As the election season begins in America the races on both sides rev up the mudslinging, propaganda,spam and astroturfing are reaching alarming levels and the need to protect the general public from astroturfing grows ever more urgent.
Astroturfing and Politics are quite complementary bedfellows to each other and just this year alone have been brought to light,exposed as such yet for some reason the general public aka the electorate has demonstrated a level of ambivalence that I frankly find frightening
By way of example, Conservative British prime minister David Cameron and his PR people were caught fudging numbers on his social media accounts to the extent that it was discovered that most of his followers and friends were not only fake but they were not even based in the UK
Meanwhile in Washington both Obama’s White house and Hillary Clinton’s campaign were both not only discovered to be engaging in the same sort of behaviour and activities as the British prime minister but to take it further,especially in the case of the Clinton campaign the use of bots was discovered!
Now, I know I have written about the use of bots and if you have read my musings on the topic you will know that the use of bots is a hallmark sign of astroturfing
Political campaigns,Companies and the military now use “persona management software” also known in the industry as “bots”, which multiplies the efforts of each astroturfer, 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.
• These fake accounts are often 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 are then assigned these “pre-aged” accounts to create a back story, suggesting that they’ve been busy linking and retweeting 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 fictitious personas.”
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), and 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 organisation. 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 “organisations that frequent same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like ordinary users as opposed to one organisation.”
Software like this has the potential to destroy the internet as a forum for constructive debate. It jeopardises the notion of online democracy.
So , if the U.S. air force, Amazon reviewers are using these methods and bots what makes you think that a presidential candidate’s PR would not use the same methods to at the very least create the illusion of a real and true grass roots support for a candidate?
We have recently witnessed how these techniques backfired on the Clinton campaign and the people on the Democrat Party side of the isle are genuinely behind Sanders and not Clinton and in this instance the old saying it all comes out in the wash is true but what will happen when and if a politician’s PR harness the power of the internet and disseminate a propaganda campaign so insidious and dark that it actually deceives a whole nation?
To my readers please wake up and realize that astroturfing is happening in politics as well as and as frequently as it occurs in the private sector
Astroturfing is an absolutely real threat and danger to democracy and the principles of a free society