Top Social Media Websites Caught Censoring Controversial Content

Censorship By Top Social Media Websites

[Update: Another moderator has confirmed to me that davidreiss666 says that all of Washington’s Blog submissions should be banned.]

Facebook pays low-wage foreign workers to delete certain content based upon a censorship list. For example, Facebook deletes accounts created by Palestinian resistance groups.

Digg was caught censoring stories which were controversial or too critical of the government. See this and this.

Now, even social media site Reddit – which helped launch the anti-Sopa Internet blackout and publicize GoDaddy’s slimy Sopa support – is doing the same thing.

As just one example, posts from this website are being censored by Reddit. Specifically, a friend of this site who has submitted stories to Reddit has received the following messages of rejection from a Reddit moderator named davidreiss666:

from davidreiss666 via /r/worldnews/

WashingtonBlog is not something we consider a good source for r/Worldnews.

from davidreiss666 via /r/worldnews/

Please submit that story from an alternate domain. Thank you.

And another moderator named Maxion:

from Maxion via /r/worldnews/

I am sorry but this submission is not appropriate for this subreddit.

There are certainly also more open-minded moderators at Reddit. But a couple of censors can squash discussion on entire topics.

Why Are They Censoring?

Why are they censoring?

Well, censorship is rampant in America … and social media has grown so big that it has become a target as well.

In addition, as I pointed out last year [for ease of reading, we’ll skip indentation]:

Wired reported on Friday:

The Pentagon is looking to build a tool to sniff out social media propaganda campaigns and spit some counter-spin right back at it.

On Thursday, Defense Department extreme technology arm Darpa unveiled its Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program. It’s an attempt to get better at both detecting and conducting propaganda campaigns on social media. SMISC has two goals. First, the program needs to help the military better understand what’s going on in social media in real time — particularly in areas where troops are deployed. Second, Darpa wants SMISC to help the military play the social media propaganda game itself.

This is more than just checking the trending topics on Twitter. The Defense Department wants to deeply grok social media dynamics. So SMISC algorithms will be aimed at discovering and tracking the “formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes)” on social media, according to Darpa’s announcement.

***

SMISC needs to be able to seek out “persuasion campaign structures and influence operations” developing across the social sphere. SMISC is supposed to quickly flag rumors and emerging themes on social media, figure out who’s behind it and what. Moreover, Darpa wants SMISC to be able to actually figure out whether this is a random product of the hivemind or a propaganda operation by an adversary nation or group.

Of course, SMISC won’t be content to just to hang back and monitor social media trends in strategic locations. It’s about building a better spin machine for Uncle Sam, too. Once SMISC’s latches on to an influence operation being launched, it’s supposed to help out in “countermessaging.”

***

SMISC is yet another example of how the military is becoming very interested in what’s going on in the social media sphere.

Indeed, as I wrote in February:

I noted in 2009, in an article entitled “Does The Government Manipulate Social Media?”:

The U.S. government long ago announced its intention to “fight the net”.

As revealed by an official Pentagon report signed by Rumsfeld called “Information Operations Roadmap”:

The roadmap [contains an] acknowledgement that information put out as part of the military’s psychological operations, or Psyops, is finding its way onto the computer and television screens of ordinary Americans.

“Information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and Psyops, is increasingly consumed by our domestic audience,” it reads.

“Psyops messages will often be replayed by the news media for much larger audiences, including the American public,” it goes on.

***

“Strategy should be based on the premise that the Department [of Defense] will ‘fight the net’ as it would an enemy weapons system”.

Indeed, the Pentagon publicly announced years ago that it was considering using “black propaganda” – in other words, knowing lies.

CENTCOM announced in 2008 that a team of employees would be “[engaging] bloggers who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information.”

The Air Force is now also engaging bloggers. Indeed, an Air Force spokesman said:

“We obviously have many more concerns regarding cyberspace than a typical Social Media user,” Capt. Faggard says. “I am concerned with how insurgents or potential enemies can use Social Media to their advantage. It’s our role to provide a clear and accurate, completely truthful and transparent picture for any audience.”

