Twitter aided US military’s covert propaganda campaign in West Asia: Report
An investigation based on Twitter’s internal files shows the social networking giant secretly worked with the Pentagon to amplify propaganda about the US military activities in West Asia.
The recent investigation by Lee Fang, a reporter with The Intercept, said internal documents show Twitter secretly created a special “whitelist” exempting accounts run by US Central Command (CENTCOM) from spam and abuse flags, granting them greater visibility on the platform.
Twitter quietly introduced the feature in 2017 after US military officials asked the company to improve the visibility of 52 Arab language accounts used to “amplify certain messages,” it added.
The accounts were then used to run its online influence campaign abroad.
“The CENTCOM accounts on the list tweeted frequently about US military priorities in the Middle East, including promoting anti-Iran messages, promotion of the Saudi Arabia-US backed war in Yemen, and 'accurate' US drone strikes that claimed to only hit terrorists,” Fang revealed.
Fang said Twitter worked hand-in-hand with CENTCOM to give the US military blue check verification status.
Fang’s revelations are the latest in a series of Twitter internal documents and communications released by its new CEO Elon Musk.
The social media platform allowed fake accounts to push pro-US narratives despite pledging to shut down covert state-run influence campaigns.
Fang said Twitter worked with the Pentagon despite Twitter claiming for years that they “make concerted efforts to detect & thwart gov-backed platform manipulation.”
“But behind the scenes, Twitter gave approval & special protection to the US military’s online psychological influence ops,” Fang continued in his thread. “Despite the knowledge that Pentagon propaganda accounts used covert identities, Twitter did not suspend many for around 2 years or more. Some remain active.”
Fang said a Twitter official told him he felt "deceived by the covert shift."
“One Twitter official who spoke to me said he feels deceived by the covert shift. Still, many emails from throughout 2020 show that high-level Twitter executives were well aware of DoD’s [Department of Defence] vast network of fake accounts & covert propaganda and did not suspend the accounts,” Fang said.
“Still, many emails from throughout 2020 show that high-level Twitter executives were well aware of DoD’s vast network of fake accounts & covert propaganda and did not suspend the accounts.”
CENTCOM subsequently concealed its ownership of the accounts, Fang said, in some cases using fake profile pictures and bios to give the impression they were run by civilians in West Asia.
The social media company was aware of CENTCOM’s covert activity and tolerated the presence of the accounts on the platform until at least May 2022, Fang said. “For example, Twitter lawyer Jim Baker mused in a July 2020 email, about an upcoming DoD meeting, that the Pentagon used ‘poor tradecraft’ in setting up its network, and were seeking strategies for not exposing the accounts that are ‘linked to each other or to DoD or the USG.’”
The revelations are the latest in a series of stories based on internal company documents that Musk, who bought Twitter in October, shared with several journalists at non-mainstream publications.
Musk, one of the world’s richest men, says the release of the documents is an effort to boost transparency about the social media platform’s operations under previous management.