WASHINGTON (Web Desk) – The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online account to jump into internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda, the Guardian reported.

A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with the United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia. The company has been tasked with developing an “online persona management service” that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.

The project has been likened by web experts to China’s attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics feel that the software will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that stand against its own objectives.

The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as “sock puppets” – may also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.

The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries.”

Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks said: “The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US.”

He said none of the interventions would be in English, as it would be unlawful to “address US audiences” with such technology. He also clarified that all past English-language use of social media by Centcom had been clearly attributed. The languages in which the interventions are to be conducted include Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto.

Centcom added that it was not targeting any US-based web sites, in English or any other language, and specifically said it was not targeting Facebook or Twitter.