Researcher who worked on social media experiment was funded by DoD
Facebook’s controversial “emotional study”, which subjected over half a million unwitting users of the social network to a psychological conditioning experiment, has direct ties to research funded by the Department of Defense concerning the likelihood of civil unrest.
The Facebook scandal hit the headlines this week, as it was revealed that the company participated with a federally funded UCSF study into how emotions can be swayed on social media by controlling the content of personal feeds and deciding whether to show negative or positive material.
While that fact in itself is disturbing, it seems that the rabbit hole goes even deeper.
Bloggers and online sleuths have since highlighted that the research appears to be at least in part connected to a Pentagon-led project called the Minerva Initiative.
Researcher and London Guardian writer Nafeez Ahmed has noted that the project provides “funding to universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world.”
In other words, the DoD wants to master how to predict, prevent, manipulate, control, and even instigate mass civil unrest. It wishes to do this by developing “operational tools” related to “social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces.”
The initiative seeks to provide authoritative knowledge on “social movement mobilisation and contagions”. Social networks including Facebook and Twitter are highlighted as key indicators in the research.
It has been noted that within the official credits for the controversial study recently conducted by Facebook, Cornell University’s Jeffrey T. Hancock is listed as an author. Hancock is also listed on the Pentagon’s Minerva initiative website, where it is noted that he received funding from the Department of Defense for a study called “Cornell: Modeling Discourse and Social Dynamics in Authoritarian Regimes”.
The section of the website devoted to that study includes a visualization program that models the spread of beliefs and disease.
This is not the only connection Cornell University has to the Pentagon civil unrest study. There is a second project listed on the funding page of the Minerva website entitled “Cornell: Tracking Critical-Mass Outbreaks in Social Contagions”.
The US government in conjunction with the military has long been concerned with studying the potential for civil unrest and how it can control, facilitate and combat it. The U.S. Army War College, in conjunction with numerous think tanks have somewhat obsessively studied the subject for years.
In recent years, the rise of social media, and its potential use for growing and organising protest movements, has spurred a new urgency within government and the military to adapt to and co-opt such tools.
The so-called “spring” revolutions of recent years have been heavily centered around the use of social media, with many even suggesting that Western government and military forces have, at least in part, controlled and even initiated unrest in other parts of the world for strategic purposes by employing social media.
Reports have recently emerged of the Military setting up fake Twitter-like social networks in countries such as Cuba, in order to manipulate and sway popular opinion there. The Military also developed so called ‘sock puppet’ software to create fake online identities and spread propaganda at home and abroad.
The government has also heavily invested in companies that monitor social media and track how opinions and information spreads on such networks.
Facebook was and is deeply connected to the NSA’s PRISM program. Via leaked information, and by the NSA’s own admission, it has been noted that Facebook not only knew about, but also cooperated with the mass spying program. The NSA even masqueraded as Facebook via fake servers, using them as a launching pad to grab information from hard drives, in order to infect millions of computers around the world with malware as part of the mass surveillance program.
The trend is clear – the government and the military have set about fully co-opting social media and turning it into a tool for social control and manipulation, and Facebook has cooperated in the process.