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11 Dec, 2020 19:48

Pentagon searching for ‘vetted Official Twitter Partner’ to help it influence platform’s users

Pentagon searching for ‘vetted Official Twitter Partner’ to help it influence platform’s users

The US Defense Department is looking to ramp up its real-time surveillance of social media and specifically seeking a contractor already trusted by Twitter to model and influence shifting public sentiment in real time.

The Pentagon is seeking a “small business” software developer that not only enjoys privileged status as a “vetted Official Twitter Partner” but is also capable of picking through the “entire Twitter historical archive for analysis” and monitoring conversations in more than 150 languages, according to a Thursday posting by the department’s Washington Headquarters Services.

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The ideal Pentagon partner will be able to “ingest near-real-time social media feeds from Twitter and other platforms” while searching the data ‘firehose’ for multipart search terms, ideally in “most major languages” simultaneously. The program would have to be able to present the results of its real-time analysis “graphically in various formats,” including on “geospatial maps and over time horizons.”

From there, the Pentagon’s corporate colleague would be able to “compute and highlight trend analysis” as well as “sentiment analysis … based on shifting online attitudes.” Essentially, the Defense Department wants a computer program that can accurately ascertain the thoughts and emotions of the social media hive-mind – including tracking “public reactions and significant events as they spike” on any given platform – and alter them if the need arises.

The candidate would also have to be able to “distinguish between real authors and online bots which may be pushing disinformation” – though it’s not clear if the company has to be able to tell the Pentagon’s own bot army apart from garden-variety AI-powered accounts.

All of this information would be packaged into Excel spreadsheets and prioritized for government agencies in terms of what warrants “immediate attention” and what simply forms part of the background of current events.

The Pentagon already deploys multiple sophisticated tools to monitor and influence Twitter and other social media platforms. It was one of the earliest adopters of “sock puppet” software allowing a single individual to control numerous fake social media accounts, and has been working with software companies to measure and analyze “group dynamics” – supposedly to predict “cyber terrorism events” – on social platforms since at least 2012. 

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In August, the Pentagon inked a $12.2 million contract with Dataminr to perform services similar to those listed in Thursday’s posting. The collaboration was expected to last only three months, however, and was supposed to conclude by mid-November.

While the US military has tracked and infiltrated dissident groups for decades in ‘real life,’ its capabilities in both impersonating and monitoring human conversation online have exploded over the past decade as more of what is considered ‘war’ takes place in the minds of targeted populations. Using private contractors allows the government – technically bound by the First and Fourth Amendments forbidding it from impinging on Americans’ free speech or right of protection from unreasonable search and seizure – to ignore constitutional concerns, as it’s technically an independent corporation violating targets’ rights.

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