Mar 28, 2011

US military sock puppets to target social media

centcom,sock puppets,internet

In an apparent effort to win hearts and minds in unfriendly cyber territory, the US Central Command aka Centcom has plans to launch an army of patriotic sock puppets.

Centcom has awarded a $2.7 million contract to LA based Ntrepid with the aim of creating online "personae" to help get out pro-US spin in the social media sphere. The software will enable a given service operative to work up to 10 sock puppets anywhere in the world. The project would be based out of MacDill Airforce Base in Florida.


The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries".

Operators looking to avoid detection will likely use tactics such as traffic mixing in order to provide cover and deniability. But no matter how 'authentic' they make it appear, this is a really dumb plan. For one thing it's nothing new and playing the fake ID game doesn't exactly add to your online credibility. Centcom's sock puppet software mirrors a favorite pastime of trolls and geeks with no lives. Kind of ironic since the cyber venture is believed to be part of a program with the high sounding name - Project Earnest Voice.

Aside from the ethics of running a pro-American sock puppet show online do the people behind this really imagine the fake id's won't be unmasked? High tech abilities aside, a sock puppet on an Urdu-speaking site is liable to be viewed with suspicion when its pro-American commentary keeps coming irrespective of back-up "supporting details."

There are a few related concerns.


The project has been likened by web experts to China's attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives.

As of now Centcom says it has no plans to target English language or US based sites. Of course that could change. The faking of social media profiles for info gathering purposes isn't anything new as the war between HBGary Federal and Anonymous demonstrated.

Link also to: Toronto Star, TG Daily, Digital Journal

Centcom sock puppet offensive

Palestinian chat rooms targetd by Centcom

Mar 19, 2011

Ark Music Factory's awfully great YouTube sensation

rebecca black,friday,youtube

LA based vanity label Ark Music Factory represents a depressing trend in popular music. The Factory is a magnet for rich parents who are eager to promote their wannabee-pop-star teens. It puts out casting calls, makes low-budget videos (a number of them unintentionally hilarious), then ships the vids around in the hopes that something will catch fire. Rebecca Black's massive YouTube hit "Friday" did exactly that.

In a article music journalist Gabe Meline describes how Ark gets the job done:

The formula is simple: They’ll fly your child between the ages of 13-17 to Los Angeles, write her a “hit,” record it in super-compressed Autotuned production, shoot an edge detection-overlay video and BAM! Maybe your kid can notch up a couple thousand YouTube views while you watch your dreams of being a pop-star parent percolate.

Black's lo-fi video performance is riveting for all the wrong reasons. You can't resist watching as she delivers inane lines with an assist from pitch-correcting software aka Auto-Tune... "yeah ah ah... yeah aha ah... gotta have my bowl... gotta have cereal...gotta catch my bus... gotta get down on Friday..." etc.

Gabe Meline:

...My friend Trevor puts it best: “It’s like everyone involved was given cat tranquilizers and then forced at gunpoint to make a video. The expression on her face when she’s saying the “fun fun fun fun” line is somewhere between ‘I’m saying “fun” but that word means something different on our world’ and ‘Help me I am being held hostage by Kim Jong Il and forced to do this.’

The video has the look of an SNL skit - a bit like a Lonely Island digital short poking fun at tweens. If you view it with a sarcastic eye as vacuous fun it kind of works. It's difficult to listen to lines like "Tomorrow is Saturday, And Sunday comes after ... wards" or "Yesterday was Thursday, ThursdayToday i-is Friday, Friday" and take it seriously.

Seems though that Ark Music is entirely serious. It appears to be attempting a Bieber type sensation, only difference being that Rebecca Black's appeal for a lot of viewers is equivalent to watching a train wreck .

Black's parents paid $2,000 to get the video made. She has been stung by the online criticism of her video and has complained of being "cyberbullied". In a recent radio interview she claims she has stopped going online. It's understandable that she feels that way but the video IS funny (for the wrong reasons) and so attracts sarcastic commentary.

YouTube and iTunes have increasingly become promotional venues of choice, not just for wannabee-stars but also for labels looking to hit the musical jackpot. Some of the time it seems more about catchy, gimmicky appeal rather than the quality of the actual music.

The Friday video has gone viral in spectacular fashion - 16 million views on last check. It has also made it into iTunes Top 100 singles chart.

