To summarize the reports, Ntrepid is tasked with creating software that allows U.S. personnel to manage up to 10 online personas. These personas would exist within the confines of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, but would include convincing and comprehensive back-stories.
These profiles would not be used domestically by the government, but would focus on international communities and probably interact in different languages like Arabic and Farsi.
Government Adoption of Social Media?
My initial reaction is to look at the validity of such a report. Granted, Facebook and Twitter have been credited with much of the success in protests and government dissidence in Middle Eastern and African countries. But aside from President Obama choosing YouTube as his favorite platform for addressing American citizens, the U.S. Government seems an unlikely force to take social media seriously. Many top policy makers and people of power fall within the “What’s this Facespace thingy” age range.
The U.S. Government seems more likely to see the silliness of the younger generation chatting with their friends and celebrities making outrageous comments through social media rather than see it emerging as a lightning rod for political unrest.
Validity of Report?
Most importantly however is the ridiculousness of the ideas within the report. Allowing a single person to control 10 social media aliases? Ask any high school kid that frequents popular Internet forums and they’ll immediately call you a n00b.
Arguably a huge percentage of active Twitter accounts are already bots or made up people. Businesses, novelty accounts, and fake users can be attributed to most of the conversation on the site. The U.S. Government is simply put, a little late to the game.
Facebook however works in an entirely different way. With their continued efforts towards security and gaining additional private details, the opportunities to make fake people are becoming slimmer and slimmer.
Facebook is also much more about connecting with people online that you know or are acquainted with in real life. People in other countries might become a little suspicious if an outspoken member of their Facebook protest group continues to make excuses for their absences at the rallies.
Not Quite a Novel Approach
But still, the primary reason this report lacks real concern is that this is done every day by thousands of online marketers. Creating fake personas in the worlds of social media, search engine optimization, and online marketing is old news.
The owner of an online flower brand might have hundreds of fake bloggers, tweeters, and forum members out there. And because this is such an old and well-established technique, the average marketer can handle much more than 10 personas each. If anything, the U.S. Government might have been taken for a ride with a poor business deal.
Because this tactic is so widespread, the internet-savvy public is very aware of it too. The government clearly does not understand whom they are dealing with. Any influential person on the Internet has encountered these fake people countless times and can sniff them out better than anyone.
In closing, I wouldn’t make too big of a deal of this news. Once again the government is behind the times in the online technology sector. The government is simply trying to enter an online market that is completely saturated and has been for years. They just might have better luck talking with some of the thought leaders in the space rather than trying to invent something the online community has known about for years.
This is a guest post by Frank Eybsen who is a contributor to a handful of tech blogs and is currently working with HitPath.com. If you would like to write for ShoutMeLoud, check our guest posting guidelines.
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