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.
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:
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.
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.
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  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.
 - https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-was-cia-...
 - https://talktotransformer.com/
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
* 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
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.
The real manipulation of a population is being undertaken at levels so far outside that military structure, its almost unrecognizable.
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".
But please, tell me more about what a "HackerNews" thing this is.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If he were just a developer, it might be different, no?
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.
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.
I haven't said anything at all about:
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.
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.
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.
> 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.
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.
* 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.
That's one thing I'd expect a psyop guy might do.
Another is boost posts from allies and demote posts from enemies.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Doxing yourself on Linkedin seems like a pretty amateur psyops move.
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.
Except their LinkedIn URL still displays their name. It was a good attempt, at least.
> "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."
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.
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.
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.
Also, reservists attract a tax free bounty each year if they complete their agreed training requirment.
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.
> Gordon MacMillan, who joined the social media company's UK office six years ago 
Er, how does that work?