For more on the story link to: Daily Beast, bnet, Rolling Stone

Funniest Ark videos - here

Friday song amnesia spreading

Mar 14, 2011

'Air Miles Andy' under fire

prince andrew,envoy,uk

What's most surprising about Prince Andrew's questionable judgment calls in his role as British trade envoy is that anyone is surprised. Much like his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, duke-junior has a tendency to put his foot in it. A few people saw it coming. When word first got out that the prince was slated for the trade position a Guardian article warned of "an accident waiting to happen". Prophetic as it turns out.

There have been no shortage of indicators that suggest Andy is somewhat challenged when it comes to diplomatic skills. In a cable published by Wikileaks the US ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Tatania Gfoeller, described his speaking manner at a 2-hour brunch as 'cocky'... 'verging on rude'. She also commented on his apparent tolerance for corruption and 'almost neuralgic patriotism.'

Following the Wikileaks revelation Simon Wilson, the UK's deputy head of mission in Bahrain from 2001-2005, said that Prince Andrew was known as "HBH: His Buffoon Highness" among people in the Gulf diplomatic community. Just last week Stephen Day, former head of the UK Foreign Office's Middle East section described Andrew as the "worst person" to represent the UK in a country' such as Qatar where his royal presence is viewed as "crass."

Andrew's personal connections have also come under fire. He had a 16-year friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, an American billionaire who was convicted of soliciting a minor for prostitution. As many as 40 young women have made allegations against Epstein. Nadia Marcinkova, an occasional girl friend of Epstein's and a PA named Sarah Ellen were questioned about whether Andrew had been involved sexually with any of the young women that were present in Epstein's entourage. Both opted to take the Fifth. Prince Andrew was photographed with an arm around Virginia Roberts, a 17 year-old masseuse who has since claimed that she was sexually exploited by Epstein.

The list of Andrew's friends and associates reads a bit like a Who's Who of the rich and infamous. It includes Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam and convicted Libyan gun smuggler, Tarek Kaituni. Also on the list one Sakher al-Materi - son-in-law of deposed Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. A former British ambassador described al-Materi as "notorious"... "a crook"... "the worst of them all." Al-Materi's sketchy resume didn't get in the way of an invitation to lunch at Buckingham Palace.

The prince has also had a friendship with Ilham Aliyev and his family. Aliyev is the autocratic ruler of Azerbaijan. International observers report that elections in Azerbaijan have been marred by voter intimidation, unequal campaign opportunities and widespread violations of the electoral laws and process.

aliyev,azerbaijan,prince andrew
Prince Andrew and Ilham Aliyev

In 2003 Andrew sold Sunninghill - a home that was a wedding gift from the Queen - for 15 mllion pounds. The purchaser was a Kazhak billionaire named Timur Kulibayev, son-in-law of the president of Kazakhstan. The house went for 3 million above the market value and has since remained unoccupied and poorly maintained. It has been reported reported that Andrew used a complicated tax avoidance scheme to save up to six million pounds on the profits he made from the sale of the home.

Some of the recent revelations have involved his debt-ridden ex, Sarah Ferguson. Fergie was secretly videotaped trying to sell access to the prince. The 'businessman' involved turned out to be an undercover reporter. It has also come to light that she accepted 15,000 pounds from Jeffrey Epstein to pay down her debts... a move she now describes as a "huge mistake." Given her other missteps and 'lapses of judgment' Fergie is in danger of becoming a parody of herself.

A financier named David Rowland, once described in the British parliament as "shady", paid 40,000 pounds off Fergie's debts. The money has the appearance of a cash-for-favors arrangement.

In 2009 Andrew made a special trip to Luxembourg in his role as British trade envoy and personally opened Banque Havilland - a Rowland bank in Luxembourg. Buckingham Palace has denied that the his visit was "connected with, or conditional on, any other arrangement”.

Will 'Air Miles Andy' be let go as envoy? Well he has a few things on his side. In the UK the royal family is still protected from public accountability by law. An amendment to the Freedom of Information Act makes royals exempt from the public's right-to-know.

Andrew's royal status essentially protects him from appearing before government select committees and fielding awkward questions. A rather bizarre state-of-affairs in an otherwise functioning democracy. After all royals take public money, influence policy but conveniently remain beyond accountability! Nothing like having your cake and eating it too.

Link also to Guardian, Guardian, BBC, CBC