In light of Facebook’s disconcerting emotion experiment, The Guardian has published an in-depth look at the US military’s own research efforts to understand and influence social media. DARPA, the Department of Defense’s tech research arm, has sponsored numerous studies across the most popular services, including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Kickstarter and Reddit.
The general goal of the Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) 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.
Unlike the the NSA’s endeavors, SMISC-funded studies aren’t meant to serve as surveillance. DARPA stipulates that researchers are not allowed to use personally identifiable information, and it sets “legal and ethical constraints” for the work. The agency provided the following statement to The Guardian:
Social media is changing the way people inform themselves, share ideas, and organize themselves into interest groups, including some that aim to harm the United States. DARPA supports academic research that seeks to understand some of these dynamics through analyses of publicly available discussions conducted on social media platforms.
According to the report, some of the studies involved messaging “unwitting participants” to see how they responded. Meanwhile, another study created a fictitious social network, hilariously named “FaceFriend,” for participants.
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