Take the 2-minute tour ×
Skeptics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for scientific skepticism. It's 100% free, no registration required.

As a person who regularly contributes to comments sections on various news sites and political discussion forums, I have heard this claim being espoused by left-leaning commenters about the overwhelming amount of very similar conservative leaning comments on many news sites and political forums.

I have long suspected it myself actually, they seem to come in waves, they all have very short, very similar posts. Much of it seems to be chest beating or name calling. Many of their arguments seem to be recycled and usually there are no references or outside links to support anything they claim. They almost never respond but when they do it is a very short strawman type defense.

In searching I found very little to support these claims, among them a Facebook page and the other a discussion forum for a radio show.

http://www.thomhartmann.com/forum/2011/02/info-pay-post-trolls

http://www.facebook.com/RepublicanDirtyTricks

Unfortunately there is little of substance here to help verify this claim, just a lot of people who notice similar patterns and have also reached the same hypothesis as I have.

I am not necessarily asking for a smoking gun but is there any solid evidence that organizations are funding Pay-Per-Post campaigns to give discussion boards a political slant?

What about solid evidence of such activities being performed by left-wing think tanks and organizations?

share|improve this question
1  
@maple_shaft I really don't understand your point about left leaning and right leaning. It seems meaningless in the context (and potentially flame material). Does it bear any relevance? –  Ebenezer Sklivvze Apr 17 '12 at 19:29
    
Voting to close as "not a real question". AFAIK, there isn't anyone who'd claim the contrary. And last sentence of the question is clearly a flame-bait. –  vartec Apr 17 '12 at 19:33
    
@Sklivvz I certainly feel it does because I am primarily questioning claims by one political faction against another. As far as I could tell, I didn't find such right-wing claims against left-wing organizations so I feel it is relevant. –  maple_shaft Apr 17 '12 at 19:34
1  
@vartec Where does it say in the FAQ that a contrary claim must exist for it to be a real question? Also I added the last sentence with the purpose that the question did not appear biased or politically slanted. Without it then it appears as a giant accusation against right-wing political organizations in the United States. If you disagree then please edit it out to improve the question. –  maple_shaft Apr 17 '12 at 19:40
3  
xkcd.com/1019 –  Tom77 Apr 18 '12 at 9:35

2 Answers 2

I'm going to ignore the part of your question that seems to try to imply this is a left v right issue. However the answer to the simple version of your question is:

Yes there are definitely organized campaigns where people are paid to post internet comments that support a particular issue

Here is an article from the Guardian describing the practice:

After I 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 there was widespread support for his pro-corporate arguments.

From the Indian Examiner:

Anyone writing a comment piece in Mandarin critical of the Chinese government, for example, is likely to be bombarded with abuse by people purporting to be ordinary citizens, upset by the slurs against their country. But many of them aren’t upset: they are members of the 50 Cent Party, so-called because one Chinese government agency pays 5 mao (half a yuan) for every post its tame commenters write. Teams of these sock-puppets are hired by party leaders to drown out critical voices and derail intelligent debates.

and

the investigators Andy Rowell and Jonathan Matthews looked into a series of comments made by two people calling themselves Mary Murphy and Andura Smetacek. [...] When a Bivings [PR company] executive was challenged by Newsnight, he admitted that the “Mary Murphy” email was sent by someone “working for Bivings” or “clients using our services”.

Another Guardian article:

A pro-Kremlin group runs a network of internet trolls, seeks to buy flattering coverage of Vladimir Putin and hatches plans to discredit opposition activists and media.

The general consensus is that anyone who can afford to now buys astroturfing teams much as they would buy other kinds of advertizing. You can even buy "persona management software" that allows to you set up and manage the necessary online accounts, and provide them with fake details needed to be plausible.

share|improve this answer
    
It certainly does seem to be a very real thing. It is good that you found this and established this fact, however the second part of the question is if their is evidence to support the claim that US political organizations are utilizing reputation management software and engaging in mass astroturfing campaigns. –  maple_shaft Apr 18 '12 at 11:47
2  
Without wishing to be cynical it would astonishing to me if any working technique used by the ad industry wasn't employed by US political parties. –  DJClayworth Apr 20 '12 at 7:57

To add to DJClayworth's excellent answer, I dug in a little deeper and was inherently interested in the bit about the US Air Force interested in bids for Persona Management Software (which coincidentally I first discovered existed by reading his answer). The Air Force has since taken the bid down but the DailyKo's has appeared to have saved the relevant information:

Source: DailyKOs NOTE: Not an unbiased source so only considering relevant facts

Solicitation Number: RTB220610
Notice Type:
Sources Sought Synopsis:
Added: Jun 22, 2010 1:42 pm Modified: Jun 22, 2010 2:07 pmTrack Changes
0001- Online Persona Management Service. 50 User Licenses, 10 Personas per user. Software will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent. Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries. 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. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user's situational awareness by displaying real-time local information.

