After major social media companies raised concerns that Pentagon may have used fake social media handles to manipulate foreign audiences, the US military is set to scrutinize its clandestine psychological warfare operations.
According to multiple unnamed administration and Pentagon officials familiar with the matter, the military commands have one month to offer full accounting and justify their psychological warfare activities in line with the order issued by US undersecretary of defense for policy, Colin Kahl.
The sweeping audit is announced after Twitter and Facebook identified and took offline 150 phony accounts suspected of being run by the Pentagon in violation of their platforms’ rules and involved in covert influence operations.
Employees at Twitter and Facebook contacted the US military in 2020 to raise concerns over fake accounts they believed to be linked to the Pentagon. Facebook’s head of ‘global threat disruption’ David Agranovich was the first to warn defense officials that US adversaries could as easily detect the inauthentic behavior.
Researchers at Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory revealed the takedowns in their report, emphasizing online networks allegedly pushing politicized narratives that were pro-Western and anti-Russia.
The study, however, did not pin blame on any particular actors for the fake accounts.
Kahl’s order is reportedly stemming from the White House’s concerns over the attempted manipulation of audiences overseas by the Defense Department using social media.
Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, said that while supporting US national security priorities, military information ops must be carried out in a lawful manner.
Among those whose activities are facing scrutiny for its influence operations is US CENTCOM, the US combatant command which oversees forces in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia.
Such behavior by its personnel or contractors, as one official noted, would be a violation of doctrine and training practices.