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Twitter exec for Middle East is also part-time British army 'psyops' officer (middleeasteye.net)
360 points by FDS 21 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 127 comments

This is a conflict of interest, which should erode the trust that anyone would have on twitter. The man is simultaneously responsible for editorial decisions, while also serving in a brigade that "uses social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook ... to wage what the head of the UK military describes as “information warfare”.

Imagine finding out that the executive in charge of editorial decisions for Twitter in Hong Kong, is also serving in the Chinese military's department of "information warfare". As a Hong Konger, you'd have to be an idiot to continue trusting twitter at that point. The fact that Twitter is well aware of this, and didn't see a conflict of interest, makes me question their neutrality and effectiveness as a platform for online discussion.

There are many examples of media outlets working for governments as weaponized tools all over the globe and as mouthpieces or instruments of foreign policy or even warfare.

Twitter is just another broadcast tool like most media outlets.

Examples of Twitter being used for US foreign policy goals are legion. Here are some from the Obama era on “regime change“ attempts in Iran with personal involvement and approval of Jack Dorsey:




Who has any trust in Twitter?


Twitter is not an open protocol for sharing information. Thats what the internet is for. Twitter is just an advertising company that allows you to post content in exchange for hosting ads on that content.

Who they hire, is their business. If you don't agree with their (inconsistent and haphazard) editorial policies, just host your content elsewhere.

I think we need to stop giving Twitter so much power over the world by talking about it so much and start creating and using other platforms. Twitter has only 20% market penetration in the US.

Whether people trust Twitter overtly is not a decisive question. Twitter exists and has an impact. Information on what influences this impact is useful and important.

Twitter's moderation is all over the place, and it really seems like half a step from pure anarchy. I can see people equating that with it being a relatively free platform.

From an American Twitter user's perspective, it seems like you can pretty much advocate all forms of violence and fascism as long as you maintain even the thinnest veil of acting like it's a political discussion.

Unfortunately far too many people have blind trust in a wide swath of institutions, both in big tech and government.

Do you think that governments want and work to try to influence public opinion? I mean you don't need to rely on intuition here. As one fun example the current state of modern art is largely because the CIA used it as a propaganda weapon. [1] As the article mentions it was pushed heavily by their "Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations."

And governments in general seem more obsessed with information manipulation than ever before. Consequently, I find it only logical to assume that all social media is currently being heavily utilized by government level actors to push their various propaganda and agendas. If one is optimistic it even goes some way towards explaining the stupidity of social media -- propaganda is often quite ham fisted.

Now pair this with AI. OpenAI recently demonstrated an AI capable of producing at least semi-workable longer form articles. This [2] is a toy version of that running on an intentionally crippled network. You give it the start of a writing prompt, and it completes the rest. I decided to give it part of what you wrote. In particular I gave it everything up until "Imagine founding out that". This is what was produced:

"This is a conflict of interest, which should erode the trust that anyone would have on twitter. The man is simultaneously responsible for editorial decisions, while also serving in a brigade that "uses social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook ... to wage what the head of the UK military describes as “information warfare”. Imagine finding out that the man responsible for the military's response had once been paid an anonymous $300,000 fee to write an op-ed. How can you trust him to do his job without that knowing? Is there anything else that we can do? What can we do? We need a real-time response to any tweets or stories that are inaccurate or in breach of policy, where the facts are being misrepresented. I'm not an information manager but something needs to be done to stop this from happening, or at least give people an opportunity to understand what the fuck they are doing in their tweets."

That paragraph has several glaring errors, but the produced speech is intentionally designed to be such. It's a toy model on a public site. Imagine the current state of the art. You could even create a neural network that is trained to detect human-like writing to automatically validate or reject the blurbs. This all becomes much easier if you restrict its training down to a specific agenda, and even easier still on a platform like Twitter where Tweets continued to be heavily restricted in character count. Emulating a human is much easier in shorter posts.

I don't think we should ever start declaring one another to be bots, since that leads nowhere, but at the same time I would consider that things such as trying to get a feel for a consensus online may already be impossible. If it's not yet impossible, it will be soon enough. Yet another reason people must always remember to think for themselves, and only themselves... not that adopting a view because of its popularity would be logical, even if it was genuinely popular. Also a major reason to check any emotion at the door. I find it interesting that that random AI generated blurb was aiming to emotionally incite.

[1] - https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-was-cia-...

[2] - https://talktotransformer.com/

> And governments in general seem more obsessed with information manipulation than ever before. Consequently, I find it only logical to assume that all social media is currently being heavily utilized by government level actors to push their various propaganda and agendas.

