The Ministry of Defence is funding a multi-million pound project to study ways in how the UK population can be controlled by social media and the wider internet.
BAE Systems is reported to have received £20 million from the MoD since 2012 to fund the research and is said to be getting £10 million more.
The Guardian reports the MoD is developing a "secret" cyber-warfare programme, including "how social media and psychological techniques can be used by the military to influence people's beliefs".
The paper says research into the role of online avatars, psychological theories and the impact of live video-sharing are being funded by the MoD through BAE Systems, which is using an existing research centre to handle the projects.
BAE is working with other arms companies, academics, thinktanks and marketing specialists on the programme.
The Guardian says it has seen a list of research projects and those involved in them. Projects include "Understanding Online Avatars", "Cognitive and Behaviour Concepts of Cyber Activities", and "Novel Techniques for Public Sentiment and Perception Elicitation".
Dr Tim Stevens of Kings College London, an expert in cyber-warfare and strategy, told the Guardian "there was increased state interest in the role of emergent technologies such as social media, and the development of powerful psychological techniques to wield influence".
Stevens said "states will seek to influence their own populations and others through cyber methods" and that they will use big data analytics to measure citizen sentiment across social media and tailor their responses to it, to help them gain control.
He told the paper: "Cyber-warfare of the future may be less about hacking electrical power grids and more about hacking minds by shaping the environment in which political debate takes place."
Organisations reportedly involved in the MoD programme include BAE Systems subsidiary BAE Systems Applied Intelligence - a security technology business formerly known as Detica - defence firm Montvieux, marketing firm Baines Associates, Northumbria, Kent and University College London universities, and defence and technology services firm QinetiQ.
Find your next job with computerworld UK jobs