In other words, the government is targeting “social media”, including popular user-ranked news sites.

In addition, when you look at what the Israeli lobby has done with Megaphone software to automatically vote stories questioning Israel down and to send pro-Israel letters to politicians and media (see this, this and this), you can start to see how the U.S. military – an even larger and better-funded organization – could substantially influence voting on social news sites with very little effort.

Moreover,the military has outsourced many projects to private contractors. For example, in Iraq, much of the fighting has been outsourced to Blackwater. And governmental intelligence functions have largely been outsourced to private companies.

It is therefore not impossible that the government is hiring cheap labor to downvote stories on the social media sites which question the government, and to post pro-government comments.

(other governments and large companies “astroturf” online as well. See this, this and this.)

I pointed out the same month:

Government propagandists, their hired private contractors and useful idiots are creating “downvote bots” or scripts to bury stories which question the government.

***

One free, simple scripting program to create automatic downvotes of certain topics or news posters is called “Greasemonkey”, which is commonly used on large social news sites such as Reddit.

For example, there are some 2,480 hits … for the google search site:reddit.com greasemonkey downvote. This is some 2,480 times that Reddit users are publicly admitting to using greasemonkey (see also this).

Propaganda agents obviously aren’t going to publicly brag about what they are doing, and you can bet that their use of downvote bots is much greater. Moreover, they probably have more sophisticated software than Greasemonkey.

Today, Raw Story reports that the Air Force ordered software to manage army of fake virtual people:

Internet users would be well advised to ask another question entirely: Are my “friends” even real people?

In the continuing saga of data security firm HBGary, a new caveat has come to light: not only did they plot to help destroy secrets outlet WikiLeaks and discredit progressive bloggers, they also crafted detailed proposals for software that manages online “personas,” allowing a single human to assume the identities of as many fake people as they’d like.

The revelation was among those contained in the company’s emails, which were dumped onto bittorrent networks after hackers with cyber protest group “Anonymous” broke into their systems.

In another document unearthed by “Anonymous,” one of HBGary’s employees also mentioned gaming geolocation services to make it appear as though selected fake persons were at actual events.

“There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas,” it said.

Government involvement

Eerie as that may be, more perplexing, however, is a federal contract from the 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, located south of Tampa, Florida, that solicits providers of “persona management software.”

While there are certainly legitimate applications for such software, such as managing multiple “official” social media accounts from a single input, the more nefarious potential is clear.

Unfortunately, the Air Force’s contract description doesn’t help dispel their suspicions either. As the text explains, the software would require licenses for 50 users with 10 personas each, for a total of 500. These personas would have to be “replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent.”

It continues, noting the need for secure virtual private networks that randomize the operator’s Internet protocol (IP) address, making it impossible to detect that it’s a single person orchestrating all these posts. Another entry calls for static IP address management for each persona, making it appear as though each fake person was consistently accessing from the same computer each time.

The contract also sought methods to anonymously establish virtual private servers with private hosting firms in specific geographic locations. This would allow that server’s “geosite” to be integrated with their social media profiles, effectively gaming geolocation services.

The Air Force added that the “place of performance” for the contract would be at MacDill Air Force Base, along with Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad. The contract was offered on June 22, 2010.

It was not clear exactly what the Air Force was doing with this software, or even if it had been procured.

Manufacturing consent

Though many questions remain about how the military would apply such technology, the reasonable fear should be perfectly clear. “Persona management software” can be used to manipulate public opinion on key information, such as news reports. An unlimited number of virtual “people” could be marshaled by only a few real individuals, empowering them to create the illusion of consensus.

***

That’s precisely what got DailyKos blogger Happy Rockefeller in a snit: the potential for military-run armies of fake people manipulating and, in some cases, even manufacturing the appearance of public opinion.

