by Brian Shilhavy
Health Impact News Editor
Glenn Greenwald, a journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, and author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, has been working with NBC News in publishing a series of articles on how covert government agents infiltrate the Internet to “manipulate, deceive, and destroy reputations.”
The information is based on documents leaked by National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden. Greenwald’s article, How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations, is based on four classified documents produced by the British spy agency GCHQ, and presented to the NSA and three other English speaking agencies reportedly part of “The Five Eyes Alliance.”
In this shocking piece, Greenwald publishes a copy of a spy training manual used entitled: “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations.” Greenwald writes that agencies like the NSA are “attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.” Greenwald writes:
Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.
While this kind of counter-intelligence activity may not sound surprising given the objectives of spy agencies going after terrorists, what disturbs Greenwald (and many others) is that the discussion regarding these techniques have been greatly expanded to include the general public:
Critically, the “targets” for this deceit and reputation-destruction extend far beyond the customary roster of normal spycraft: hostile nations and their leaders, military agencies, and intelligence services. In fact, the discussion of many of these techniques occurs in the context of using them in lieu of “traditional law enforcement” against people suspected (but not charged or convicted) of ordinary crimes or, more broadly still, “hacktivism”, meaning those who use online protest activity for political ends.
The title page of one of these documents reflects the agency’s own awareness that it is “pushing the boundaries” by using “cyber offensive” techniques against people who have nothing to do with terrorism or national security threats, and indeed, centrally involves law enforcement agents who investigate ordinary crimes.
No matter your views on Anonymous, “hacktivists” or garden-variety criminals, it is not difficult to see how dangerous it is to have secret government agencies being able to target any individuals they want – who have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crimes – with these sorts of online, deception-based tactics of reputation destruction and disruption.
And while these leaked documents concern the British spy agency, Greenwald is quick to point out that the Obama administration has actually been open and forward about using such techniques in the U.S.:
Government plans to monitor and influence internet communications, and covertly infiltrate online communities in order to sow dissension and disseminate false information, have long been the source of speculation. Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, a close Obama adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.
Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government. Ironically, the very same Sunstein was recently named by Obama to serve as a member of the NSA review panel created by the White House, one that – while disputing key NSA claims – proceeded to propose many cosmetic reforms to the agency’s powers (most of which were ignored by the President who appointed them).
Trolls Used by Big Pharma to Attack Vaccine Objectors
Have you ever been on an Internet forum, blog, or Facebook Page where all of a sudden, out of nowhere, several people appear to contradict the main topic being discussed, especially if it is regarding a controversial topic like vaccines? Well it is entirely possible, and even likely, that it is not coincidence, and that it is a well-coordinated attack by “trolls”. As Greenwald reveals in his recently published article, there are definitely programs in place in government spy agencies to do just that.
This tactic of trained trolls can be used by those outside of government also, and Big Pharma seems to be one business sector that employs this tactic as well, especially targeting publishers who report on the dangers of vaccines.
Of course it should also be pointed out that the distinction between the government and the pharmaceutical industry is a very hazy one. As we have pointed out several times in the past, the vaccine industry cannot survive in a free market, but needs the government to prop them up. In the 1980s there were so many lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for vaccine damages, that the vaccine industry blackmailed Congress by threatening to get out of the vaccine business unless they passed legislation protecting them from lawsuits. Congress obliged, and legislation was passed preventing the public from suing pharmaceutical companies for damages due to vaccines, and this law was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2011. The pharmaceutical industry now has a free pass to put as many vaccines into the market place as they want to, regardless of efficacy or dangerous side effects, since there is no accountability left in the judicial system.
Today, the pharmaceutical industry is practically a branch of the government. The government awards grants from your tax dollars to research new vaccines, the FDA approves them, and then government organizations like the CDC and UNICEF purchase the vaccines with your tax dollars. The CDC even holds patents and earns royalties on vaccines, and many of the top scientists work for both the government and the pharmaceutical companies. Julie Gerberding, for example, was the head of the CDC from 2002 to 2009, and then took over as head of the pharmaceutical company Merck’s vaccine division overseeing billions of dollars in sales. The government definitely has a vested interest in protecting the vaccine market.
So it should surprise no one that there are coordinated efforts to infiltrate and discredit those who publish the truth about vaccines, which may lead to fewer people wanting to purchase or receive them.
Consider the following comments appearing on a blog post from a pro-Pharma site discussing how to target sites and Facebook Pages who publish the alternative view of vaccines. Advice is given on how to infiltrate and flood discussions about vaccines by pretending to be victims of diseases because they failed to get vaccinated. I am not going to mention the name of the website and give them publicity, but it has already been established that this site is financed by those with clear ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Here are some comments that appeared in a blog post that was trying to convince readers that outbreaks of diseases were due to “anti-vaccinationists”:
‘Use emotional warfare on anti-vax blogs. Tell emotional stories full of tears and sobbing and unbearable grief and terror, about people in your own family or people you read about, who were sick with or died of terrible diseases. Don’t hold back details about bodily fluids and suchlike: the more gross the better. This stuff has a way of infiltrating the minds of readers and subtly influencing their decisions, in a manner similar to advertising.’
