"If you infiltrate and try to hurt my family, I will murder you violently," says Charlie Sheen.
"... In the 'info war' ..." helpfully adds Alex Jones, the radio host on whose show he was speaking.
"In the 'info war'," says Charlie.
And the info wars must indeed be a dangerous place, not necessarily in the way of a physical threat, but in the loss of control and influence over public opinion, which can lead to a loss of real power. That Charlie Sheen is so offhandedly aware of the concept of releasing true or false information to the media about his life or the lives of people who have fallen out of favor with him reminds us of how pervasive this information peddling must be.
With the cult of celebrity, perhaps the only real danger is the threat of damage to the psyches of those involved, or to their kids, who film them eating Wendy's while incredibly drunk. A Daily Kos post by Happy Rockefeller about the recent tearing back of the flesh of the media that has revealed the very real propaganda that makes up much of its sinew and tissue -- the result of the work of WikiLeaks, Anonymous, mainstream media stories about the Koch Brothers, prank calls by alt-weekly editors to state governors and the like -- worries that it poses a real threat to social stability and the well-being of the general public.
Consider the union; are they generally beneficial or generally detrimental to society. Do unions keep lazy teachers in their jobs, effectively threatening our children's educations, leading to a diminished skilled labor pool and ultimately dragging down the future economy? Or are unions a necessity in promoting the rights of individual workers from exploitative employers by forcing them to bargain collectively?
This is not an issue that has a quick answer, chiefly because unions are both of those things and more. We still crave a quick and easy answer, though, since we have lives and all but would still like to have an opinion on any given matter. The Daily Kos points out that some people are ready to give you your quick and easy answer, via Twitter or Facebook.
Rockefeller covers some e-mails from HB Gary, the security and intelligence firm with federal government contracts whose emails were stolen and published by Anonymous after that group of hacktivists learned the company was investigating it. Of particular importance is a reference to "persona management" software, which HB Gary suggests using to influence public opinion.
This software -- Fox News reports the federal government is offering contracts for the development of persona management software, but the HB Gary documents make it seem that it already exists -- could be used to generate fake online identities, complete with Facebook, Twitter and Linked In accounts, subscriptions to RSS feeds and automated abilities to contribute content like retweets and status updates, everything that makes a fake person essentially indistinguishable from a real person online. A single operator can manage up to 10 personas, so a team of five can deploy 50 people on the Web.
The whole purpose of this, Rockefeller points out, is to influence public opinion via the bandwagon technique. Remember the union question? That desire for a quick and pat route to what we'll come to think of as our own opinion on the subject can be gotten in places like Twitter. And under the bandwagon technique a tweet that shows support for union labor is trumped by 50 replies that suggest unions are bad for America. We like to be on the winning team, generally, so we may be swayed by the 50:1 ratio against the concept of unions, which germinates into personal opinion, which may be disseminated in to others throughout one's lifetime. All this without any real information.
Via persona management software, only five of those 50 people actually exist and each of those five are paid to express those opinions online.