Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bloggers and Web Forums Beware: The Online Social Persona

In an article written earlier this year, George Monbiot's blog in The Guardian newspaper describes how some companies are hiring an internet team to infest forums and comment threads on behalf of their corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposes them. Although this mainly involves businesses, it can also be introduced on this type of blog (if I had a comment section). These individuals can introduce themselves to you and carry on a long discussion, while all along misrepresenting who they are and try to sway your opinion. When you consider how many people pose as Christians and are actually New Agers with an agenda, you just never know...

If you own a blog or forum that publishes controversial subjects, you should read the following article.

The Need to Protect the Internet from "Astroturfing" Grows Ever More Urgent

(The Guardian) Every month more evidence piles up, suggesting that online comment threads and forums are being hijacked by people who aren't what they seem.

The anonymity of the web gives companies and governments golden opportunities to run astroturf operations: fake grassroots campaigns that 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 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. I'll reveal more about what he told me when I've finished the investigation I'm working on. (Read more)

Related Article
U.S. Spy Operation that Manipulates Social Media
Good Reviews and Bad Reviews: The Ethical Debate Over Astroturfing