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Rise of the Sockpuppets
February 18, 2011 5:13 AM   Subscribe

A Daily Kos diarist dredging through leaked HB Gary emails has found concerning evidence that the company has been selling advanced "persona management" software to manage large numbers of fake online identities. Meet one of the buyers: the US military

How the software works:
To build this capability we will create a set of personas on twitter,‭ ‬blogs,‭ ‬forums,‭ ‬buzz,‭ ‬and myspace under created names that fit the profile‭ (‬satellitejockey,‭ ‬hack3rman,‭ ‬etc‭)‬.‭ ‬These accounts are maintained and updated automatically through RSS feeds,‭ ‬retweets,‭ ‬and linking together social media commenting between platforms.‭ ‬With a pool of these accounts to choose from,‭ ‬once you have a real name persona you create a Facebook and LinkedIn account using the given name,‭ ‬lock those accounts down and link these accounts to a selected‭ ‬#‭ ‬of previously created social media accounts,‭ ‬automatically pre-aging the real accounts.
posted by crayz (85 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
So from here on, there is no way to tell which one of us here at Metafilter is real, and which is not.
posted by beagle at 5:24 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait till those cretins find out about markov generators.
posted by notsnot at 5:26 AM on February 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


If Twitter spambots are the result of this technology then I have to say it's Turing test passing abilities are pretty damn low.
posted by Artw at 5:27 AM on February 18, 2011


This does explain Youtube comments though.
posted by unSane at 5:27 AM on February 18, 2011 [37 favorites]


Distributed Denial of Sentience Attack.
posted by Artw at 5:29 AM on February 18, 2011 [29 favorites]


Armies of sockpuppet accounts? Automated submission of agitprop "content"? Using IP tricks to deceive site owners and hide organized disinformation campaigns? They sound a lot like the Digg Patriots.

I guess shitty minds think alike.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:37 AM on February 18, 2011 [14 favorites]


So from heresome unknown time in the past on, there is no way to tell which one of us here at Metafilter is real, and which is not.

And that's a good thing. A very good thing.
posted by DU at 5:38 AM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's a homage to the worst movie ever: Troll 2.0.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:38 AM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


There may already be some restrictions on what federal agents can do via fake personas. In particular, it should obviously be forbidden for the executive branch to use federal money to anonymously advance the president's policies. If the news parrots their press releases, well that's our fault for not supporting better news organizations. It should be illegal for the DEA to offer payola for research or opeds that fraudulently support the war on drugs.

Assuming these regulations already exist, this all comes down to how far the state actor doctrine extends beyond criminal law. For example : Could marijuana legalization activists sue an anti-legalization blogger, say obtaining discovery for his personal finances, once they've evidence that he's being given early access to the official story? (Yes, batman is a state actor.)

It'll get far stickier once your talking privately held corporations or dictatorships. I'd hope export restrictions could help against some dictatorships, although not U.S. backed dictatorships. Imho, corporations already seem more effective than the government at spreading their version of the truth though, perhaps due in part to stock holder activity.

There is however one shining option for both dictatorships and corporate fud : Convince google they'll find gold in identifying sock puppets. In particular, sock puppet activity may indicate bullshit that'll negatively impact search results. And donating information on sock puppet activity to activists organizations would obviously help maintain the good will that keeps Bing and Baidu as bit players.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:39 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is not a problem, nor does it worry me. I think we should all resume our usual activities that we here at
METAFILTER
were doing before we read this information.
posted by PlusDistance at 5:39 AM on February 18, 2011 [66 favorites]


Hello to all my friends in domestic surveillance.
posted by dortmunder at 5:40 AM on February 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


WAIT I THOUGHT HB GARY WAS JUST A FLY BY NIGHT OPPERATION WITH 0 CHANCE OF EVER LANDING ANY DEALS!!

