Menu Search


How a Government Agency Is Using the Internet to Destroy Reputations

Insights February 26, 2014

One government agency is using “covert agents” to attack the online reputations of citizens and companies.

The title of this article may seem like the work of another conspiracy theorist, but due in part to journalist Glenn Greenwald, one government agency has been exposed for using online tactics to disseminate false information about people and companies.


You probably know Greenwald as a writer for The Guardian, and the person who published information about the US National Security Agency provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In a new post on The Intercept, Greenwald has published a set of documents that a British intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), shared with the NSA and three other English-speaking countries. Through its secretive Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), the GCHQ sought to use the following tactics:

“(1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable.”

The leaked documents contained the following slides:

These slides illustrate the tactics JTRIG would use when targeting a person or a company. Greenwald points out that the targets of these tactics are people who have not been charged or convicted of a crime, and that the tactics are used instead of “traditional law enforcement.”

The above slide somewhat shockingly displays the blunt purpose of JTRIG in manipulating the online environment to create a real world response.

The inclusion of “The 4 D’s” (Deny, Disrupt, Degrade, Deceive) when combined with the resources of a government intelligence agency present a reputational nightmare for potential targets.

While these documents were only shared with the United States, Greenwald notes that Cass Sunstein, the former head of the US Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, proposed in 2008 that the United States government use “covert agents” to influence and infiltrate social networks, chat rooms and other online groups.

What does all of this mean?

While JTRIG’s “targets,” at least according to the presentations, are hacktivists such as members of the group Anonymous, many of the methods that are outlined and deployed by JTRIG can be employed by ordinary people. So while you or your company may not be the target of JTRIG or one of the other four governments who received this top secret presentation, you are leaving your online reputation to chance if you aren’t actively taking steps to manage it.

Most online reputation management issues stem from naturally occurring negative press coverage or unfavorable reviews. Obviously, managing the content about you or your company online is important to combat these issues. But in scenarios such as the one being exposed by Snowden and Greenwald, the government is methodically deceiving the Internet user and targeting online groups without due process. With the growth of intentional reputation-destruction comes the growing need for reputation management.  Chances are you aren’t the target of a major government agency, but if you are the target of one motivated individual, the way you are viewed by colleagues, competitors and potential consumers can be severely impacted. If a secret government unit develops an entire program based on the importance of online reputations, shouldn’t you at the very least be concerned about yours?

Frontline Newsletter

Get our latest digital marketing insights and trending news, sent straight to your inbox.