Saturday, March 19, 2011

authorities seek to systematise social media sock-puppetry

The Rise of the Autobots: Into the Underground of Social Network Bots from Tom on Vimeo.

Guardian | The US has a chance to move on from a history of clandestine foreign policy – instead it acts like a clumsy spammer. The US government's plan to use technology to create and manage fake identities for social interaction with terrorists is as appalling as it is amusing. It's appalling that in this era of greater transparency and accountability brought on by the internet, the US of all countries would try to systematise sock puppetry. It's appallingly stupid, for there's little doubt that the fakes will be unmasked. The net result of that will be the diminution, not the enhancement, of American credibility.

But the effort is amusing as well, for there is absolutely no need to spend millions of dollars to create fake identities online. Any child or troll can do it for free. Millions do. If the government insists on paying, it can use to monitor and join in chats. There is no shortage of social management tools marketers are using to find and mollify or drown out complainers. There's no shortage of social-media gurus, either.

Tools are quite unnecessary, though. Just get yourself a fake email account, Uncle Sam, and you can create and manage anonymous and pseudonymous identities across most any social service.

Hell, if the government wants to spread information around the world without being detected, why doesn't it just use WikiLeaks? Oh, that's right. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called WikiLeaks disclosures "not just an attack on America [but an] attack on the international community". The leaks, she said, "tear at the fabric" of government.

Yes, indeed, they tore at the fabric of the Tunisian government and helped launch the revolts in the Middle East and a wave of freedom – and, we hope, democracy – across borders. The movement of liberation we are witnessing came not from war and weapons or spying and subterfuge but from a force more powerful: transparency; openness; honesty.

I remain sorely disappointed that the Obama administration's reflexive response to the WikiLeaks revelations was to clamp down and then condemn, attack, and reportedly torture the alleged leaker and his allies in accountability. Obama missed the opportunity to separate himself from a secretive and sometimes deceitful history of government.

He could make good on his campaign pledge to run the transparent administration. Even while disapproving of the theft of documents, he could acknowledge the lesson of the leaks: that government keeps too much from its people. Government is secret by default and transparent by force when it should be transparent by default and secret by necessity.


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