(NaturalNews) In addition to Facebook, the U.S. military has also funded efforts to record and analyze the activities of users of the world's top social media site and others such as Twitter, according to reports.
The Guardian newspaper said that research funded either directly or indirectly by the Department of Defense's military research division, known as DARPA, "has involved users of some of the Internet's largest destinations, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Kickstarter, for studies of social connections and how messages spread."
Though some elements of the project, which costs millions of dollars, could raise a "wry smile," The Guardian reported, research has included such pressing topics as analysis of the tweets of celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, in a bid to understand their influence on society at large.
In all, though, the research has amounted to a massive collection of datasets of tweets and other social media posts, the paper said, adding:
Several of the DoD-funded studies went further than merely monitoring what users were communicating on their own, instead messaging unwitting participants in order to track and study how they responded.
Effort to help military develop better propaganda techniques
Shortly before the Facebook controversy broke, DARPA published a long list of projects that it was funding under its Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program, which included actual papers and abstracts.
Included on the project list is a study of how activists with the Occupy Wall Street movement used social media like Twitter, as well as a variety of research regarding the tracking of Internet memes, as well as some about understanding how behavior such as "liking," "tweeting" and "following" is influenced in a range of popular social media platforms.
Established in 1958, DARPA conducts technology research for the Defense Department. Notable successes have included the Arpanet, which was the precursor to today's Internet, as well as other innovations like onion routing, which powers anonymity technologies like Tor. Other more exotic projects have included thought-controlled robot arms, citywide surveillance programs and exoskeletons, which has helped the agency earn the reputation of being involved in numerous conspiracies.
The SMISC program, unveiled in 2011, was regarded as an effort by the military to become more adept at detecting and conducting propaganda campaigns via social media.
On the webpage where it published links to the papers, DARPA says the overall goal of the program is "to develop a new science of social networks built on an emerging technology base."
"Through the program, DARPA seeks to develop tools to support the efforts of human operators to counter misinformation or deception campaigns with truthful information," the agency's website says.
But papers and documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden indicate that U.S. and British intelligence services have been heavily involved in planning ways to use social media covertly, for purposes of deception and propaganda.
Secret studies and manipulation
NSA documents released by Snowden to various media revealed aspects of some of the programs of the NSA and Britain's GCHA. They included a unit that was engaged in "discrediting" enemies of the agencies through the spread of false information online.
As The Guardian further noted:
Earlier this year, the Associated Press also revealed the clandestine creation by USAid of a Twitter-like, Cuban communications network to undermine the Havana government. The network, built with secret shell companies and financed through a foreign bank, lasted more than two years and drew tens of thousands of subscribers. It sought to evade Cuba's stranglehold on the Internet with a primitive social media platform.
Facebook, which is the world's largest social media network, has apologized for its experimentation with some 700,000 users whose news and information feeds were purposely altered so that researchers could conduct secret psychological testing. Revelations of the secret study outraged the public; the study resulted in a scientific paper being published in the March issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.