“I don’t know about you, but it matters to me what fellow progressives think,” the blogger wrote. “I consider all views. And if there appears to be a consensus that some reporter isn’t credible, for example, or some candidate for congress in another state can’t be trusted, I won’t base my entire judgment on it, but it carries some weight.

“That’s me. I believe there are many people though who will base their judgment on rumors and mob attacks. And for those people, a fake mob can be really effective.”

***

“Team Themis” [tasked by the Chamber of Commerce to come up with strategies for responding to progressive bloggers and others] also included a proposal to use malware hacks against progressive organizations, and the submission of fake documents in an effort to discredit established groups.

HBGary was also behind a plot by Bank of America to destroy WikiLeaks’ technology platform, other emails revealed. The company was humiliated by members of “Anonymous” after CEO Aaron Barr bragged that he’d “infiltrated” the group.

And see this, this, this, this.

***

Postscript: Gaming social media is only one propaganda technique employed by the government:

  • The New York Times discusses in a matter-of-fact way the use of mainstream writers by the CIA to spread messages
  • A 4-part BBC documentary called the “Century of the Self” shows that an American – Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays – created the modern field of manipulation of public perceptions, and the U.S. government has extensively used his techniques
  • The Independent discusses allegations of American propaganda
  • And one of the premier writers on journalism says the U.S. has used widespread propaganda
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  • Heisenberg

    I first started noticing the online paid operatives during the 2008 campaign and the situation has grown exponentially since then. It’s an interesting quandary. How do you protect free speech from people who silence you by using a megaphone to drown you out – in some cases a state funded megaphone.

    One thing that helps is using RES.

    http://redditenhancementsuite.com/

    Periodically I seek out political posts who’s only purpose is provide karma for fake online persona – karma parties in the Reddit vernacular. The nice thing about karma parties is that you can then go through and use RES to label all the operatives. Once you’ve put the operatives on ignore you can see what real people are saying.

    Another trick that I learned from r/Libertarian is to look for the posts that have been buried. Usually items below the threshold on r/politics and r/worldnews are the better arguments and the more pertinent points.

  • http://blogdredd.blogspot.com/ Dredd

    I stand with Washington Blog.

  • Conrad

    GW there are certain topics that are VERBOTEN on Facebook, Google, Youtube, and even ZH, which is supposedly “outspoken”

    As you probably already know in places such as Australia and Canada and Germany and other nations when it comes to those who are Revisionists on a certain topic of WW2 they are put in prison and courts in Australia, in the case of Fredrick Toben, and Canada, in the case of Ernst Zundel, have stated that “the truth is no defence” can you imagine? That is Orwellian.

    Even giving a link to Cal State Prof’s site was pulled from ZH, very odd, or very frightening depending on one’s viewpoint.
    This was the censored and deleted post’s link which somebody didn’t want others to read:
    http://www.csulb.edu/~kmacd/review-AR.html

    The truth is apparently not very welcome in “free” countries.

    There is a cost to all this and the coming Iran war is just one of them, and the firing of Pat Buchanan, like him or loathe him is just the canary in the mine.

  • Jeffrey

    I tried to write my opinion on any news articles, they shut me out – they muzzled my freedom of the opinion and viewpoints – shut my mouth ~ censorship of the freedom of my expression of political opinions. We see that more and more corporations taking over the Internet with comments, blogs and opinions by additional fees for joining memberships of commentary, opinions and/or blogs. Ten years ago, I wrote freely for my political opinion on news articles without any fee or blockage by editors – no problem. Today, I did not write any more because of rising censorship on Internet that dominated corporations and government prevented individuals’ opinions and comments to reveal the truth facts that corporations and the government did not want to expose their flaws or problem. We are losing the freedom and the government and corporation-ruled media wants to control our society and follow their fateful path of totalitarian society in a near future. That is tragedy and eventually, we will be our fate of homo-sapiens because absolute power never learns from the history and it will lead to destroy our civilization and humanity. There is no such thing about freedom on this planet, but survive!

