Online astroturfing. I wasn’t quite sure what that was. I’d heard the term “astroturf” quite a bit, but thought that was just the fake grass that some football teams play on.
According to Wikipedia, astroturfing is “a form of advocacy often in support of a political or corporate agenda designed to give the appearance of a ‘grassroots’ movement. The goal of such campaigns is to disguise the efforts of a political and/or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some political entity.”
“It goes far beyond the mere ability for a government stooge, corporation or PR firm to hire people to post on sites like this one. They are talking about creating the illusion of consensus. And consensus is a powerful persuader.”
I think my internal alarm just went off.
In an article over at AlterNet, George Monbiot, details what online astroturfing is, which is basically the hijacking of online comment threads by bots, or trolls, controlled by companies and corporations to control and swing public opinion in their favor. As many as 10 bots can be controlled by one operator (the whistleblower AlterNet spoke with had 70 personas), and the software, known as “persona management software,” automatically creates a backstory, complete with email addresses, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and other social media pages/addresses, and updates the status for each bot, giving the illusion that the bot is a real person. It provides randomly selected IP addresses through which they can access the Internet, as well as static IP addresses that make the bot look like a real person over time.
Do you feel like you’ve just stepped into The Matrix? I do.
Happy Rockefeller, a blogger at the DailyKos, breaks it down even further and voices his concern:
“I don’t know about you, but this concerns me greatly. It goes far beyond the mere ability for a government stooge, corporation or PR firm to hire people to post on sites like this one. They are talking about creating the illusion of consensus. And consensus is a powerful persuader. What has more effect, one guy saying BP is not at fault? Or 20 people saying it? For the weak minded, the number can make all the difference.”
According to howstuffworks.com, Fox News has reported that the government is offering contracts for the development of persona management software, but in recently released emails, the suggestion is the software already exists. The emails, obtained and released by Anonymous, the online hactivists and WikiLeaks defenders, were “acquired” after Anonymous hacked into the email system of HB Gary Federal, and snatched over 40,000 emails and documents. HB Gary federal have been embroiled in their own scandal involving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Bank of America and the U.S. Government. But in a way, it all combines together, and it’s all connected.
For a breakdown of the HB Gary Federal scandal, The Colbert Report actually did a pretty good summation of it last night, and Stephen interviewed Glenn Greenwald, who was targeted by HB Gary Federal for his vocal support of WikiLeaks, who is rumored to have incriminating documents on a major U.S. Bank, which some have said is Bank of America. What this all boils down to is the control of public opinion and the use of propaganda to swing that opinion in the favor of the powers that be, whether it be through persona management software and the hijacking of online debates over issues, or the more diabolical targeting that Glenn Greenwald, one of the best investigative reporters this country’s got, experienced.
Interview with Glenn Greenwald:
Note: During the interview with Glenn (above), at the 3:22 mark or thereabouts, you can very briefly see the mask worn by the hero in V for Vendetta superimposed over Stephen’s face. It’s unclear if this was added by the video editors of The Colbert Nation, or if Anonymous found a way into The Colbert Nation’s editing software.
For full coverage of the HB Gary Federal scandal, both Think Progress and Fire Dog Lake have been providing excellent coverage, and of course, Glennzilla has had a few things to say on the matter, as well.