During World War II, the British 77th Brigade went behind enemy lines and used unorthodox tactics against the Japanese in Burma. There hasn’t been a 77 since 1945, but it will return this year with a new kind of tactic: psychological operations (PsyOps) via social media.

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A number of militaries around the world, including the US, Israeli, and Islamic State (ISIS) militaries, are already using social media to gather intelligence, spread propaganda, recruit soldiers, control overarching narratives, and communicate with other military groups. ISIS has been particularly effective in using social and other online publications to its advantage in recruiting.


The Guardian called the 77th Brigade a «Facebook warrior team» but if the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are any indication, their reach will extend well beyond Facebook: The IDF is active on 30 different platforms in six languages, and the United State Advanced Research Office The US Defense Department (DARPA) has included Pinterest and Kickstarter in its research.

How do the military use social media?

Because Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and other social networks are constantly present in our lives. the potential for their use by the military is almost limitless. However, a few specific uses have attracted a lot of attention.

Sentiment Analysis

An interesting science that finds application in the business and military sectors is sentiment analysis. seeks to create a profile of how a group of users feel about a particular topic. For example, a marketing campaign aimed at generating interest in a new product could use certain metrics to determine whether social media users had an overall positive or generally negative attitude towards the product.

The military could use a form of sentiment analysis when preparing to conduct a propaganda campaign, engage in diplomacy, or recruit citizens as intelligence assets—all of which benefit from understanding how the public feels about a particular issue.

Sentiment Analysis

The chances of success in psychological and intellectual operations can be influenced by the general feelings of the population concerned, and sentiment analysis can provide insight into these feelings, which are much more natural and varied than other methods, and also less intrusive. ,

Spreading propaganda

By gaining insight into how a particular group is feeling through sentiment analysis, the results can be used in other ways. One article (PDF download) gave this example:

[W] When anti-government messages are circulated on social media, the government would like to spread counter messages in order to balance these efforts and therefore identify people who are more likely to spread such counter messages based on their opinion.

It is easy to see how this can be used when the military is involved in a war in another country; supporting citizens on the ground can be a huge help to both sides in a war, and being able to spread messages through social media in this way would be extremely valuable. Even if we know not to trust social media what we see on Facebook and Twitter can significantly influence our opinion.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service has made it very clear how dangerous this technology can be by posting 1.2 million fake tweets to push the presidential vote back to their preferred candidate.

These methods of spreading propaganda through social media can also help military groups establish contacts within another military organization, on the ground in a hostile country, or with underground insurgent cells.

Control stories

In addition to determining the opinions of user groups, the military and intelligence agencies also seek to influence them not only by spreading propaganda, but also by actually influencing specific conversations. One of the methods used by the US military is the use of «puppets», or fake accounts controlled by PsyOps soldiers.

The software called Metal Gear allows users to create and manage up to 10 fake accounts worldwide. These accounts can be used to engage in conversations on various issues and to present what appears to be a single group of people who share the same opinion.

Plato quote

All of a sudden, instead of a single agent trying to influence a conversation, you can have dozens or hundreds, each taking part in a coordinated action, and each with «a compelling backdrop, story, and supporting details.» In a 2011 article in The Guardian cited by US Central Command says this technology will only be used in languages ​​other than English to prevent US citizens from being manipulated in this way.

Whether you think this is true is up to you.

An even more nefarious way of quelling dissent using sock puppets is for a large number of them to report content posted by one user as spam or abuse, resulting in that user being repeatedly banned from the service. Instead of trying to influence the conversation, the sock puppet controller can now dominate it.

Finding Persons of Interest

While you can’t geotag your tweets or Facebook updates, that doesn’t mean you don’t share your location. Defense One reported on SnapTrends, a company that works with the government to use a range of indicators to track you based on a single social media update.

person of Interest,

This technology was used after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing to find people who had access to suspects’ computers, greatly speeding up the process of apprehending suspects. The type of social media analysis used by SnapTrends can also reveal additional information about you and instantly reveal the history of your social media activities.

computer world reported on another group of data scientists who used social media to identify locations of interest — four sites in the Homs region of Syria that held potential weapons of mass destruction. After identifying the sites, the researchers recommended that the military contact the opposition battalion to ensure that the sites were protected in the event of a regime fall, when terrorists could use the chaos to steal weapons.


If an intelligence agency or the military wanted to inject malware into the systems of a certain group of people for intelligence gathering, hacking, or cyber attacks, then doing so through social media can be a very effective strategy (certainly easier than trying to get an opposing army soldier to plug in a USB drive). ).

Unlock-circuit boards

The Syrian opposition saw some of its information stolen by hackers who posed as attractive women on Skype, sending images to their targets to identify the operating system they were running, and then downloading malware to the target’s computer. According to register, battle plans, maps, lists of weapons and ammunition, and supply routes were stolen.

While more groups versed in cyber warfare may be less inclined towards such tactics, it is likely that First World militaries will seek opportunities to use social media in this way.


While the information-gathering and propaganda capabilities of social media are clear, it is not clear where this technology will move in the future. With the re-establishment of the British 77th Brigade, we are likely to see even more attention to this issue around the world in the near future.

What do you think the future holds for the use of social media by the military? Do you think using fake accounts is ethical? Do you feel safe knowing that the US, UK and other countries can extract huge amounts of your data based on a few posts? Share your thoughts below!

Image Credit: Armed with guns via Shutterstock, rated via Shutterstock; Xvlun via Wikimedia Commons; Target customer in Bulls-Eye unlocking security lock via Shutterstock.

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