Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) will commit close to $1 million for a suite of high-tech projects aimed to monitor and control social media both at home and abroad.
The money will launch a three-tiered program meant to both study how information spreads online and create tools for automatically disseminating state propaganda on forums, blogs, and social media, according to a report in the Kommersant newspaper. The three programs, given the type of ominous names you’d expect to see in a Hollywood spy movie (Monitor-3, Dispute, and Storm-13), will roll out later this year and into 2013.
The SVR is reserving the largest chunk of its money—about $700,000—into Storm-13, a plan to launch a virtual army of bots that will attack social networks with propaganda “in order to influence public opinion,” according to Kommersant.
The SVR is a direct descendant of the KGB and is responsible for foreign intelligence, espionage, and electronic surveillance abroad, among other duties.
Anton Nosik, a leading tech pundit in Russia, told Kommersant that anti-spam measures are the biggest stumbling block to the SVR’s ambitions of a bot army. Necessarily, Nosik said, a main goal of Storm-13 will be to “neutralize” these measures.
The Internet has been key in the growth of Russia’s opposition movement. Its most influential voice, Alexey Navalny, rose to fame thanks to his vociferous LiveJournal blog and multiple online crowdsourcing initiatives meant to highlight official graft and corruption in Russia. Navalny was recently hit with embezzlement charges that many believe are trumped up and little more than an attempt to silence him.
In his 2011 book, The Net Delusion, Evgeny Morozov argued that the Internet, far from empowering democracy, actually feeds into the power structure of autocratic states. Russia’s intelligence service has no doubt been monitoring the Internet and social media for years. But do these programs represent a more nakedly pernicious turn?
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