There is so much Twitter bot activity around politics. It is deeply troubling to consider that the intelligence agencies could be actively involved in manipulating political discourse with the goal of influencing US elections.

EDIT: Surprising that a reply to this comment mentioning the JIDF was flagged to dead within 5 minutes of being posted. I don't think I've ever seen an HN comment go dead that fast. Poster seems to have a history of being flagged (maybe only took one report?), but in this context is a bit unnerving.

Nothing gets taken down faster than criticism of ANYTHING Israeli.

I have to object here to your long, vaguely plausible stream of semi-coherent accusations. It adds nothing to the discussion, derails the thread and pollutes the discussion. What is your point?

I mean, states and manipulators like to use Twitter bots but Twitter bots and Twitter editorial decisions are rather distinct. Just as much, the GP doesn't seem confused about whether states use manipulation and your insinuation that they are seems disingenuous.

Don't pretty much all these companies have some pretty questionable ties to governments? Faceberg had CIA funding(Q-Tel), right around the time they shut down a software project which had similar goals, no?

In-Q-Tel is the name you’re looking for, methinks.

I believe their auto-tagging feature (which was too good and creeped people out, so they reverted) occurred soon after this investment.

Good question why did the completely unknown but sociopathic Zuckerberg get enough funding to squash everyone else?

I believe Facebook already had social media market dominance before CIA invested.

If Zuckerberg is so evidently a sociopath. What does that make people like Larry Ellison from a far? Or other individual tech giants who backstabbed other founders or early employees to their faces (Twitter founders, mainly Ev and Jack or Snap founders as examples)

Look up Martin Eberhard, then look up the name of the most famous company he founded, then look up the end of life of the person the company was named after and weep ;-)

I’m not sure about what happened to Eberhard and his co-founder, and other early employee stakes in Tesla. I find this situation to not be the same as the examples I brought up. Elon and the two co-founders he brought in did not already know the two original co-founders on a personal level. Tesla was behind on their tech and production when the recession was beginning and Elon took over.

Elon plowed all of his liquid assets into Tesla [and SpaceX]. I don’t think he had much money around the late 00s until Tesla was able to get out of its financial woes. I don’t know if the original co-founders would’ve been able to find someone else to pump the money Elon did himself and fundraised from car companies while still maintaining control of the company. Same way, I don’t know if they would’ve been able to get enough money raised from auto companies like Elon and the Tesla team did without them in the late 00s.

For all of that and the fact that the Tesla co-founders were worth tens of millions a piece from a prior startup sale, I’ve never put the Tesla co-founders in the same basket as what the Snap founders did. Or much worse, what the Twitter founders, Ev and Jack, did. Or people like Steve Jobs and Ellison firing early or important employees before stock vested or not giving stock to early employees. For companies that are financially solvent and growing. That’s despicable.

Similarly, I don’t put what Zuckerberg and Facebook did to Eduardo and the Winklevoss on remotely the same level as any of these examples. On the flip side, the twins and especially Eduardo lucked out completely that FB became so successful and they were able to reap enormous financial benefits that they otherwise wouldn’t have done on their own.

The actual Nikola Tesla though. Yes I weep for sure!

As far as I'm aware, nobody is using Twitter as a reputable source of information.

Except almost every mainstream news source.. ever? Have you seen the amount of wrong information be blamed on Tweets?

Perhaps this is why the mainstream news sources are considered by many (most?) to be disreputable now.

This completely disregards the number of politicians and newsmakers using Twitter as a platform to share information. The US President has been the first president to announce major policy changes over Twitter without any consultation with his own administration.

News outlets cover Twitter precisely because people are making news on the platform. There is a lot of misinformation out there (especially from the President), and major news outlets make bad calls when running stories (affecting their reputation), but their insistence on using Twitter for news isn't a part of that.

Which is why mainstream news is viewed as untrustworthy by most people.

Yet that’s what most people still go by.

Millions of people believe they are.

Recently the Chinese government ran a full-page ad in a national newspaper explaining "their view" of "the Hong Kong situation." The newspaper got a lot of flack for publishing the ad, but I think neither they nor the Chinese government did anything wrong. Because the sender of the ad was clearly identified people could judge for themselves. While the ad was propaganda it wasn't manipulative or underhanded.

But what is going on these days is that governments are engaging in propaganda where the identity of the sender is shrouded. For example Twitter accounts controlled by the Chinese state pretending to be common citizens. I think such propaganda is not ok and also that it is not only China and Russia doing it but also Western states and states that are supposed to be friendly to the West.

