Online Astroturfing Is More Advanced And More Automated Than We’d Imagined
By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 23rd February 2011
Every month more evidence piles up, suggesting that online comment threads and forums are being hijacked by people who aren’t what they seem to be. The anonymity of the web gives companies and governments golden opportunities to run astroturf operations: fake grassroots campaigns, which create the impression that large numbers of people are demanding or opposing particular policies. This deception is most likely to occur where the interests of companies or governments come into conflict with the interests of the public. For example, there’s a long history of tobacco companies creating astroturf groups to fight attempts to regulate them.
After I last wrote about online astroturfing, in December, I was contacted by a whistleblower. He was part of a commercial team employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposed them. Like the other members of the team, he posed as a disinterested member of the public. Or, to be more accurate, as a crowd of disinterested members of the public: he used 70 personas, both to avoid detection and to create the impression that there was widespread support for his pro-corporate arguments. I’ll reveal more about what he told me when I’ve finished the investigation I’m working on.
But it now seems that these operations are more widespread, more sophisticated and more automated than most of us had guessed. Emails obtained by political hackers from a US cyber-security firm called HB Gary Federal suggest that a remarkable technological armoury is being deployed to drown out the voices of real people.
As the Daily Kos has reported, the emails show that:
- companies now use “persona management software”, which multiplies the efforts of the astroturfers working for them, creating the impression that there’s major support for what a corporation or government is trying to do.
- this software creates all the online furniture a real person would possess: a name, email accounts, web pages and social media. In other words, it automatically generates what look like authentic profiles, making it hard to tell the difference between a virtual robot and a real commentator.
- fake accounts can be kept updated by automatically re-posting or linking to content generated elsewhere, reinforcing the impression that the account holders are real and active.
- human astroturfers can then be assigned these “pre-aged” accounts to create a back story, suggesting that they’ve been busy linking and re-tweeting for months. No one would suspect that they came onto the scene for the first time a moment ago, for the sole purpose of attacking an article on climate science or arguing against new controls on salt in junk food.
- with some clever use of social media, astroturfers can, in the security firm’s words, “make it appear as if a persona was actually at a conference and introduce himself/herself to key individuals as part of the exercise … There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas”
But perhaps the most disturbing revelation is this. The US Air Force has been tendering for companies to supply it with persona management software, which will perform the following tasks:
a. Create “10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent. … Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms.”
b. Automatically provide its astroturfers with “randomly selected IP addresses through which they can access the internet.” [An IP address is the number which identifies someone's computer]. These are to be changed every day, “hiding the existence of the operation.” The software should also mix up the astroturfers’ web traffic with “traffic from multitudes of users from outside the organization. This traffic blending provides excellent cover and powerful deniability.”
c. Create “static IP addresses” for each persona, enabling different astroturfers “to look like the same person over time.” It should also allow “organizations that frequent same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like ordinary users as opposed to one organization.”
Software like this has the potential to destroy the internet as a forum for constructive debate. It makes a mockery of online democracy. Comment threads on issues with major commercial implications are already being wrecked by what look like armies of organised trolls – as you can often see on the Guardian’s sites. The internet is a wonderful gift, but it’s also a bonanza for corporate lobbyists, viral marketers and government spin doctors, who can operate in cyberspace without regulation, accountability or fear of detection. So let me repeat the question I’ve put in previous articles, and which has yet to be satisfactorily answered: what should we do to fight these tactics?
Once again, (it's so hard to avoid being repetitive - the pukes do the same disgusting things over and over) this is what they do. And then they hide it with vicious attacks, innuendo and lies.
O'Reilly Misleads With Footage of Violent 'Wisconsin' Protesters--With Palm Trees in
Via Digby, here's a clip in which Bill O'Reilly discusses the Wisconsin protests while running stock footage of angry, shoving and shouting demonstrators--with no snow on the ground palm trees in the background. Wisconsin, this clearly ain't. Another one of many misleading gambits on Fox to hype up a nonexistent union thuggery--a line of thinking which is important to debunk at every turn.
Good solid, objective evidence is important! Here's some. Does Faux lie? - everyday - all the time. Here tis.
