I quote: “… it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives … each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details … up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries”. Each operator would be able to masquerade as “10 separate identities”.
Two years ago the UK began similar operations from a centre in Berkshire, presented as “non-lethal warfare” (Army sends tweet into battle, 31 January 2015). The west’s overwhelming supremacy in IT, PR, virtual reality and advertising should dispel Fallon’s concern that Russia might win the fake news war.
Dr. Kevin Bannon