> For example Twitter accounts controlled by the Chinese state pretending to be common citizens.

Problem is that they are real citizens. In China, they're referred to as 50 Cent Army (or 50 Cent Party), because that's how much they're believed to be paid for every pro-government post.

Their engagements are usually not. There are botnets upvoting/downvoting/liking/retweeting stuff, but each and every post is written by an actual human, and there are guidelines as to how they need to respond to different stories. It's not like there's one human in charge of posting to 100s of accounts.

Yeah, that is a problem. The situation sounds similar to how the Act.IL app works, an app to counter criticism towards Israel online. The app publishes links to "hot pages" where users are supposed to post comments supportive of Israel and/or do the equivalent of down voting comments negative to it. The app itself is funded and, I believe, run by some Israeli government agency but the users who use it to coordinate are not affiliated with the Israeli state in any way. Just "normal" people who happen to be very pro-Israel, I guess.

So is that underhanded or not? It is not completely different from Amnesty who occasionally sends out emails asking you to sign some list of signatures or to send complaint letters to some third world despot. There are very few rules in this area so it is hard to say what is fair and what isn't. Even if there were, there's no way the rules will be enforced. I'm pretty sure that all these "scandals" are just the tip of the iceberg. The dumb ones are getting caught. More refined state actors (not Russia or China) already have way better methods that Twitter and Facebook can't (or wont!) detect.

I can see where you're coming from, but in the Amnesty case it's fairly obvious that the communication originates from a campaign (due to timing if nothing else) and in the Israel case it's not.

Then there's a strong argument to be made that Amnesty gets the moral high ground because their goals are altruistic.

Either way, I think it's an apples to oranges comparison.

altruism?! organizations like amnesty and human rights watch, regularly employee people in and out of western governments and are part of the governing western elite. no wonder that while they are always quick to call out and denounce some third world authoritarians, and adversaries of west, they are far more muted when it comes to rights violations by western leaders(even in minority of cases where they don't simply ignore). factually, greatest mass criminals and rights violators of 21st century, are presidents and other leaders of usa and it's allies. but you wouldn't know that, if your sources are amnesty and co.

Source? They don't come off especially muted on the USA. On this one page they mention:

* civilian drone-strike killings

* suspension of travel from Muslim-major countries

* attacks on rights of women & girls

* new Guantánamo Bay transfers

* gun violence

* death sentences


that is in fact extremely muted (and mostly about things that are not in line with ideology of west's elites) compared to their condemnation of 3rd world authoritarians or adversaries of west. especially so because west is now the biggest rights violators, including biggest mass murderers and perpetrators of illegal wars.

there are also many, many sincere chinese nationalists, some of whom use twitter. people forget that the number of chinese people on the internet is substantially larger than the entire US population, even if most don’t hang out in the same places

People on the internet seem regularly shocked to learn that there are real-life individuals who support Trump, are pro-CCP and don't consider every interaction with a Russian national to be treason.

They are real humans in the sense of that they're made of flesh, but their actions and opinions are clearly fabricated. Combine that with the fake engagement so that it looks legit to the average Joe and boom you have the perfect robot army.

> the sender of the ad was clearly identified people could judge for themselves.

If they aware enough of how horrible their government is that they can ignore what it says and assume it's all a lie, sure.

If the Chinese government has done anything to make citizens trust its authority, such as censorship etc, then the ad is manipulative.

> While the ad was propaganda it wasn't manipulative or underhanded.

Perhaps not in itself, but taking the very example you give, it is manipulative.

Use news stories to paint the "official" picture and use astroturfing to provide a counterpart to the "official" picture. Both as parts in a larger underhanded play.

One thing that mystifies me is why the general population thinks that uniformed PsyOps people are like a real-life version of Kilgrave from Jessica Jones. They're basically the military's version of PR reps; most of their time is spent doing stuff like making fliers and taking photos of bags of rice being handed out. Maybe once in a while they get to blast Slayer at a building of holed-up insurgents. Meanwhile all the HN comments treating this guy like he's using Twitter as a cover to put LSD in the Saudis' water supply or some shit.

PsyOps main job is convincing occupied peoples that the occupier is their friend. One of the ways they do that is by taking photos of bags of rice being handed out. They also actively work to spread (dis)information.

So, like a PR rep?

The term public relations was actually an explicit rebranding of the term Propaganda after it started to develop a negative association in the public eye. Look up Edward Bernays, it's a fascinating bit of history that's not really talked about much.