It's interesting how important social media must be now if corporations are willing to invest so much money into subverting it.
posted by delmoi at 5:42 AM on February 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


There may already be some restrictions on what federal agents can do via fake personas.

lol
posted by DU at 5:42 AM on February 18, 2011 [15 favorites]


A distressing thing about this is it increases the level of mistrust. Now, if you make a comment online you might end up facing an army of one who is paid to support their view point and armed with a variety of sock puppets.
posted by drezdn at 5:46 AM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


So from here on, there is no way to tell which one of us here at Metafilter is real, and which is not.

I'm real and so is my wife are my sockpuppets.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 5:46 AM on February 18, 2011


Sheaffer: I'm not sure we're even having this conversation. I don't know if these mashed potatoes are really here. I don't know if you even exist.
Mulder: I can only assure you that I do.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:48 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now they just need to hook up Cleverbot to this.
posted by unSane at 5:51 AM on February 18, 2011


I auction off rights to post with my metafilter account daily.
posted by empath at 5:51 AM on February 18, 2011


Shine on crazy diamond. You.
posted by buzzman at 5:57 AM on February 18, 2011


Hello, [this website] this is the most interesting subject!
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:58 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


To elaborate, I'm suspicious that markov generators might actually be detectable. That'd be a lovely paper btw. Anyone interested? And might put the cleverest evil people off them.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:00 AM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


And this was how, back in the early 2000's, the machines became sentient. it was all part of the escalating frenzy to win the blog comment wars. And Jeopardy. Little did they know.
posted by jetsetsc at 6:04 AM on February 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Does this mean we're going to have to start assessing arguments on their merits, rather than just counting the numbers of people advancing them?
posted by nowonmai at 6:06 AM on February 18, 2011 [15 favorites]


Oh no, absolutely no! It means we'll need more clever counting of who advances them and where. ;)
posted by jeffburdges at 6:08 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


¡Viva la Revolución!
posted by Sockpuppet Liberation Front at 6:08 AM on February 18, 2011 [11 favorites]


To elaborate, I'm suspicious that markov generators might actually be detectable.

It should be both easy and hard. What I mean is easy to program, but requiring a lot of computational resources to actually do.

Basically a markov generated text uses a probability transition matrix (Markov matrix) to determine the most likely word based on the word that appears before it. If your vocabulary is 10000 words, then you need a (fairly sparse) 10000x10000 transition matrix. BUT say you use instead of individual words, you do a bigram trainsition matrix. (an n-gram is n words together, and you can make it more specific with bi-gram tri-gram, etc)

Anyway, the problem is though as many entries as that first markov matrix has, you need rows and columns. So the computational complexity goes way up. And of course if they use a bi-gram or trigam transition matrix, you need an even larger matrix.

Another possibility to would be to use a NLP system to determine if the phrases "make sense" but that could be more difficult, I think.
posted by delmoi at 6:09 AM on February 18, 2011


Every markov generator I've seen just produces nonsensical word-salad.

Though that would probably be better than 90% of the comments on newspapers and youtube.
posted by empath at 6:11 AM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


So basically, these folks at HB Gary studied Digg's business model.
posted by jsavimbi at 6:13 AM on February 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


"An Army of Sockpuppets."
posted by ericb at 6:20 AM on February 18, 2011


I personally find this uplifting and encouraging. It allows me to assume that the hundreds of thousands of blog comments which disagree with my viewpoints are simply the work of a small number of narrow-minded conservatives and their army of spambots.

I can dream, can't I?
posted by caution live frogs at 6:25 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


I forget the show i saw something similar like on PBS, where companies pay people to join forums and comment to promote their products. I just figured eventually that it would come to this, one person doing similar to promote governments, agendas or propaganda with several accounts but only one person. I guess with products and the like, it's just sort of annoying, but with politics and such, it feels more dangerous to me.
posted by usagizero at 6:36 AM on February 18, 2011


Well, I guess that cat's out of the bag. I am one of these accounts. Pastabagel first went on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decency is removed from online commentary. Pastabagel begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th.

