Tag Archives: Fake blog

Astroturfers Revisited

Good piece (video) by Jon Ronson about astroturfing:

Esc and Ctrl: Jon Ronson investigates astroturfing – video

In the second part of Jon Ronson’s series about the struggle for control of the internet, he looks at online astroturfing – when unpopular institutions post fake blogs to seem more favourable. He meets the former vice president of corporate communications for US healthcare company Cigna, who confirms his involvement in this kind of activity

He talks about the “death panels”: the Cigna whistleblower, Wendell Potter [Wikipedia] tells him that the company created lots of fake blogs and groups, all of which have since disappeared, including from archive.org, to get the issue going. Looking at a google search trend of the term “death panels”, you can see how it appears from nowhere so suddenly:

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I’ve not seen an issue spring from nothing to the max quite like that for a while.

No question that we don’t really know just how widespread this is. It’s good that Ronson, whom I greatly admire, is on the case. Should be entertaining and revealing too.

Here’s some stuff I’ve written about this in the past:

The Real Conversation I’ve grown increasingly skeptical of the genuineness of this conversation: as PR gets wise, as (some) bloggers get greedy and (other) bloggers lose sight of, or fail to understand the need to maintain some ethicaleboundaries, the conversation has gotten skewed. I’m not alone in this, although cutting through to the chase remains hard. The current case of the Wal-Mart/Edelman thang, where the chain’s PR firm reportedly sponsored a blog about driving across America and turned it into a vehicle (sorry) to promote Wal-Mart, helps bring clarity to some issues, or at least to highlight the questions.

Social Media and Politics- Truthiness and Astroturfing Just how social is social media? By which I mean: Can we trust it as a measure of what people think, what they may buy, how they may vote? Or is it as easy a place to manipulate as the real world.

Faux Blogs And The Art Of The Dupe

Are fake blogs savvy marketing tools or the thin end of a wedge that will undermine the credibility of all blogs?

Dennis Nishi has a piece in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune about fake blogs or faux blogs, a topic I’ve blazed off about before.

He points to Beta-7, a fake blog conceived, if that’s the right word, by the New York office of Portland, Ore.-based advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy. ”The blog was intended to create a buzz for Sega’s “ESPN NFL Football 2K4” game and draw attention away from Electronic Arts’ “Madden Football 2004″–the game that dominates the segment,” Nishi writes. “The Beta-7 blog and two others featured pictures of injuries suffered by gamers during blackouts, and bulletin-board messages were posted across the Internet about the adverse side effects of playing. Confidential company memos–purportedly acquired by another game tester–were posted that portrayed Sega as increasingly worried about the problems.” The whole thing was basically a scam: “Beta-7 ran for four months and ended with the September release of the game. The beginning and end of the campaign were scripted ahead of time, but everything in between was created on the fly and in response to how the audience reacted.”

Of course, we can get all snotty about this. But the bottom line is that the site attracted 2.2 million visitors, and sales improved over last year by 20 percent, selling about 360,000 games. It was certainly more successful than Dr Pepper/7 Up Inc.’s Raging Cow, a flavored-milk drink targeted at teens and young adults. Nishi writes that when legitimate bloggers discovered that company-sponsored shills were recruited to post comments to blogs, some bloggers responded by creating a Web site to boycott Raging Cow. “The boycott is going a year later.” Warner Bros also got sliced when editors of blogs traced suspiciously positive comments about a band Warner Bros.

To me the whole thing is silly and misleading. Blogging is a new medium and doesn’t need this kind of Trojan Horse pretence. But I guess there’s also an argument that if users are dumb enough — or wise but willing to be entertained — then it doesn’t really matter. Hell, what passes for news on TV these days is more often than not just dressed-up reality TV. I guess I’d hoped blogging would remain a raw, honest medium for a while longer, and that a keen and clear understanding of the blogger’s background and motives would be the first thing readers would look for.