If you're into documentaries, "The Century of the Self" covers this subject excellently: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=century+of+self

One of my favorite documentaries! It didn't just give me new knowledge, but re-framed the way I view & process future knowledge.

Which also happens to be his role at Twitter, never mind the clickbait "Executive" in the headline.

If they're on "our" side, we call them PR reps, yes.

In the other word: propaganda machine.

You’ve seen one too many movies, mostly they are doing about the same job as brand influencers just their brand is HMAF in this case.

No, I was stationed as security for a PsyOps team in Gardez, Afghanistan for four months in 2003.

I suspect very few people have any first hand experience with "PSYOP" (MISO now). Its mostly reservists, they were kicked out of SOCOM for a reason (the reservists at least), and Civil Affairs does all the stuff people actually care about anyway.

The real manipulation of a population is being undertaken at levels so far outside that military structure, its almost unrecognizable.

Sounds like one particular viewpoint that, while somewhat relevant, doesn't actually shed much light into this vastly different (both geographically and temporally) situation.

Don't close your mind just because you know of one instance of the thing being discussed; you anchor yourself to a specific point in time.

"Winning hearts and minds" isn't a bad thing on its own - NATO forces are objectively better than islamic extremists like ISIS and the Taliban - but acting like our military is wholly altruistic is naive at best and purposefully disingenuous at worst.

No one here was acting like anyone's military was wholly altruistic...

>Don't close your mind just because you know of one instance of the thing being discussed; you anchor yourself to a specific point in time.

Person with zero experience lecturing someone who actually performed the role, in service of the country, is such a HackerNews thing.

Bonus points for referring to their real-life experience as "somewhat relevant".

The fact that you think this person performed the PsyOps role means your lack of reading comprehension undermines your scolding tone.

But please, tell me more about what a "HackerNews" thing this is.

What part of the parent post is movie-like? I may be too cynical, but I don't see a difference between "the same job as brand influencers" and "spread (dis)information"

Because most of their job isn’t spreading disinformation but rather providing good PR for recruitment at home or in the Middle East countering the disinformation campaigns that the likes of ISIS run unless you think that their recruitment operations are not disinformation.

The British army information warfare unit also famously runs the BBC radio relay station in Cyprus providing access to the Middle East and parts of Asia.

"Good PR" is also seen as the lack of bad PR. Like when we drop a bomb on a school and kill a bunch of kids. PsyOps are the ones who pay off the village.

What makes you think the good PR is not disinformation?

"They're just like brand influencers" makes them sound worse, if anything.

Not sure about the general population, but folks here are largely zeroing in on the conflict of interest issues. At least in the US, I would expect serving "PsyOps" people to be government employees, supported by taxes and subject to general oversight that taxpayers (at least in theory) should be able to exercise.

I would have no problems if he went to Twitter after retiring, but I see such double-dipping as a current gov't employee as a big problem. My 2c.

What? I am a US Army Reserve officer and I've served my country for the last ten years while working in tech. I've been in the technology industry for 25 years and have been in management and am currently a principal engineer for a large SFBA company. My military service is what I did one weekend a month and has no connection to my tech job, other than providing me with people leadership experience that readily translated into my day job.

I even served in a PSYOP unit for a few of those years. My fellow soldiers were cops, school teachers, software developers, construction workers, and PhD students. Just a bunch of young people that loved their country and wanted to help out while making a little extra money on the weekends.

You will find current and former military at virtually every sizable tech company. We're not here as part of some covert government plan to subvert the industry. We are here because you can't support a family on the $300-500 a month that you get from reserve duty. We're just a slice of the nation and no different than you.

Clearly there can be a conflict of interest when working for international tech firms. If Russian PSYOPS reservists were heading up an American division of Twitter, surely people would be screaming bloody murder (and with good cause).

This really hit the nail on the head I think

If the partnership between tech and the US government were as tight as you might think, we wouldn't be losing so badly on the information warfare front.

The fact is that the United States has such a massive bureaucracy between itself private innovation. If we had anyone dual-employed in both government and the private sector, they're in the latter because they can'd do anything useful for the former.

Yes, but did you ever have a conflict of interest between your two positions? As other people are pointing out, psyops (generally speaking) involves tweaking public opinion in ways that favor the government. This person also happened to have editorial control and influence on Twitter.

If he were just a developer, it might be different, no?

Your argument is logical but if you had served in the military (at least the US military...can't speak for others), it's laughable.

