The US Department of Defense has launched a review of its psychological warfare operation, which uncovered fake accounts on social media that spread pro-Western disinformation, an official confirmed on Tuesday.
The Pentagon and Pat Ryder later confirmed the review to The Washington Post Report Social media giants Facebook and Twitter have shut down several fake accounts suspected to be created by the US military.
Ryder did not confirm or deny that the military was behind the fake accounts and said the information still needed to be reviewed.
He cautioned against assuming the Department of Defense is behind the accounts, suggesting another government agency may be involved.
He said the review was “an opportunity for us to assess the current work in this area.”
The Washington Post reported last month on a report by Graphica and the Stanford Internet Observatory on pro-Western covert influence operations.
Twitter and Facebook parent Meta removed nearly 150 US- and UK-origin accounts in July and August for “dishonest behavior,” the report said.
The Graphica-Stanford investigation said that after analyzing the accounts, they found an interconnected web of accounts on eight social media platforms that were using “deceptive tactics” to promote pro-Western narratives in the Middle East and Central Asia.
The accounts came from a series of campaigns over five years rather than a single effort, the report said.
The accounts “consistently advanced a narrative that promoted the interests of the United States and its allies while opposing countries including Russia, China and Iran,” it said.
Citing unnamed government sources, the Washington Post linked at least some of the activity to the Pentagon and said officials at US Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, “are facing an investigation.”
Ryder said the military’s psychological operations, or “military information support operations,” are structured and legitimate and support activities in the field.
“This is not a public affairs operation,” he said.
“This is an aspect of warfare as old as warfare, and we conduct those operations in support of national security priorities,” he told reporters.
He noted that military deception operations were crucial in World War II and were an integral part of the warfighter’s toolkit.
“There are opportunities to conduct operations against adversaries where you want to use information in a way that helps them think in a certain way — not factual information,” he said.
“What I would highlight is that it must be done in compliance with US law and Department of Defense policy, and we have safeguards in place and are committed to monitoring those safeguards,” he said.