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DARPA Prepares for Meme War

Published: August 22, 2011
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By Kaye Beach

~Hat tip to P.H. for the RFP~

“Potent memes can change minds, alter behavior, catalyze collective mindshifts and transform cultures. Which is why meme warfare has become the geopolitical battle of our information age. Whoever has the memes has the power.”–Kalle Lasn

Here is a Request for Research Proposals issued by DARPA on July 14, 2011.


“DARPA is soliciting innovative research proposals in the area of social media in strategic communication. Proposed research should investigate innovative approaches that enable revolutionary advances in science, devices, or systems” pg 4

If you are wondering what is the purpose of this program, jump ahead to page 5;

“Entirely new phenomena are emerging that require thinking about social interactions in a new way. The tools that we have today for awareness and defense in the social media space are heavily dependent on chance. We must eliminate our current reliance on a combination of luck and unsophisticated manual methods by using systematic automated and semi‐automated human operator support to detect, classify, measure, track and influence events in social media at data scale and in a timely fashion.’

In a nutshell,  the US government is losing the meme war.  Due to lightning fast communication technology (such as the internet), old fashoined propaganda and methods of though and behavior control just isn’t cutting it.   DARPA is (and has been) working on a way to fix that.

A meme is a postulated unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena.

Here is an example of a meme for you.

Remember Total Information Aawreness?

The Information Awareness Office (IAO) was established by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in January 2002 to bring together several DARPA projects focused on applying surveillance and information technology to track and monitor terrorists and other asymmetric threats to national security, by achieving Total Information Awareness (TIA).

This would be achieved by creating enormous computer databases to gather and store the personal information of everyone in the United States, including personal e-mails, social networks, credit card records, phone calls, medical records, and numerous other sources including, without any requirement for a search warrant. link

The Total Information Awareness Office was (supposedly) de-funded by Congress in 2003 due to mass public outrage.  In truth, while TIA dropped the creepy logo, its objectives are still  being fulfilled.

According to;

Richard Dawkins coined the term meme, which first came into popular use with the publication of his book The Selfish Gene in 1976. Dawkins based the word on a shortening of the Greek “mimeme” (something imitated), making it sound similar to “gene”.

Memetic Engineering is the process of modifying human beliefs and thought patterns by purposely altering, creating or propagating memes.  When used in the context presented by DARPA, it might be called a Meme War.

Back to DARPA’s RFP.

The first few pages lay out the purpose and desired outcome of this program;

“The general goal of the Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program is to developa new science of social networks built on an emerging technology base.” pg 4

[4 Specific Goals of SMISC-]

In particular, SMISC will develop automated and semi‐automated operator support tools and techniques for the systematic and methodical use of social media at data scale and in a timely fashion to accomplish four specific program goals:
1. Detect, classify, measure and track the

  • formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes), and
  • purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformation.

2. Recognize persuasion campaign structures and influence operations across social media sites and communities.
3. Identify participants and intent, and measure effects of persuasion campaigns.
4. Counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations.

DARPA Declares;

“We must eliminate our current reliance on a combination of luck and unsophisticated manual methods by using systematic automated and semi‐automated human operator support to detect, classify, measure, track and influence events in social media at data scale and in a timely fashion.”

Technology areas particularly relevant to SMISC are shown here grouped to correspond to the four basic goals of the program as described above:
1. Linguistic cues, patterns of information flow, topic trend analysis, narrative structure analysis, sentiment detection and opinion mining;
2. Meme tracking across communities, graph analytics/probabilistic reasoning, pattern detection, cultural narratives;
3. Inducing identities, modeling emergent communities, trust analytics, network dynamics modeling;
4. Automated content generation, bots in social media, crowd sourcing.

Most of the 35 page document is boring details of fulfilling the RFP.  The first several pages is where the interesting stuff is.  Have a look

“It was, indeed, the Age of Information, but information was not the precursor to knowledge; it was the tool of the salesmen.”
Earl Shorris, A Nation of Salesmen

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