The day-to-day of the average reservist's military (even a senior officer!) is mind-numingly boring and not important in the big picture. In a MISO unit (the new US Army name for PSYOP), an officer's day is spent planning training events and doing simulations of what their job might be "downrange" in wartime.

We're not scheming on ways to infiltrate our civilian employers--we're too busy trying to get hold of the lazy DoD civilian at Fort Bumblefuck with the full voicemail to get our training area allocated for the mandatory annual trip to the rifle range in November.

Now, is it possible that if we went into full-scale conflict with Iran and the Middle East was on fire that the UK and US might call upon this Twitter exec/reserve officer to help out? Sure. But, it would be above-the-board. He would get orders to active duty and turn in his Twitter laptop before heading off to spend the next year and a half at a military installation advising on Middle East info campaigns. This happens all the time and happened to a lot of us during OIF and OEF. The whole reason for existence of the reserve forces is to leverage critical knowledge learned in the civilian sector.

You seem to be suggesting that we should just ignore conflict of interest concerns when the military is involved?

Most jobs involve large periods of mind-numbingly boring work that's not important to the big picture. The problem is the small, sometimes minute, fraction of time spent where the work is important to the big picture and there is a conflict of interest.

So, do you believe the general public should create a list of past government employed individuals and ban them from accessing the job market? That completely has no chance, what so ever, to have any negative repercussions in time. But draws the line to solve the problem you're having. Then no one with a conflicting interest from the gov can persuade their opinion into the public through private enterprise means.

No, the issue here is that there's a concurrent conflict of interest where the same person has two jobs where it's clear they may need to recuse themselves from certain decisions.

I haven't said anything at all about:

1. banning 2. all 3. past government employees 4. from all jobs

Those were all generalizations you added.

I am talking about the need to:

1. scope recusals or avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest 2. For some jobs 3. For current government employees who have concurrent roles in which their interests could be misaligned 4. For some jobs where such a conflict of interest can occur

I hope you understand that some people might be frustrated with you when you turn a rather minimalist position into this maximalist nightmare that even past government employees should be considered unemployable.

Aye, but you also need to set a limit on such ideas. It's very easy for something like that to run away. Because you make it seem like a psyops reservist is out to persuade the public to goose step around. What if the ilks of Twitter bring those people in specifically to combat misinformation because that's what they're good at? Someone in that position is like a hammer. A hammer can be used to create or destroy. It's generally the company's responsibility to figure that out.

Moonlighting is a dangerous thing to regulate. It starts to impede on personal freedoms. Until social media is regulated as a public sphere, there's really no bearing for anyone to make judgement who work there with either current or past employment.

Oh, also, I hope you understand that other people's opinion of me don't affect me. The same as my opinion of you shouldn't concern you either.

> Oh, also, I hope you understand that other people's opinion of me don't affect me. The same as my opinion of you shouldn't concern you either.

I was trying to politely tell you that you are frustrating to disagree with. You keep speaking of "logic" and maximalist positions of individual liberty, while at the same time applying logical fallacies ad nauseum - a slippery slope at the start of this comment I'm replying to! As far as I can tell, no one is arguing that it should be illegal for Twitter to hire people with potential conflicts of interest, but that seems to be what you're arguing against. Instead, people are saying Twitter should avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest, not as a legal maxim but a moral one that might influence their decision to use or trust Twitter. And that doesn't rely on social media being regulated as part of the public sphere.

> there's really no bearing for anyone to make judgement who work there with either current or past employment.

Yes, there is. People judge companies all the times based on their employment decisions, their policies, their impact on the world. This can be another factor that people consider: Twitter doesn't shy away from conflicts of interest.

> Oh, also, I hope you understand that other people's opinion of me don't affect me. The same as my opinion of you shouldn't concern you either.

Ugh, it is draining for people to argue with you when you don't take their arguments seriously or for what they are, while insisting that you're logical and others' arguments are laughable. Please, take care to change your attitude about whether other people's opinions matter. They do. No one wants to argue with someone who cannot empathize with or humanize the other side. Well, perhaps you do, but it's an awful experience for most people.

IANAL. Clearly reservists are an important group that I did not cleanly address. I originally meant full time employment.

> My military service is what I did one weekend a month and has no connection to my tech job, other than providing me with people leadership experience that readily translated into my day job.

This, to me, is a key distinction. What you describe is similar to a second job some folks hold -- no problem for 99.9% of the population, but starts drawing much more scrutiny when people climb into senior management at either job. IANAL. Just my 2c.

> We're just a slice of the nation and no different than you.

