Words by James Novello
The evolution of social media from an institution of pointless chirping to a serious outlet utilized by heads of state, organizations, and corporations has moved it into the forefront of public interaction, surpassing the reach and intimacy of both print and face-to-face media. It’s no wonder, then, why the U.S. Government has moved in and begun operations employing the usage of social media.
IN THE USA
The formal name of the operations, Operation Earnest Voice, allows the U.S. government to go on international websites and attempt to change the opinions of users. Although it sounds complex and menacing, this boils down to government workers, being paid with federal taxes, starting online arguments, calling people names, and making friends on the Internet, all in the name of the average American citizen’s security.
Operations are formally restricted to media outside of the United States. However, if the government violates this rule, there is nobody to be held accountable, since the entire operation is behind closed doors. Based on other instances where the government overstepped it’s boundaries in secret operations, it’s not inconceivable that the government is operating wherever they want in the confines of the Internet.
The idea of a nation-state calling people names over the Internet is not far-fetched. The greatest and most widely popularized instance of this appears in The People’s Republic of China. It was revealed not so long ago that the Chinese Communist Party has paid individuals that sit on social media and act like normal netizens, attempting to entrap the nation’s own citizens in honeypot schemes. This is, of course, reflective of a general, seemingly bygone fear of an all-encompassing communist government watching its own citizens and silencing all opposition in secret. In practice, having government infiltrators in online discussions has led to a reaction where anyone online is believed to be an undercover agent. The effect on the average individual is a feeling of restriction on the Internet, an area once popularized as a digital Wild West for any man or woman.
Not only do the governments of China and the United States have these sorts of operations in place, many governments most likely have either factual or secretive groups of shitposters that are paid with tax dollars in order to drum up specific opinions through sockpuppeting. Sockpuppeting is the action of pretending to be a different person on the Internet, usually used in astroturfing (creating a fake grassroots campaign). These tactics are also used by corporations and other groups that receive funding from unknown agencies. This is done both online, and in real life. Offline examples include both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Government, corporate, and individual forces utilize both sockpuppets and astroturfing in order to build support for their various causes, and for many groups, it’s akin to large-scale advertising.
WHY DISCUSS SHITPOSTING?
This is obviously important in an era where most social change comes through online interaction. Most notably, the Arab Spring took place when people were able to connect on US-owned social media. It’s not out of the question to assume that at some point, a US-owned sockpuppet could have influenced individuals in a foreign country.
The effect of an undisclosed and innumerable amount of sock puppets littering the Internet is a greater distrust of fellow internet users and a self-regulated censorship in what was thought to be a bastion of freedom on the internet. No longer can people share what they want, or have anti-establishment leanings in plain sight. With narcs of all kinds – representing various agencies, corporations, nations, ideologies, and elusive funders – the conversation will once again be regulated by those with the most money. In conjunction with Internet regulations being passed in many nations, this seeks to choke off the final bastion of anonymous free speech. There’s a joke in this somewhere.