- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2022

The Pentagon is reportedly reviewing its information warfare operations after social media companies cracked down on a pro-American influence operation with potential ties to the U.S. government.

The Department of Defense ordered its military commands engaged in psychological operations to provide a detailed accounting of their activities by next month following concerns raised by Biden administration officials, The Washington Post reported Monday. 

The internal examination of government psyops comes in the aftermath of Twitter and Meta cracking down on a pro-U.S. influence operation aimed at the Middle East and Central Asia that was detailed in a report from the Stanford Internet Observatory. 

The social media companies removed a network of accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior and platform manipulation in July and August, according to the report from Stanford and social media analytics firm Graphika last month. 

“Our joint investigation found an interconnected web of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and five other social media platforms that used deceptive tactics to promote pro-Western narratives in the Middle East and Central Asia,” the firm said. “The platforms’ datasets appear to cover a series of covert campaigns over almost five years rather than one homogeneous operation.” 

Stanford and Graphika did not formally identify who was responsible for the influence effort and Stanford Internet Observatory research manager Renée DiResta told The Washington Times that her team did not have enough information. 

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Meta said the campaign originated in the U.S. and Twitter identified its presumptive countries of origin as the U.S. and Great Britain. 

U.S. Central Command is reportedly among the American government actors facing scrutiny for social media activity.

Ms. DiResta said Monday her team was encouraged by the American government’s internal audit.

“These findings warrant a careful review to ensure the U.S. maintains a moral high ground and trust with critical audiences abroad while recognizing the reality of adversarial action in the space,” she said in a statement.

The Department of Defense has previously acknowledged studying social media to better understand foreign influence operations spreading online. 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said last year it was supporting researchers making algorithms and gathering tweets, memes, blog posts, and political ads for an “Influence Campaign Awareness and Sensemaking” program. 

The program’s manager Brian Kettler said at the time that the government’s goal was to create tools necessary to create an “early warning” of foreign influence. 

The Pentagon provided this statement:

“As a matter of policy, the Department of Defense conducts military information support operations in support of our national security priorities. These activities must be undertaken in compliance with U.S. law and DoD policy. We are committed to enforcing those safeguards.”

Twitter declined to comment on the Pentagon review.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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