Remember that Canada will not allow Faux to broadcast there because they have a no lying law for news programs.
Evidence is good!
More evidence re other things coming soon. I love evidence. (see past posts - I harp on this - but ideologues don't absorb contrary information).
Tell people something they know and they will thank you for it.
Tell people something new and they will hate you for it.
Secular Concert At Fort Bragg Off; Organizer Says Didn't Get Same Support At
RALEIGH, N.C. — A Fort Bragg soldier canceled a concert with a secular theme and no ties to religion, saying Thursday that base leadership failed to honor promises to support his show as it had a Christian rally last fall.
Now, an advocacy group that watches for signs of religious bias in the military says it plans to file a lawsuit over the cancellation, arguing that Fort Bragg leaders have shown clear favoritism toward evangelical Christians at the expense of other groups.
"It's heartbreaking," said Sgt. Justin Griffith, who announced the cancellation in a Thursday letter to Col. Stephen Sicinski, the garrison commander at Bragg. "I'm personally invested in this, both in money and time. And now I feel like I've strung people along."
Calls to Bragg were not immediately returned Thursday evening.
Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and a planned speaker for the event, said his group plans to file the lawsuit.
"We're not going to negotiate our constitutional rights," he said. "We're going to federal court."
Fort Bragg is one of the military's largest bases. After a merger this week with what was Pope Air Force Base, the post now has about 58,000 uniformed military personnel and roughly 13,000 civilian workers.
Plans for the Rock Beyond Belief concert, which was planned to include famed British atheist Richard Dawkins as its keynote speaker, began last fall, after an event on the post called Rock the Fort.
That event, sponsored in part by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was criticized by groups like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State as an attempt to evangelize not just soldiers, but civilians, who could also attend the show.
Military leaders said at the time they would support similar events by non-Christian groups, a promise reiterated in a letter last month from the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Bragg to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
"Fort Bragg continues to be willing to provide the same level of support to comparable events proposed by non-federal entities," wrote Lt. Col. Nelson Van Eck Jr.
Griffith and other organizers say that changed abruptly this week, when they were told that they couldn't have the large outdoor gathering with games and activities they had planned. Instead, they were told the event could take place at one of two indoor theaters, with the larger one accommodating about 700 people.
In his letter to Sicinski, Griffith also says the base declined to cover any of the costs for Rock Beyond Belief, while it paid $54,500 toward the Christian event.
Griffith also says he was told that any advertisements for the secular event would have to carry disclaimers that the concert wasn't endorsed by Bragg, while the Christian event was explicitly endorsed by the post.
A military chaplain, for example, had sent out letters on Army stationary to area Christian pastors asking for their assistance in running the Christian concert.
Because of the disclaimer, the financial support and the venue change, Griffith said, the concert he planned wasn't able to go forward, which has left him disappointed and frustrated.
"This happened at the last minute," he said. "I just don't know how to pursue this further without litigation."
Onward christian soldiers, marching as ... What? You're not a christian? BANG.
Fox 'News': Violence! Mayhem! Assault & Battery by Union Thugs in Wisconsin!
By Brad Friedman on 3/3/2011 3:35pm
We were under the impression that the tens of thousands of citizen protesters in Wisconsin, standing up against Big Government's attempt to take away their freedoms over the last three weeks were extremely peaceful. But, apparently, that's because we were relying on actual news reports and evidence and stuff.
So, in the interest of fairness and balance, here's what's actually going on in Wisconsin, according to Fox "News"...
We are hoping that Fox "News" "reporter" Mike Tobin survives the dangerous conditions under which he's been working. Covering the mobs in Cairo was nothing compared to the dangers faced by Fox in Madison!
Of course, in our never-ending quest for fairness and balance, we should probably also point out that the man who "punched" Tobin, as discussed in the video above, didn't actually punch him at all. But we only know that because a liberal non-Fox camera happened to be rolling, so that camera should not be trusted. Neither should liberal Eric Boehlert of the liberal, George Soros-funded propaganda outlet Media Matters. He highlighted more evidence this week attempting to suggest seemingly phony WI reporting by Fox "News". Obviously, his actual, independently-verifiable evidence is probably of the liberal nature as well, so feel free to ignore it.
