Twitter Aided Pentagon's Covert PsyOp Campaigns, Internal Docs Reveal

Chris Menahan
Dec. 20, 2022

Twitter whitelisted secret CENTCOM accounts with "deep-fake" avatars and helped boost their covert psychological operations overseas, according to the latest "Twitter Files" release.

From The Intercept, "Twitter Aided The Pentagon in its Covert Online Propaganda Campaign":
[T]he social networking giant provided direct approval and internal protection to the U.S. military’s network of social media accounts and online personas, whitelisting a batch of accounts at the request of the government. The Pentagon has used this network, which includes U.S. government-generated news portals and memes, in an effort to shape opinion in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, and beyond.

[...] THE DIRECT ASSISTANCE Twitter provided to the Pentagon goes back at least five years.

On July 26, 2017, Nathaniel Kahler, at the time an official working with U.S. Central Command — also known as CENTCOM, a division of the Defense Department — emailed a Twitter representative with the company’s public policy team, with a request to approve the verification of one account and “whitelist” a list of Arab-language accounts “we use to amplify certain messages.”

“We’ve got some accounts that are not indexing on hashtags — perhaps they were flagged as bots,” wrote Kahler. “A few of these had built a real following and we hope to salvage.” Kahler added that he was happy to provide more paperwork from his office or SOCOM, the acronym for the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Twitter at the time had built out an expanded abuse detection system aimed in part toward flagging malicious activity related to the Islamic State and other terror organizations operating in the Middle East. As an indirect consequence of these efforts, one former Twitter employee explained to The Intercept, accounts controlled by the military that were frequently engaging with extremist groups were being automatically flagged as spam. The former employee, who was involved with the whitelisting of CENTCOM accounts, spoke with The Intercept under condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

In his email, Kahler sent a spreadsheet with 52 accounts. He asked for priority service for six of the accounts, including @yemencurrent, an account used to broadcast announcements about U.S. drone strikes in Yemen. Around the same time, @yemencurrent, which has since been deleted, had emphasized that U.S. drone strikes were “accurate” and killed terrorists, not civilians, and promoted the U.S. and Saudi-backed assault on Houthi rebels in that country.

Other accounts on the list were focused on promoting U.S.-supported militias in Syria and anti-Iran messages in Iraq. One account discussed legal issues in Kuwait. Though many accounts remained focused on one topic area, others moved from topic to topic. For instance, @dala2el, one of the CENTCOM accounts, shifted from messaging around drone strikes in Yemen in 2017 to Syrian government-focused communications this year.

On the same day that CENTCOM sent its request, members of Twitter’s site integrity team went into an internal company system used for managing the reach of various users and applied a special exemption tag to the accounts, internal logs show.

One engineer, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that he had never seen this type of tag before, but upon close inspection, said that the effect of the “whitelist” tag essentially gave the accounts the privileges of Twitter verification without a visible blue check. Twitter verification would have bestowed a number of advantages, such as invulnerability to algorithmic bots that flag accounts for spam or abuse, as well as other strikes that lead to decreased visibility or suspension.
Twitter is a "private company" who doesn't have to respect the First Amendment but they're working with the Pentagon and getting paid by the FBI while they amplify their covert influence operations and suppress news stories that could hurt Joe Biden.

[Header image by Touch of Light via Wikicommons, CC BY-SA 4.0]

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