The supposed conspiracy theory that governments pay people to infiltrate websites, social network sites, and comment sections, in order to influence online discourse and ruin reputations, has been proven to be true. Edward Snowden disclosed formerly confidential data obtained from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ, the UK’s equivalent of the NSA) to Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald has revealed a number of revelations from the data, the most recent regarding the previously secret GCHQ unit Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG). JTRIG’s self-identified core purposes include the tactics of injecting false material online in an effort to destroy its targets’ reputations, and of manipulating online discourse and activism to produce outcomes it prefers (using techniques such as social sciences).
The GCHQ Operational Playbook lists some of the organization’s more specific tactics, including operations for infiltration, ruses, set pieces, false flags, false rescues, disruptions, and stings. GCHQ has also listed tactics for discrediting individual targets and discrediting companies. These techniques are often used against those suspected of ordinary crimes or using online protest activity for political ends. The agency has even admitted in one of its documents to pushing the boundaries and targeting those who have nothing to do with terrorism. The former head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass Sunstein, proposed similar tactics in a controversial 2008 paper. As Greenwald writes, the GCHQ documents “are the first to prove that a major western government is using some of the most controversial techniques to disseminate deception online and harm the reputations of targets.” The documents describe specific tactics in great detail.
Glenn Greenwald, “How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations,” firstlook.org, February 24, 2014, https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/02/24/jtrig-manipulation/.
Tyler Durden, “The Conspiracy Theory Is True: Agents Infiltrate Websites Intending To Manipulate, Deceive, And Destroy Reputations’,” Zero Hedge, February 24, 2014, http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-02-24/conspiracy-theory-true-agents-infiltrate-websites-intending-manipulate-deceive-and-d.
Student Resercher: Noah Tenney (Sonoma State University)