Also, WI's Republican state Sen. Glenn Grothman, as seen in the video above being overrun by the "dare I say, violent" and "angry mob" chanting "Shame! Shame! Shame!" was shouted down after he appeared on television referring to all of the protesters as "slobs". That appearance by Grothman, however, was on the liberal MSNBC, so, ya know. (Later, he would go on to admit that "there were many friendly people in that crowd" and "courteous people there" and that he never "felt threatened," but, again, ya know.)
For the record, as Bill O'Reilly is only too happy to remind us nearly every day, any mitigating information out there which suggests Fox's reporting is less than truthful or accurate should be ignored because they remain the most opular cable "news" channel in the nation. Therefore, what Fox "News" reports is truthful and accurate. If it wasn't, they wouldn't be so popular, now would they? Suck on that, Liberals!
EVIDENCE, REAL EVIDENCE, I LOVE. BULLSHIT, WELL THAT'S WHAT IDEOLOGUES PEDDLE! YA KNOW, WHEN YA GOT NUTHIN YOU LIE, MAKE A BIG DEAL BOUT NUTHIN AND MAKE CRAP UP. ONE OF THE SITES ABOVE (#46 ) SAYS "PROTECTING YOU FROM THE COMMUNIST LEFT". NUFF SAID!!!
ECHOS OF 1950. AND THERE'S NO EMBARASSMENT. I WOULD LEAVE TOWN!
P.S. Here's a post after the article above. How true!
COMMENT #3 [Permalink]
... Billy said on 3/3/2011 @ 5:16 pm PT...
The greatest thing about the video above is that it repeatedly shows Mike Tobin insisting that the demonstrators don't want to hear his viewpoint --- as if it's customary for a "news man" to be sharing his a viewpoint at a demonstration. It's just more proof that the people at Fox News don't know what journalism is, let alone how to practice it.
Fox & Friends Falsely Portray WI Protesters As "Violent"
Fox & Friends used a video of Wisconsin protesters confronting a GOP state senator to attempt to portray the protesters as a "violent" "mob", while also advancing the falsehood that Gov. Walker "campaigned on" ending collective bargaining. In fact, the video shows no evidence that violence occurred during the incident; further, Politifact has rated the claim that Walker campaigned on collective bargaining "false."
Fox & Friends Falsely Claims "Violent" WI Protesters "Attack[ed]" Grothman
Kilmeade: Protesters Got "Restless And, Dare I Say, Violent." On the March 3 edition of Fox
News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade introduced a segment on a Republican Wisconsin lawmaker, Sen. Glenn Grothman, being heckled by a chanting crowd of protesters by falsely claiming the protesters were "getting restless and, dare I say, violent." Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that, "If you put yourself in [Grothman's] shoes...it's absolutely scary." Doocy later claimed, "When you look at that and all the incivility there, you realize that to these people, elections have no consequence, mean nothing." During the segment, the on-screen graphics repeatedly referred to the "angry" protesters as "violent" or "attack[ing]" Grothman. From Fox & Friends:
[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 03/03/11]
Kilmeade: "A Mob Of Protesters Ambush A Republican State Senator In Wisconsin." Teasing an upcoming segment with Grothman, Kilmeade claimed "a mob of protesters ambush[ed]" Grothman "who wants to go to work." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 03/03/11]
Kilmeade Again Claims Grothman Was "Ambushed By A Mob Of Protesters." Later in the show, Kilmeade again teased Grothman's segment by claiming he was "ambushed by a mob of protesters." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 03/03/11]
Doocy, Grothman Continue To Portray Protesters As Violent. Later on Fox & Friends, Doocy introduced a segment with Grothman by claiming he was "chased by a mob of protesters outside the capitol building." Doocy first asked Grothman, "Where was your security?" and later, "Were you scared?" Later in the segment, Doocy claimed, "There is a double standard. If Republicans surrounded a democrat lawmaker and did stuff like this, do you think it would be a big story?" Doocy ended the interview by asking Grothman if he is "going to have security if [he] need[s] it" and telling Grothman to "stay safe." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 03/03/11]
In Fact, There Is No Evidence Of Violence On The Video
Twelve-Minute Long Video Shows No Violence Occurred. The video, which was shot by Wisconsin area photographer Phil Ejercito, show that Grothman was heckled by protesters, but no violence occurred. In fact, at one point during the video, a protester can be heard to shout "don't touch him" and at another, the protesters chanted "peace" and "peaceful." [YouTube, 03/01/11]
Grothman Himself Claimed "He Didn't Think He Was Ever In Any Real Danger." The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that, Grothman "told the [Cap Times] he didn't think he was ever in any real danger." From the Journal Sentinel:
Grothman downplayed the situation and told the paper he didn't think he was ever in any real danger.