I don't want to be a dick to you because I should take you at your word in the absence of evidence otherwise. I think the issue here is you're paid by and subject to a military hierarchy with all the baggage that entails - that makes you different.

So, do you think the entire concept of reservists should be abolished?

That isn't accurate. In a modern military the role of interfacing with an external public is divided into three distinct roles:

* public relations

* civil affairs

* psychological operations

Public relations' job is to interface with media and community leaders where the military is an established asset. This means in area where the military is not conducting active (non-training) military operations.

Civil affairs' interface with media and civilian leaders in areas where the military is conducting active (non-training) operations. This may include areas where the military is operating in a peace keeping or humanitarian capacity. This communications responsibility may be more diplomatic or business oriented in nature and focuses on welfare and humane needs of a supported civilian population.

Psychological operations operates against a military enemy.

It is the job of all three roles to provide some amount of influence and general information. The public relations and civil affairs are far more restrictive in the information they provide, almost as if in a journalistic capacity. Psychological operations will provide any information as helpful to win military engagements and is primarily restricted by military tactical conditions.

It is best not to intermix or confuse those 3 separate communications roles, because the overlap between them is extremely limited.

I would imagine that this is true for the vast majority of PsyOps people. However. Just because it's true for the vast majority of people doesn't mean it's true for everyone. By your logic the fact that the majority of developers being people trying to make a living banging away at keyboard implies that there are no kernel divers, or AI magicians, or black hole image processors. Yes, it's mostly bags of rice, but someone at the executive level of a major social media platform might, just _might_ be getting orders that are a little above and beyond taking pictures of rice.

Public relations is simply the modern terminology for propaganda. He is a military propaganda officer.

Remember when Facebook experimented with mass emotional manipulation by boosting negative/positive content?

That's one thing I'd expect a psyop guy might do.

Another is boost posts from allies and demote posts from enemies.

I must note that when there's a tie between an exec in a foreign country, and it's military/government, nobody has time for that kind of hair splitting.

"Militarized adtech" does sound pretty terrifying though

Whether it's fliers or LSD the intention is the same. And sometimes it does end up being worse than LSD, such as gun fire and cluster bombs.

"kinetic operations" (read: shooting) are not generally within the purview of Psychological Operations units... Do you have any cites to support your claim?

It should be obvious that my point is that it's one organization with a unified purpose regardless of what unit they are part of.

It was not at all obvious, and further, you made a claim ("gun fire and cluster bombs") that implied you had some direct knowledge of the topic. Do you, or did your claim just sound right to your ears?

Are you at all serious in implying that military propaganda and warfare aren't obviously related?

This comment is a great example of what kind of disinformation the PSYOPs might want to propagate. Probably isn't, but just saying...

dude I think you underestimate how important social media plays in interfering internal affairs of a country

This is... tricky. There's two ways you can interpret the situation.

One is that Twitter has a desire to use the information warfare skills directly to manipulate the narrative on its platform. The other is that they recognise external actors are very likely to want to do exactly that, and this sort of hire is a great defensive move.

Twitter will never admit to the former and will always publicly state the latter. I don't think there's a real way to tell what the truth actually is — arguably it might actually be "a bit of both" — and I suspect most people will see this as proof of whatever theory they already believed in.

I guess it makes sense that you'd want for a position like this to have someone with a deep understanding of social media in general, how Twitter is used in Middle Eastern cultures, how to discourage radicalization on the platform, that sort of thing — exactly the sort of thing you'd learn in the 77th Brigade. And yet — it's not a really comfortable sort of thing, is it? It's an admission that, at the very least, the platform is trying to manipulate its users, and at most, engaging in that manipulation on the behalf of governments it supports to the detriment of other groups.

The Arab Spring both made and broke twitter, and for the same reason: it became very obvious that it now had the power to achieve massive social change.

That got a lot of people on board trying to achieve positive social change .. and a lot of people trying to achieve antisocial change (promotion of racism etc), states trying to neutralise it in their own politics, and states trying to promote it in the politics of their enemies.

The best ways to sabotage a social movement are with infighting, misidentification of enemies, and distraction with irrelevant goals. Twitter also provides a new one: arguing with trolls and sockpuppets. Hugely engaging, provides moral vindication, achieves less than nothing.

There's two ways you can interpret the situation.

No there are 3 ways, the third being that the guy’s day job and his reserve role are unrelated. What if he had been say a Chef in the Army and a Chef in a restaurant? No one would think that was weird.

