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Pentagon Wants to Spend $42M Tracking Memes, Spamming Social Networks

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While Americans use social networks to spread Rebecca Black videos,oppressed denizens of the Middle East are taking to Facebook and Twitter to overthrow their governments.

The Pentagon would like to sift through those networks for some advance notice before the next Egyptian Revolution erupts, or an angry mob storms a US embassy. So it's offering $42 million to anyone who can build it a global security meme-tracker, the New York Times reports.

Why the huge price tag? Because an Urdu-speaking BuzzFeed isn't gonna cut it. The winning developer will have to use tools like “linguistic cues, patterns of information flow, topic trend analysis, sentiment detection and opinion mining” to sort real sentiments from the insurgent equivalent of astroturf marketing – for example, “whether signs of widespread rebellion were authentic or whether they were being created by a fringe group with little real support,” as the Times puts it.

If we're going to gather foreign intelligence by tracking Twitter hashtags, it's probably best to make sure we don't get tricked by seditious spammers. But here's the troubling part: The Pentagon also proposes to further blur the line between truth and fiction on the Web, fighting spam with more propagandistic spam – sorry, “countermessaging.”

From the Times:

A successful program would influence attitudes through methods including automatically generating content, formerly known as spam, and “inducing identities,” which might be whipping up fake combatants.

So our military will be propping up future Hamid Karzais, and undermining adversaries, with a more advanced version of the services that (allegedly) goosed Newt Gingrich's Twitter follower count. We've seen the future of cyberwarfare, and it is spammy.

Also see: 10 Cybersecurity Stocks For the Coming Cyber Wars
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