It should come as no surprise in the era of Edward Snowden that the U.S. military is keeping an eye on your social media habits, but the Defense Department is also funding Facebook-style behavioral experiments on you.
The Guardianreported Tuesday that DARPA, the Defense Department's research arm, has given millions of dollars to projects that examine activity on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Reddit, Pinterest, and other social networks as part of its Social Media in Strategic Communication program. According to the newspaper, one of the studies involved sending messages to users to gauge their responses. DARPA even looked at Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber's Twitter accounts to determine how messages spread across the network.
The military also looked at Kickstarter projects. The potato salad crowdfunding campaign would actually make more sense if it turned out to be a government conspiracy.
So what does DARPA care what you and Lady Gaga are tweeting about? The SMISC program is designed to "prevent strategic surprise," according to DARPA, by studying how information spreads through social networks. Armed with that information, the government can then "develop tools to support the efforts of human operators to counter misinformation or deception campaigns with truthful information."
The research department claims it abides by legal and ethical standards for its studies, and seeks willing participants for its experiments. But some of the studies didn't ask for participation, according to The Guardian. A paper called "Who Will Retweet This? Automatically Identifying and Engaging Strangers on Twitter to Spread Information" sought out Twitter users to spread facts about public safety and disease.
So if a stranger ever messages you on Twitter or Facebook, be careful: It might be a government researcher studying you.