A chef in the army usually isn't trying to poison people's bodies so we would have little worry about them trying to do it in their private restaurant.

A propagandist for the military is charged with poisoning people's minds and so we should therefore be very worried if they take up similar positions in the private sector.

So you'd be happy with a high level Chinese party member, perhaps an "ex" People's Army psy-ops guy (or whoever), being in charge of USA's Twitter accounts, for example, because "it's just a job"?

Sure people will ask questions but there is a non-zero possibility that it is above board. That is all I’m saying.

It's called the Department of Defense, not Offense :)

You need more than one single solitary account to do psyops on Twitter (I know - I regularly play around with Twitter sockpuppet accounts because I have inordinate amounts of free time to do research on the effects of a campaign, albeit small experimental campaigns :p). Twitter have since made it very difficult to keep an account in good standing if you are suspected of doing psyop-type things like auto-liking specific keywords, 'pouncing' on tweets that have just been sent so that you have the first few replies, constantly monitoring their search feature for specific keywords and engaging with others and spreading some sort of repeated message. Gaming the retweet and like count with several bot-accounts that all use the same IP and useragent will surely get you banned.

I think over the last few years Twitter have done a good job at filtering out bad actors, though like some game of whack-a-mole - bad actors continue to crop up and game Twitter using more novel methods. I suspect the new way of doing psyops is to buy multiple smartphones which all have separate IPs due to a GSM/4G network, and have different and distinct device fingerprints due to different Android versions in use. Then it's a case of constantly feeding the sim-cards with credit (to keep them registered on the network) and if prompted to verify a Twitter account with a phone number, you have a dedicated device for that.

The concern isn't that this person is writing posts on behalf of the British government.

The concern is that he influences editorial policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, while at the same time having a side gig with an agency that uses social media to shape conversations. It would unfortunately be very easy for his side gig to influence the decisions made in his day job, or at the very least very difficult for him to argue with impunity that it doesn't.

> I suspect the new way of doing psyops is to buy multiple smartphones which all have separate IPs due to a GSM/4G network, and have different and distinct useragents due to different Android versions in use.

That seems like a lot of enormously expensive trouble to do something that probably could be done a lot easier and cheaper: user agents are trivial to spoof and a sufficiently sophisticated attacker can probably just steal any needed IPs from legitimate organizations using BGP (I understand the hosters used by spammers already do this).

The only benefit I could think of for using actual smartphones is that they'd provide different, legitimate device fingerprinting results.

I suppose it could be done a lot cheaper and easier, but don't forget the initial research required to figure out how to do it efficiently. All the trial and error required to create a set of OPSEC rules to abide by as you operate.

In terms of useragents, you are right that they are easy to spoof; I actually meant the device fingerprints aren't easy to spoof (Twitter probably looks at heuristics like screen resolution for example) which is why I would suggest getting a variety of different phones like a mix of legacy Android, newer model Samsungs, iPhones, etc So you have different screen resolutions (which are not trivial to spoof) even different timezones, along with a mix of other unique specs

One caveat to using hundreds (if not thousands of phones) is the cost. I get that. But remember these are the army we are talking about that have a large budget to spend on psyops and can actually pull something like that off. Another caveat to using phones is the lack of dexterity; using a phone is slower than using a desktop environment with keyboard, mouse, et al, although you can extend a phone with a keyboard for faster typing.

> I actually meant the device fingerprints aren't easy to spoof

Device fingerprints aren't easy to spoof for the average IT nerd, they are trivial to spoof for NSA.

I know enough that I could probably spoof most websites given a couple of days of research and poking. Now, don't get me wrong, my odds of convincing Google I'm actually two people are basically nil, even NSA might struggle to just manufacture Googleproof identities, but device fingerprints themselves are pretty spoofable.

You can spoof device fingerprints, but you can't spoof the top 100 common devices easily.

So if the British military has a man on the inside, wouldn't that make the job orders of magnitudes easier for them? They wouldn't have to figure out how to game Twitter's algorithms themselves and would instead just ask Gordon MacMillan.

Probably-not-ethical study I'd like to try. Pick two innocuous subject that somewhat uncommon. Pick a group of target accounts, randomly divide in two, assign each group of accounts a 'target subject'. Whenever you see a tweet from one of these accounts that mentions target subject, have a bot network like the post. After running experiment for a period, measure whether the relative frequency of posting about each subject is different between groups.

Would be interesting if previously unrelated accounts in same targeting group would find each other. I suspect you could make a weird cult of 'asparagus enthusiasts' or something if you worked at it.