In a panic, they try to pull the plug.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:38 AM on February 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


>:"It allows me to assume that the hundreds of thousands of blog comments which disagree with my viewpoints are simply the work of a small number of narrow-minded conservatives and their army of spambots."

But what if it turns out that the comments with which you agree are also the work of spambots? It seems to me any linear, consistent opinion will be easy to emulate.
posted by three blind mice at 6:50 AM on February 18, 2011


Think about this: 10 years from now 'persona management software' + an army of computers running IBM Watson 3.5 = idealogical attack blogs, posts, comments, links written automatically by computers.

WHAT IS REAL ON THE INTERNET? WHAT DOES 'REAL' EVEN MEAN?
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:02 AM on February 18, 2011


On the internet nobody knows you are a personality management software.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:06 AM on February 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


Clearly the only solution is to take Internet discussions back off the Internet. "If you would like to comment on this article, a thread will take place at the Main Street Starbucks on Saturday."
posted by skymt at 7:18 AM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Anonymity is at once the greatest strength and weakness of the internet.

Back in the olden days of newspapers, if you wanted to have a published response to an article you had to submit it in writing with your name, address and phone number. And then somebody at the newspaper might actually follow up to verify your information.

Not anonymous, but at the same time it made it more difficult to comment-bomb.
posted by Sir Cholmondeley at 7:21 AM on February 18, 2011


Dun dun DUNNNNNNNNNNNNNN! The plot continues to unfold, and IT'S ALL A CONSPIRACY!
posted by Krazor at 7:28 AM on February 18, 2011


Not gonna lie, I kinda sorta wanna play around with a program like that...
posted by Ian A.T. at 7:32 AM on February 18, 2011


Well, this makes me feel a little better. For the longest time, I was looking at some of the cookie-cutter "whose going to take care ofthis girls bills once they getter out of the well? thats right, you me and the american taxpayer thanks to obamabinladincare and the socilist conspirasy!" under every newspaper article or news clipping with little variance only to tie it in to the article's subject matter, and noted that some of those posters spend 10-12 hours of their day doing nothing but this.

I was worried it was a bunch of fat rednecks on disability or social security sitting around in a library all day, and I feared their cognitive dissonance.

What a load off my mind.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 7:33 AM on February 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


This makes me ill.
posted by sswiller at 7:34 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't intelligence agencies have figured this out about 20 years ago. I mean, don't we sort of assume the CIA and NSA have been doing stuff like this all the time? It would be a little odd if the CIA didn't know how to realistically make a fake ID.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:47 AM on February 18, 2011


[few comments removed - the address for metatalk is metatalk.metafilter.com and I have happily provided a link if you want to go there to complain about how we treat posts about Israel which has nothing to do with the topic of this thread.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:53 AM on February 18, 2011


Think about this: 10 years from now 'persona management software' + an army of computers running IBM Watson 3.5 = idealogical attack blogs, posts, comments, links written automatically by computers.

You mean in the future I can install an OpinionBot to manage my several online personas, all defending J. Beiber as the One True God (you know, instead of doing it myself)? Wow, maybe in the future I'll be able to get some real work done.
posted by muddgirl at 7:57 AM on February 18, 2011


A. There is no global warming. Don't you agree?
B. Yes, I agree.
C. Besides, it's not happening.
D. That person, C, has a point.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:57 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fuck all that. Somebody wants MICK JAGGER DEAD! (Cue dramatic music).
posted by punkfloyd at 8:04 AM on February 18, 2011



On the internet nobody knows you are a personality management software.


That makes us all sound so calm and restrained. I can think of a few people that might benefit from personality management software. ;)
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:05 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


So much for the utility of captchas.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:13 AM on February 18, 2011


They don't make sock puppets like they used to.
posted by Molesome at 8:21 AM on February 18, 2011


Ya know, if you think HP Gary has violated the law....you could always visit your local Grand Jury and attach the complaint to a ham sandwich.