"I really think if I had had to, I could have walked through the crowd and it would have been okay," he told the Cap Times. "They're loud, they'll give you the finger, and they yell at you, but I really think deep down inside they're just mostly college kids having fun, just like they're having fun sleeping with their girfriends on air mattresses. That's the guts of that crowd." [Journal Sentinel, 03/02/11]
Grothman Called Protesters "Good People" And Noted That He Was Not Scared. During his interview on Fox & Friends, Doocy asked Grothman if he was scared by the protesters. Grothman responded "Not really, because I think most people are basically good people. I mean, they've been running around the capitol for over a week now, chanting, blowing their horns, pounding their drums." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 03/03/11
Doocy Falsely Claims Walker "Ran On The Platform That He Was Going To Address Collective Bargaining"
Doocy: "The Governor Ran On The Platform That He Was Going To Address Collective Bargaining." On Fox & Friends, Doocy claimed that "to [the Wisconsin protesters], elections have no consequence. Mean nothing. Keep in mind, in that state, the governor ran on the platform that he was going to address collective bargaining and all the other stuff and that's what he did. And yet, look at what's happening there right now." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 03/03/11]
Doocy Again Falsely Claims Walker "Made It Very Clear" That Collective Bargaining Was "One Of the Things He Was Going To Address." Later on Fox & Friends, during an interview with Grothman, Doocy claimed that "all these people with the signs, the horns, the whistles, apparently they weren't paying attention to the fact that there was an election this past November and the message in the fact that Scott Walker became the governor, he had made it very clear, this is one of the things he was going to address. Collective bargaining. And the unions." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 03/03/11]
In Fact, Walker Did Not Campaign On Ending Collective Bargaining
PolitiFact: Walker Did Not Campaign On Ending Collective Bargaining. On February 22, PolitiFact Wisconsin gave a "false" rating to Walker's claim that he campaigned on his budget proposals, including curtailing collective bargaining:
In the turbulent wake of his controversial plan to sharply curtail collective bargaining rights, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has faced criticism that he gave no warning of such a dramatic plan during the long 2010 governor's race.
Walker has forcefully challenged that contention, most bluntly at a Feb. 21, 2011 news conference. A reporter asked if the move to limit union power was payback for pro-union moves made by Democrats in the past.
"It's not a tit for tat," Walker responded. "The simple matter is I campaigned on this all throughout the election. Anybody who says they are shocked on this has been asleep for the past two years."
Let's sum up our research.
Walker contends he clearly "campaigned on" his union bargaining plan.
But Walker, who offered many specific proposals during the campaign, did not go public with even the bare-bones of his multi-faceted plans to sharply curb collective bargaining rights. He could not point to any statements where he did. We could find none either.
While Walker often talked about employees paying more for pensions and health care, in his budget-repair bill he connected it to collective bargaining changes that were far different from his campaign rhetoric in terms of how far his plan goes and the way it would be accomplished.
We rate his statement False. [PolitiFact Wisconsin, 2/22/11]
Step right up, folks. Welcome to the freak show. See the most repulsive, disgusting, excuses for humans that ever existed. See actual liars on TV via this link. Step right up. Only a quarter - that's what it's worth. But no children allowed. It would be too frightening.
No shame ever. Puke is way too nice a word for these traitors.