0002- Secure Virtual Private Network (VPN). 1 each VPN provides the ability for users to daily and automatically obtain randomly selected IP addresses through which they can access the internet. The daily rotation of the user s IP address prevents compromise during observation of likely or targeted web sites or services, while hiding the existence of the operation. In addition, may provide traffic mixing, blending the user s traffic with traffic from multitudes of users from outside the organization. This traffic blending provides excellent cover and powerful deniability. Anonymizer Enterprise Chameleon or equal 0003- Static IP Address Management. 50 each Licence protects the identity of government agencies and enterprise organizations. Enables organizations to manage their persistent online personas by assigning static IP addresses to each persona. Individuals can perform static impersonations, which allow them to look like the same person over time. Also allows organizations that frequent same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like ordinary users as opposed to one organization. Anonymizer IP Mapper License or equal

0004- Virtual Private Servers, CONUS. 1 each Provides CONUS or OCONUS points of presence locations that are setup for each customer based on the geographic area of operations the customer is operating within and which allow a customer?s online persona(s) to appear to originate from. Ability to provide virtual private servers that are procured using commercial hosting centers around the world and which are established anonymously. Once procured, the geosite is incorporated into the network and integrated within the customers environment and ready for use by the customer. Unless specifically designated as shared, locations are dedicated for use by each customer and never shared among other customers. Anonymizer Annual Dedicated CONUS Light Geosite or equal

0005- Virtual Private Servers, OCONUS. 8 Each Provides CONUS or OCONUS points of presence locations that are setup for each customer based on the geographic area of operations the customer is operating within and which allow a customer?s online persona(s) to appear to originate from. Ability to provide virtual private servers that are procured using commercial hosting centers around the world and which are established anonymously. Once procured, the geosite is incorporated into the network and integrated within the customers environment and ready for use by the customer. Unless specifically designated as shared, locations are dedicated for use by each customer and never shared among other customers. Anonymizer Annual Dedicated OCONUS Light Geosite or equal

0006- Remote Access Secure Virtual Private Network. 1 each Secure Operating Environment provides a reliable and protected computing environment from which to stage and conduct operations. Every session uses a clean Virtual Machine (VM) image. The solution is accessed through sets of Virtual Private Network (VPN) devices located at each Customer facility. The fully-managed VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) is an environment that allows users remote access from their desktop into a VM. Upon session termination, the VM is deleted and any virus, worm, or malicious software that the user inadvertently downloaded is destroyed. Anonymizer Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) Solution or equal.

Contracting Office Address: 2606 Brown Pelican Ave.
MacDill AFB, Florida 33621-5000
United States

Place of Performance:
Performance will be at MacDIll AFB, Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad, Iraq.
MacDill AFB , Florida 33679
United States

The result of this being brough to light from hacked emails by Anonymous also brought forth some more dirty laundry about plans for a similar smear campaign against WikiLeaks in retaliation for leaked documents between Bank of America and law firm Hunton & Williams.

Source TheRegister.co.uk

The leaked emails detail a supposed business proposal by HBGary to assist Bank of America's law firm, Hunton & Williams, in a dirty tricks campaign aimed at discrediting WikiLeaks in the run-up to the expected publication of confidential bank documents. The leaked documents detail supposed plans to dig up dirt and apply pressure to key WikiLeaks supporters as well as proposals to submit false documents in a bid to discredit the whistle-blowing website.

Ok, so we know a good deal about this one particular company and some of their ethically dubious involvement in reputation management products and services. We have solid proof that the US Air Force and thus probably other areas of the US government are interested in such things. We also have alleged smoking gun leaked emails that Bank Of America was planning such a smear campaign as well (however in BoA's defense, Anonymous can hardly be considered credible, they very well could have altered the leaked emails)

Other links in DJClayworth's answer suggest these practices are common in foreign governments. The question still remains if one or more US political parties or special interest funded political organizations have also been engaged in such astroturfing campaigns which frankly if they are then they are doing a superb job of keeping it under wraps. I will continue to look and edit if I find evidence to support this.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.