Lotta counties in the US of A. Bound to be a couple that would be willing to true bill....
posted by rough ashlar at 8:24 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's interesting how important social media must be now if corporations are willing to invest so much money into subverting it.

I think you're making an assumption here that the news of the past few weeks pretty clearly refutes.

In related news, in a fight between Groupon and a squadron of F/A-18's, I'd bet of the F/A-18's.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:34 AM on February 18, 2011


Not gonna lie, I kinda sorta wanna play around with a program like that...

You're not alone. Seems like you could have some non-scammy fun with something like that.
posted by brundlefly at 8:45 AM on February 18, 2011


This made me ill to read also, but everyone knows this is going on and is silent.
posted by lslelel at 8:54 AM on February 18, 2011


Echelon will mine the sockpuppet regime in a spiraling feedback loop to nowhere.
posted by Xoebe at 8:59 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


So much for the utility of captchas.

No, you just pay random 3rd world citizens to do them, as well as post the comments.
posted by delmoi at 9:18 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Complex machines are almost always more expensive than human life.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:23 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Echelon will mine the sockpuppet regime in a spiraling feedback loop to nowhere.

Bahaha. I can just imagine some robo-dude trying to rile up some kids to blow something up as a sting operation and the NSA spending weeks trying to find him.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:25 AM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]



Bahaha. I can just imagine some robo-dude trying to rile up some kids to blow something up as a sting operation and the NSA spending weeks trying to find him.


Robots infiltrating robot communities, generating ad revenue for products that robots don't need?
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:27 AM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]




So much for the utility of captchas.

No, you just pay random 3rd world citizens to do them, as well as post the comments.


Inglip hates your blasphemies. THERE WILL BE A RECKONING!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:34 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


"S'awright?"
posted by clavdivs at 9:41 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


This could be interesting if applied to dating sites.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:44 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


That kind of software is sold by a bunch of "reputation management" businesses. I was shocked the first time I saw it but now I'm all prematurely jaded and blasé.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:53 AM on February 18, 2011


Doesn't this sort of thing violate the TOS for many of the Social Networking Sites that they want to exploit?
posted by Stu-Pendous at 10:01 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm all prematurely jaded and blasé.

What hair coloring brand will return you to your youthful look?
posted by rough ashlar at 10:14 AM on February 18, 2011


Well, that software and a couple hundred bucks and I will have ALL of my comments here favorited....


BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHA!
posted by Samizdata at 10:15 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suppose this is news to a lot of people.
Wake up.

Astro-turfing the internet by corporate and governmental entities and all it's variants has been going on for at least ten years.

Astro=turfing television news and newspaper editorials has been going on for decades.
Wake up.

This sort of crap could be defeated by using critical thinking skills instead of group-think. HAHAHAA! ... yeah... good one, i know.

Anonymous comments on internet forums should always be suspect. Always. Perhaps some sort of local web of trust could be used somehow to distinguish such things - or perhaps different weights should be given to longer term members of a community ... I suppose solutions are out there but the biggest thing one can do to counter this sort of enterprise is approach anything you see on the internet with a proper sense of cynicism.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 11:25 AM on February 18, 2011


[few comments removed - the address for metatalk is metatalk.metafilter.com and I have happily provided a link if you want to go there to complain about how we treat posts about Israel which has nothing to do with the topic of this thread.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:53 AM on February 18


"Our sockpuppersonas will not only have contextual and situational knowledge in order to create the most realistic imagery of real world social networking interaction interfacing but we also have the 'random flaming' mode for when you need to step away from your desk to grab a Dew or go to the loo."
posted by infini at 11:30 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, a very, very jefe bertation tonight. We had a very Darist/Darist's son bite. And let's go ahead Terris Tayson. Let's cluvette and have the pet.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:41 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Astro-turfing the internet by corporate and governmental entities and all it's variants has been going on for at least ten years.

