FROM THE WEB
Net Briefs - 4-11
Tax Form Lies
Values and Interests
Sex and Security
WSF in Africa
Social Media Role
Cause of Fiscal Crisis
Gaza in Crisis
Zaps - 04/11
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Corporate-Funded Online Astroturfing
Every month there is more evidence that online comments 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, I was contacted by a whistleblower who 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. It now seems that these operations are more widespread, sophisticated, and automated than most of us had guessed. Emails obtained by political hackers from a U.S. cyber-security firm called HB Gary Federal suggest that technological weaponry is being used to drown out the voices of real people.
As the Daily Kos has reported, the emails show that:
Ø 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 automatically generates what look like authentic profiles, making it hard to tell the difference between a virtual robot and a real commentator.
Ø Fake accounts can be updated by automatically re-posting or linking to content generated elsewhere, reinforcing the impression that the account holders are real and active.
Ø Human astroturfers are assigned "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 on to 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.
Ø 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 that the U.S. Air Force has been tendering for companies to supply it with persona management software, which will:
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 and social media platforms"
b) automatically provide its astroturfers with "randomly selected IP addresses" (the number that identifies someone's computer) through which they can access the Internet, "hiding the existence of the operation," and mixing up astroturfers' web traffic with "traffic from multitudes of users from outside the organization, providing excellent cover and powerful deniability"
c) create "static IP addresses" for each persona, enabling different astroturfers "to look like the same person over time, which 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 severely damage 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 organized trolls. 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. The question that has yet to be satisfactorily answered is: what should we do to fight
George Monbiot is the author of Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning. This article originally appeared in the Guardian.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.