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Defense Department Wants the Perfect Memespotting Tool

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, August 3 2011

First, the Pentagon used the influence of "experts" appearing on cable TV to spin the news. Then it sought to create fake social media profiles — sockpuppets — to spread and support its message.

Now, the Department of Defense's research arm is looking for research proposals on how to counter exactly the same type of Internet skulduggery in a request released last month that calls for a three-year project in social media strategic communication. The proposal looks to have been first reported by Wired's Danger Room; we found it via Nextgov.

In a 37-page document outlining what it's calling the Social Media in Strategic Communication Program, the Defence Advanced Projects Research Agency outlines a need for a system that can detect, classify, measure and track memes as well as "purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformationd;" recognize "persuasion campaign structures;" identify participants and their intentions; and counter the messaging of influence operations the Pentagon opposes.

In the request for proposals, DARPA lays out an understanding of social media as a place where "entirely new phenomena are emerging that require thinking about social interactions in a new way."

In order to track and respond to those phenomena, DARPA seems to want a system that can process all the data available from social networks, not just a sample:

The tools that we have today for awareness and defense in the social media space are heavily dependent on chance. We must eliminate our current reliance on a combination of luck and unsophisticated manual methods by using systematic automated and semi‐automated human operator support to detect, classify, measure, track and influence events in social media at data scale and in a timely fashion.

The endgame for DARPA seems to be a tool that the military could deploy to track use of social media abroad — some language specifically requires that any proposal guarantees that Americans' personally identifiable information not be collected — that would be illegal — and as Danger Room noted, the U.S. military's hands are somewhat tied when it comes to gathering intelligence domestically.

(With Becky Kazansky)