‘Go in there and “agree with them” and then say things that appear thoroughly delusional, overtly nuts, blatantly and obviously wrong even to nincompoops, etc. Occasional spelling and grammar errors are also useful but don’t over-do. The point of this exercise is to create an impression that drives away undecideds who may come in to check out these sites. It helps to do this as a group effort and begin gradually, so the sites appear to be “going downhill slowly.”‘
‘But it is useful to have an email address that can’t be traced back, for certain legitimate and ethical uses, just as it is useful to have a mail box at say the UPS store.’
As you can see from this advice, trying to reason or debate on the merits or lack of merits regarding vaccines does not work, so they have to resort to manipulative and deceptive tactics, much the same as what Greenwald was reporting about above in regards to government spy agencies. Here is a comment showing how they also try to out number those who are not trolls:
12 is right on target: post that kind of schizophrenic word-salad on the anti-vax sites in large quantities, under various pseudonyms, and clog up the sites with it until it appears that a large fraction of the members are downright wacko. This will seriously turn off undecideds who check out those sites. P2’s comment is an excellent template for this tactic, but you can easily make up your own by inserting random words into sentences and then going on digressive riffs about the random words. Be sure to Capitalize occasional Nouns and Verbs as well.
Really: listen up folks, the way to fight this crap is NOT by “patiently explaining” to people who are already way past being persuaded that the Earth isn’t flat. You may as well be talking to rocks (healing crystals?:-). The way to fight it is by sabotaging the anti-vaxers with crazy stuff that drives away undecideds. The way to fight it is with emotional narratives that undermine the ones that the anti-vaxers are pushing.
These trolls are also adept in creating fake personalities with fake email addresses so that they can continue to infiltrate those who publish the other side of the vaccine debate:
76: The way to do it is to set up a fictitious email address. Speaking from experience working on research on extremist groups:
Start by setting one up on your existing broadband provider: AT&T, Comcast, and the rest of ‘em give you five or more email addresses of your choice. Create a totally fictitious name and then an address that reflects that name e.g. John Doe and JDoe1234@.
Next, get an address on a free service provider such as Yahoo or Hotmail or whatever. Since most of these ask for your “other” email address as proof of identity, give them the one on your broadband provider. They will send a confirmation email to that address giving you your starting password.
Third, after about a week of using your new fictitious address in various places that let you sign up for comments, you can be sure it’s working, so then go in and delete the address you created on your broadband service. Typically they deactivate the address immediately and then take a month to free up that slot for re-use. This step ensures that your Yahoo or Hotmail address becomes un-traceable back to your broadband provider.
Fourth, wait a month for the original fictitious name to completely purge from your broadband provider.
Fifth: Now you’re home free to get onto the anti-vax boards and any other objectionable boards you want to go after, and make all manner of noise to make them look ridiculous and drive away the undecideds. Yeee-hawww, round ‘em up!
Speaking of rounding ‘em up, you now have an untraceable email address …
That said, the option of simply going forth and making noise on anti-vax boards makes it all worthwhile. Every undecided you scare away from those boards, is one more family that will probably get their kids vaccinated.
The “CENSORSHIP” Accusation: Don’t fall for it
Trolls and Internet dissenters love to level the accusation of “CENSORSHIP!” as soon as they are restricted from carrying out their often highly orchestrated opposition to information they would love to suppress from being propagated on the Internet. Don’t fall for this ploy.
First, there is a huge difference between “moderating” and “censorship.” A blog or Facebook Page that allows for interaction of opposing viewpoints, for example, may still moderate the discussion and prevent trolling. As we have shown above, manipulative deception is common on the Internet, and allowing this kind of activity in one’s own private space is actually allowing the opposing view to get away with their own form of “censorship” by means of deception.
Secondly, “censorship” is a neutral term, not a negative one. 100% uncensored speech is both dangerous and illegal. You can be prosecuted in a court of law for many forms of speech, such as slander, child pornography, threats of intent to harm, and many others.
I am always amused when moderating Internet discussions on content owned by myself or others we are publishing, and having to delete comments that are either derogatory, offensive, or anything else opposing the purpose of our communication, that we are accused of “censorship” as if we are the ones doing something wrong for suppressing such speech. There seems to be a misguided assumption that anything published on the Internet is owned by the public. Businesses, especially, fall for this common misconception all the time, by allowing unmoderated discussions to occur on their own Internet content.
But back when there was only print media, everything that was sent into a media source was censored and filtered, with only the opinions judged by the editors to be worthy of publishing to their readers being accepted and printed. And if businesses published information about their products, they certainly did not allow competitors and adversaries to come into their place of business to attack them and voice their opinions! And if they purchased advertising space in any media, either print, radio, or TV, the voices of those who did not like it were certainly not heard in the advertising space of media it was appearing in. They had to purchase their own space, or try to get a “letter to the editor” published.
Yet, when you publish something on the Internet, you own that content! If it is a blog, you can either turn off comments altogether, or you can allow certain comments to be published, according to any standards you see fit!
As far as social media, the social media company might provide the platform, but you still own the content. You are under no obligation to allow trolls and others to voice their contrary opinions on your content just because it is published on the Internet. People are free to publish their own content in their own space – they have no right to do it in yours.
Of course the owner of the social media platform might engage in their own form of censorship or restrictions, but that is a topic of another article to follow. For now, if you are a publisher of content on the Internet today (as almost everyone is), just be aware that as you grow in popularity, you may very well start attracting trolls trying to discredit you or your message. Be aware of their tactics, and take action accordingly to protect your freedom of speech.
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