Great to see a Twitter exec who actually uses the platform!

"His involvement with the 77th Brigade was made public when he disclosed it on his page at LinkedIn, the online professional networking site."

Doxing yourself on Linkedin seems like a pretty amateur psyops move.

Many reservists are public about what they do. I have my military affiliation in all my profiles. He's not in some kind of secret special forces unit or anything like that.

Ultimately, being a reserve officer is a matter of public record, as you are formally gazetted and there is no point trying to pretend it is secret.

Why would it be a poor idea? Unless he is actively a part of clandestine operations and units there is nothing materially damaging about this. No more than, say, folks like Chris Kyle, Dan Crenshaw, or Jocko Willink revealing they were SEALs.

Where I work there is a big move to replace people's last names with only their initial.

Except their LinkedIn URL still displays their name. It was a good attempt, at least.

Not the only amateur thing...

> "The identities of the Twitter accounts which the 77th Brigade uses for engagement and communication remain unclear, however: the unit’s acknowledged account has been locked since it was hacked earlier this year, with the result that only approved followers can see its tweets."

Even if they wanted to, is there anything Twitter could do about the (potential/perceived/choose-your-own-narrative) conflict of interest?

I don't know anything about British labor law, but in the US it's illegal to discriminate, fire, etc. a person because of service in the armed forces, including reserves. I'm pretty sure taking any action on the basis of their role in the reserves would be illegal.

And people wonder why so much of the world is distrustful of western media. It's been obvious for a long time that western media corporations are propaganda outlets for governments that hide behind a thin veneer of 'independent' ownership.

> outlets for governments that hide behind a thin veneer of 'independent' ownership.

Considering how much of US media regularly pillories Trump, I'm skeptical that of the claim of government control. I'm certain they do, however, serve as a PR mouthpiece for various moneyed interests.

Trump is the leader of a single branch of government, meanwhile the Republicans and Democrats have pursued the same neo-con policies for years. Trump is going against the grain with his protectionist policies, so it's entirely predictable that he'd receive criticism from established government officials. Also keep in mind that 2/3 branches of government are still controlled by entrenched Democrats and Republicans.

Another total beatup. This guy is an Army Captain, a very junior officer in the reserves. He has a journalism background, and while on reserve time he is probably pulling his hair out trying to explain what a tweet is to people who were really comfortable with Blackberry, and dealing with RoE and approvals chains that make doing anything more than writting puff pieces about Change of Command ceremonies or HADR impossible.

I only wish the UK and others would get serious about countering Russian / Iranian/Syrian / GCC/Egyptian / Chinese / ISIS bad actors by unmasking their influence campaigns, educating their populace (at schools and whereever old people can be reached), and generally stop being complacent about it.

Also, it's not call psyops now, it's Information Ops (IO), and if the UK are doing anything it will be at GCHQ, not the Pashtun DJs at 77 BDE.

If you think it's problematic that a Twitter exec is also a reserve psyops officer, you probably shouldn't think about how many corporate (and nonprofit, and non-federal government) cybersecurity officials at all levels are military reservists whose military role is cyberwarfare.

By "Executive", they mean a PR Editor.

Is this any different? Maybe it's worse? Previously he was in charge of USA propaganda focused overseas. Now he's in charge of USA propaganda focused on USA residents:


Does he get two paychecks?

He gets paid the daily rate for his rank (and any applicable modifiers) for each day on duty. So if he spends a weekend at 77 HQ or some training location or other such, on duty, he'll get two days' pay for that (potentially a smidge more if he can claim travel time on the Friday, but you get the idea).

Also, reservists attract a tax free bounty each year if they complete their agreed training requirment.

That makes complete sense for a reservist with a day job. I got the impression that this guy is doing his military psyops duty by working at Twitter, thus doing both jobs at once.

> I got the impression that this guy is doing his military psyops duty by working at Twitter, thus doing both jobs at once.

I think the article tries to create that impression, but it doesn't actually say so. Maybe it's just an attempt to make the story more sensational for clicks.

I guess today I’m the victim of the psyop, heh.

In the article they describe them as "Facebook Warriors", does that mean they are exempt from the British Army's basic combat fitness test?

Reminds me of Disney, which has long employed DOD Psyops in high positions.

I'm thinking he may actually be full time though.

This hire was probably an over-correction after the Saudi's got busted with spies inside twitter.


> The [Saudi-groomed] employee was fired in 2015

> Gordon MacMillan, who joined the social media company's UK office six years ago [2013]

Er, how does that work?

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