Master of Internet Puppets
A post on Daily Kos reports on a leaked email from HB Gary Federal, a U.S. defense contractor, about using “persona management“ software to create a whole cast of sock-puppet marionettes. The software makes one person seem to be many--the manipulation of online discussions has never been easier.
The Kos article reports that according to an embedded Word document discovered in the leaked email, it appears the intention behind using these confabulated crowds was so that one person could easily gang up on bloggers, commenters and otherwise 'real' people to smear enemies and distort the truth,"in the equivalent of an entire Brooks Brothers riot online."
Faking identities online is nothing new. Many users express themselves in something like a digital charade and play with an invented privacy that ultimately protects their ‘real” lives. While this may be considered part of the human fusion with the Internet – a questionable process that needs crucial reflection but may be considered widely harmless in its intentions – once it aims at affecting and infiltrating public opinion, it is highly alarming and not harmless at all.
If software enables one person to pretend there are many individuals attacking blogs and swarming diaries, it ultimately and effortlessly creates the illusion of consensus. And distorts the truth, because the opinion of many weighs more than a single voice: sometimes for better, but often for worse.
Image by estherase on Flickr Courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing