In the eighth disclosure of Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, regarding the practices of the company’s former management, it was revealed that Twitter provided psychological warfare operations in the Middle East with internal protection and the approved account feature at the request of the United States military (blue ticks).
Musk made his eighth revelation under Twitter Files through Lee Fang, a writer for the news website Intercept.
In a series of tweets, Fang revealed the correspondence between Twitter and the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) requesting the inclusion of accounts that are part of CENTCOM’s psychological operations on the protection list (white list) and the granting of an approved account mark.
Fang wrote that Twitter executives claimed for years that the company had tried to detect and thwart government-sponsored covert propaganda campaigns on its platform. However, Twitter provided internal protection by whitelisting some psychological operations accounts at the request of the U.S. military. He added that Twitter uses these protected accounts to transmit opinion-shaping content throughout Iraq, Kuwait, and the Middle East.
CENTCOM – Twitter nexus
Fang added that CENTCOM initially revealed its direct connection to these accounts, but over time it modified its strategy and began to conceal this connection.
Fang said that the link between Twitter and the U.S. army dates back five years and that Twitter does not interfere in any manner with these accounts, even though this action constitutes clear platform abuse.
In a letter from Nathaniel Kahler, a CENTCOM officer, dated July 26, 2017, and shared by Fang, Kahler forwarded an official from the company’s public policy team a list of Arabic accounts the United States uses to more effectively disseminate certain messages, marking one of them with an “approved account mark” and protecting other accounts from complaints and cyber-interventions using a “whitelist.”
Kahler told the Twitter official that some CENTCOM accounts did not make it into the index with hashtags; they may have been labelled bots. He further said that a handful had amassed a sizeable fan base and that the Middle East-based command planned to recover them.
The CENTCOM officer added that, if necessary, he could provide more documentation from CENTCOM and Special Forces Command.
Fang stated at the time that Twitter was expanding its abuse detection system to detect malicious conduct related to Daesh and other terrorist organisations operating in the Middle East. As a result, it was regularly engaged with pro-terrorist groups under the auspices of the U.S. military.
Country specific accounts
Fang observed that Kahler emailed a table of 52 accounts the same day as the previous correspondence, asking for priority service for six accounts, including the “@yemencurrent” account used to distribute information regarding U.S. drone strikes in Yemen.
Fang stated that additional accounts on the list advocate the US-backed YPG/PKK terrorist organisation in Syria and anti-Iranian sentiment in Iraq. the “@yemencurrent” account, which was suspended at the time, highlighted that the U.S. drone attacks were “real” and that they killed terrorists, not civilians. He was attentive to the messages.
Fang disclosed that another account in Kuwait creates legal difficulties.
Fang disclosed that when CENTCOM began utilising the account “@dala2el” in Yemen to post against the Syrian regime, Twitter introduced an unapplied protection and exemption tag to these accounts at the command’s request, allowing bots against spam or abuse to be added to these accounts. It was stated that it is secured against account suspensions and automation that reduces their visibility.
Fang said that CENTCOM-affiliated accounts frequently engage in anti-Iran defamation campaigns in support of U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Twitter was aware
Fang revealed an email written by a Twitter employee called Lisa Roman to a Pentagon official, stating that Twitter’s upper management was also aware of the Pentagon’s substantial operations.
In the message, the Twitter representative informed the Pentagon representative that they were unable to authenticate the relationship between the accounts and the U.S. military, and they wanted confirmation for these accounts.
Fang reported that many of these accounts continued to post until May.
Fang wrote in an August study by the Stanford Internet Observation Center that some Pentagon-related accounts that the United States uses on Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram for psychological operations and that disinformation with distorted profile photos have been protected by Twitter, and that Twitter has since suspended these accounts. He expressed his belief that he stole the show.
Over 150 accounts have been suspended
Twitter and Facebook said in August that they had terminated over 150 accounts that belonged to a network that distributed international disinformation in favour of the United States.
Undersecretary of Defense for Defense Policy Colin Kahl initiated an investigation into the activities of all military information operations conducting units.
Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, stated that neither Facebook nor Twitter provided the Pentagon with any information regarding the closed accounts.
Ryder, who stated that the business practises of units that conduct military information support operations as psychological warfare activities will be reviewed, clarified that psychological warfare activities are not conducted by the U.S. army’s public relations unit, but by units employed both within and outside the military.
Ryder made the following assertions:
Formerly known as psychological operations, military information support operations are a Department of Defense capability. It is at least as old as the concept of the battle itself. These operations are conducted within the context of our international interests. I should underscore that these are conducted in conformity with U.S. law and Department of Defense policies and that there is a process to ensure this.
Elon Musk has supported the disclosures of journalists investigating and disclosing Twitter’s internal records for the past two weeks.
These threads of tweets, nicknamed the “Twitter Files” by Twitter’s new leadership and independent journalists, are viewed as an attempt to demonstrate that Twitter’s old administration stifled conservative voices on account of their political beliefs.
In Section 7 of the Twitter Files, Elon Musk retweeted a tweet from independent journalist Michael Shellenberger claiming that FBI San Francisco Special Agent Elvis Chan exerted pressure on Twitter executives and directed certain issues, including the Hunter Biden file involving the son of U.S. President Joe Biden. He explained what he was attempting to do.
Musk earlier terminated Twitter’s former deputy general counsel and former FBI general counsel, James Baker, claiming his “potential role in suppressing material vital to public discourse” as the reason.