BREAKING: Pentagon Used Twitter to Shape Foreign Policy Messaging

December 20th, 2022 6:57 PM

The latest dump of Twitter Files Tuesday revealed that the Pentagon used Twitter to influence public opinion about foreign policy.

The Intercept journalist Lee Fang reported that his publication and “a handful of other writers and reporters” were given access to the documents last week “without restriction” several weeks after Twitter owner Elon Musk promised to release internal documents revealing the extent of Twitter’s collusion with the federal government. NewsBusters has reported on each file drop.

Fang wrote that Twitter directly assisted the Pentagon in framing public opinion about international conflicts since at least 2017:

[T]he social networking giant provided direct approval and internal protection to the U.S. military’s network of social media accounts and online personas, whitelisting a batch of accounts at the request of the government. The Pentagon has used this network, which includes U.S. government-generated news portals and memes, in an effort to shape opinion in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, and beyond.

The accounts in question started out openly affiliated with the U.S. government. But then the Pentagon appeared to shift tactics and began concealing its affiliation with some of these accounts — a move toward the type of intentional platform manipulation that Twitter has publicly opposed. Though Twitter executives maintained awareness of the accounts, they did not shut them down, but let them remain active for years. Some remain active.”

Fang further reported that in 2017, Nathaniel Kahler, who worked with the Defense Department’s U.S. Central Command at the time, asked Twitter to prioritize the verification of several accounts, including an account used to broadcast announcements about U.S. drone strikes in Yemen. Other accounts focused on legal issues in Kuwait and on promoting U.S.-supported militias in Syria, among other accounts.

While Kahler told Twitter that the promoted accounts would all be “USG-attributed, Arabic-language accounts tweeting on relevant security issues,” many of the accounts later deleted “disclosures of affiliation with the U.S. government.”

Erik Sperling, the executive director of Just Foreign Policy, a nonprofit that works toward diplomatic solutions to foreign conflicts, reportedly told Fang that a private company concealing the pressure it received from the U.S. government to influence public opinion is troubling.

“It’s deeply concerning if the Pentagon is working to shape public opinion about our military’s role abroad and even worse if private companies are helping to conceal it,” The Intercept quoted Sperling as saying. “Congress and social media companies should investigate and take action to ensure that, at the very least, our citizens are fully informed when their tax money is being spent on putting a positive spin on our endless wars.”

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