Back farther than WWII - The book on Propaganda was re-labeled to avoid the negatives related to Propaganda.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:08 PM on February 18, 2011


Will they have the sockpuppets they invented play the online social game they invented? Just how recursive will this get? I am reminded of the time I set two Eliza bots on each other and let them at it until all that was left was babble.
posted by Asparagirl at 1:12 PM on February 18, 2011


This is a very interesting article.
posted by The pets.com Mascot at 3:44 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is why the TOS on my blog let's me root kit exploit your machine when you post. Just neex to poke through the computer to capture keystokes from the keyboard.
posted by humanfont at 4:28 PM on February 18, 2011


This many voice talking points thing has been ongoing for at least the last six years. There was a time when the internet appeared to be free dialogue, then suddenly information deliverers appeared in every paper, blog, and large site I frequented. They were all saying the same things, scripted. This was a huge phenomenon to witness. They kind of missed the boat on the last election, but they won't miss it again.

Look for that typical disruption to start soon, the goal of which is to convince the mouth breathers in this country that our sitting president is soft on terror, and a pampered white boy will do a better job of over-reacting and handing the rest of our budget to the defense industry.

Obviously Newt Gingrich has been offered the presidential run by the Koch brothers, if he can shut down the EPA.

Trust me, the political chat bot phenomenon, has been going full steam, for at least 6 years. This is the tower of Babel, if there ever was one, just wait until you start picking up syntax from foreign languages, trying to inflame our populace, or shut us down. Yeah. I am so excited for the brave new world, where the world's rich, hide in their bunkers, and pork teenagers from foreign lands, and the rest of us hope for wages. Oh wait! We are already in that world.
posted by Oyéah at 7:02 PM on February 18, 2011


This is just a cheaper way to do the job, and reliably deliver more to the point, propaganda. Real people get very opinionated and hard to listen to if they feel they are being paid for their little mouth breather opinions. Then they build huge public entities like the tea party that take on a life of their own, and often thwart the more subtle goals of the original shadow organizers.
posted by Oyéah at 7:10 PM on February 18, 2011




So let me see if I understand the logic here. It is okay for the US government to have illegal bot networks, for wikileaks to be attacked. But if mastercard is attacked the the FBI needs to busts 50+ kids in an elaborate and expensive operation?
posted by upisdown at 10:19 PM on February 18, 2011




We're not seeing much about markov generators yet, just software that helps you keep all your sock puppets mentally separated. Isn't that kinda well easy? Isn't that already firefox's profiles? We should simply 'inoculate' the web against this by telling everyone how firefox profiles work, assuming non-linux firefoxs support profiles. You could obviously write some firefox wrapper that also launched a shell pointing to the same socks proxy.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:55 AM on February 19, 2011


You could obviously write some firefox wrapper that also launched a shell pointing to the same socks proxy.

I could do with one of those in my laundry.
posted by infini at 2:04 PM on February 19, 2011


I believe we've found dhoyt's calling.
posted by the_bone at 3:48 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Browsing that old thread is surreal. Not to mention an excellent anchor point in time (5 years ago) on the continuum of change occurring on the webz. And for some reason, reading it makes me just sad. The playground of the mind that we'd come to make our own has been co-opted already by professionals. Perhaps its time is over adn we turn back to our real world, knowing that at least there, the shared look of inner snark in another's eyes is "for real".


.
posted by infini at 3:27 AM on February 20, 2011


Hiding Details of Dubious Deal, U.S. Invokes National Security

Summery : Dennis Montgomery was paid over $20 millions for software he claimed could decode secret Al-Qaeda messages embedded in Al-Jazeera broadcasts. In 2003, the CIA deduced his claims were fraudulent, but other agencies continued buying. And Montgomery hasn't been prosecuted because that'd be an embarrassment.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:59 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pastabagel, did you do that on purpose? Because look what was at the top when you google it. It's getting so bad this shit pops up everywhere. Wonderingmind42 describes his encounter with one of these "sockpuppets".
posted by ambulocetus at 5:23 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The date, that is.
posted by ambulocetus at 5:26 PM on February 24, 2011


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