  • WHO CARES

    You know what? I don’t give a flying F**K who wants to censor the truth, why? Because, the truth doesn’t need to be on “social media sites” to be disseminated. All people need to do is talk to each other….on the phone or in person! What a F**KING novel concept!

    The Government is a collection of a few good, intelligent people but, mostly idiots and fools that think their title is power and some how this power has made them “intelligent” about how the World SHOULD work according to their pea brain thinking! Sure, I see pea brain ideas all over the place in politics!

    Anyway, in 100 years this whole gang creating this mess will be dead dust. They will have achieved nothing of value for the people that come after them. Their legacy will be, “Boy, those people of that time were, F**KING STUPID!”

  • http://apfn.org Anthony Clifton

    Well obviously the Branch Davidians could have come out, they had 51 days, and besides He claimed he was Jesus Christ and he was having sex with little girls….Gordon Kahl was an evil white supremacist who was also moonlighting as an illegal tax protestor, which is about the same mindset Vickie Weaver had right before that good faith 4th amendment bullet sent her home to Jesus on Ruby Ridge…
    http://disc.yourwebapps.com/discussion.cgi?id=149495;article=140219
    There is only one Truth hating “RELIGION”, and the stool sculpture deity cult members PRINT THE CURRENCY, OWN the Media…& operate a crack house called congress, and have the PA system subliminally mind control the Braindeadgoy…”Jesus was Jewish”…the “JEWS” are Gods’ Chosen People”…”they could have come out….”

  • Max

    I’m a redditor, and I think you’re taking the notion of “censored by reddit” farther than reality would bear witness to. Reddit is practically the definition of “uncensored.” Because there is no one thing that IS reddit. It is a hub of user-created topical fora. However, subreddits are groups with a specific purpose, and a small set of unpaid civilian mods, who run the sub as the group prefers.

    The subreddit r/worldnews would be overrun with political blogs of the full spectrum of opinion, all clamoring to promote their blog and viewpoint, if it were just wide open to all comers.

    But the people who decided they wanted to create r/worldnews and all of the followers who joined them have POSTED CLEARLY ON THE FRONT PAGE: “/r/Worldnews is for major news from around the world except US-internal news (especially US politics).”

    Note the last 7 words. So your being banned is not “censorship” of your ideas. It’s you being told “sorry, you’re off topic for this subreddit, please take it to one of the many more appropriate locations linked in the list to the right of the page.” Not so different than if you were to post your blog promos on r/cooking or r/christianity or r/neuroscience. Not censorship. Your own misplacement of your content. You could post to r/politics all day long. But if you did that, redditors would probably downvote you for spamming, fyi.

  • Max

    On an ironic note, I see my prior comment is “awaiting moderation.” Awaiting censorship? See, moderation makes sense to avoid spammers, but those undesirables can easily claim “censorship” of their free speech, regardless of whether we find it irritating. There are reasons to moderate content, including the reasons you are using right now with our posts. Whether you decide to publish them or not is simply an end result of the already-in-place process of moderated censorship.

    • Lance

      I know this is a little late, but lately, like since the begining of July 2012, a lot ot the websites I used to get info from are “moderating” my comments. Any evidence concerning the actions, or possible actions, of gov/bus/mil are not being posted. Posts from a Christ centered perspective are also not being posted. Whether this is being done by living or artificial moderators I do not know. Also, many websites are no longer allowing users to post annonymously by requiring people to “register” and “log in”. How long until users will be required to use an electronic device placed on them so that the “system” will know exactly who you are, whether a living human or an artificial intelligence, as well as where you are anytime, anywhere? From the info available online from the developers of these types of technologies its only a matter of time until this becomes mandatory. What happens when someone refuses?

  • Manifestum Atheus

    This is worrying.

  • http://www.cloudstaff.com/downloads/contentmoderation Thelma Case

    This is indeed a very worrying article. Thank you sharing this very informative and relevant article.

 

 

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