The US military has created and operated fake Arabic-language Twitter accounts that have advanced US interests in the Middle East, and Twitter has “whitelisted” those accounts, according to a new report from Intercept.
The report released yesterday expands on the reports of online security researchers affiliated with the Stanford Internet Observatory. In August, researchers reported what are believed to be thousands of accounts created and operated by the US government as part of a state-sponsored information initiative. Many of these accounts used photos created with artificial intelligence or “deep fakes” for their profile picture.
Yesterday, The Intercept reported that emails received showed that at least one of the accounts was linked directly to the Pentagon.
One account, @mktashif, originally announced its affiliation with US Central Command (CENTCOM) in its Twitter bio, but at one point the clarification was deleted, according to Intercept. Around the same time, the accounts’ photo was also changed to one that Stanford researchers identified as a deep fake.
The account’s new biography, in Arabic, claimed that it was an unbiased source of news and information and was “dedicated to serving Iraqis and Arabs.” It regularly tweeted messages aligned with US interests, such as denouncing Iran and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
According to the report, Twitter was aware of these accounts and their use by CENTCOM. In July 2017, a CENTCOM official emailed a Twitter public policy official, requesting that an account be approved for review and “whitelisted” a list of Arabic language accounts that the Pentagon ” used to reinforce certain messages”.
CENTCOM sent a list of 52 accounts, ranging from @yemencurrent tracking US drone strikes in Yemen claiming they were “accurate” and killing terrorists, to accounts spreading anti-Iran and Iraq messages, as well as those US-backed messages are promoting militias in Syria. According to a Twitter engineer who spoke to Intercept, “whitelisting” these accounts essentially gave the accounts the privilege of being verified in the app without the visible blue tick.
Twitter has said for years that the company would delete government-sponsored accounts, but never made an explicit exception for the US at the express request of the military.
Tuesday’s report is just the latest in a series of reports on Twitter from the so-called “Twitter Files”. New Twitter CEO Elon Musk has given a select few journalists access to Twitter’s emails and recordings for a short time, encouraging them to “expose all the bad things Twitter has done in the past.”
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*Initial Release: December 21, 2022 3:33pm CST
Jacob Seitz is a freelance journalist originally from Columbus, Ohio, interested in the intersection of culture and politics.
https://www.dailydot.com/debug/twitter-deep-fake-accounts-pentagon/ Twitter has whitelisted a number of Pentagon-run Deep Fake accounts