LONDON: The Pentagon will review its overseas clandestine social media operations after Twitter and Meta removed pro-US accounts from their platforms last month.
The in-depth audit was ordered on Monday by Colin Kahl, undersecretary for policy at the Department of Defense, to review the activities of military branches engaging in online psychological operations, or “psyops.”
Pentagon spokesman Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement that the military’s information operations conducted by the Department of Defense “support national security priorities.”
“These activities must be undertaken in compliance with US law and DoD policy,” he said. “We are committed to enforcing those safeguards.”
The review was prompted after research by Stanford Internet Observatory and the social media analytics firm Graphika last month revealed that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms blocked campaigns aimed at influencing opinion in Central Asia and the Middle East.
The campaigns, believed to be the first of their kind, focused on discrediting Russia, China, Iran and other countries, while promoting US views and values.
Some of the accounts identified by researchers published news pieces from Washington-funded media groups, such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, as well as links to US military websites.
Although researchers could not verify who was behind the pro-US accounts, Meta and Twitter said that the account activities originated in the US and UK.
According to reports, officials at the White House and other government agencies ordered the inquiry after growing increasingly concerned about the use of clandestine online warfare and influence operations.
Although psychological operations have been widely adopted by the US military for a long time, the deployment of fictitious internet personas and false media sources is a relatively new tactic that has proved to be particularly controversial and often attracted the attention of Congress.
In 2008, the Special Operations Command launched the Trans-Regional Web Initiative to promote truthful, but pro-US, messaging in North Africa and the Middle East. After drawing increasing scrutiny from lawmakers, Congress decided in 2013 to stop funding the program.
Although the initiative was interrupted, other information operations have continued on social media platforms.
These have sometimes been compared to online disinformation campaigns carried out by Russia, China, Iran and other US adversaries using similar strategies to sow division and discord in a given country.
Although most of these campaigns receive little attention and have a limited reach, Congress believes that such clandestine efforts could backfire because they evoke the propaganda operations that authoritarian governments use to push messages at home and abroad, and risk undermining US credibility.