Online political astroturf

Has anyone written a good book about this? I’m not even sure what term to use for this, but it seems in recent years there’s been a proper organised effort by existing political entities - all around the world - to “manage” online discussions with paid commentators or outright bots.

Three things that kind of get at what I’m asking about if anyone is confused:

Polishing Putin: hacked emails suggest dirty tricks by Russian youth group- Nashi runs web of online trolls and bloggers paid to praise Vladimir Putin and denigrate enemies, group claims.

Israel’s newest PR weapon: The Internet Megaphone - Foreign Ministry is urging supporters of Israel to become cyberspace soldiers in the PR battle.

Army of fake social media friends to promote propaganda - It’s recently been revealed that the U.S. government contracted HBGary Federal for the development of software which could create multiple fake social media profiles to manipulate and sway public opinion on controversial issues by promoting propaganda.

To me it indicates an attitude to the internet generally and social media specifically as just a big collection of ‘foo’ - like - “oh no they are writing bad foo about us, we just need some foo of our own and then this problem will go away”. Not seeing it as an attempt to actually engage in a debate in any genuine kind of way - rather it is seen as a problem that can be fixed with a sophisticated spambot. It’s tempting to then see that as a failure on their part to understand how the internet works … but is it? How sophisticated is commentary on youtube or news articles to begin with? Doesn’t seem like you would need such an elegant solution to pass a turing test vs 99% of human participants there. Maybe they actually have a pretty good understanding of it after all.

Anyhow, does anyone have any perspective to add to this? Is it just a stupid idea on their part that will suffer inevitable exposure as above? Is it actually something that works where it goes on all the time and exposure is actually quite rare? Does anyone have any good samples of the kind of shit people/bots linked into such a system put out?

It happens in Malaysia too. The government encourages coverage by friendly bloggers and organizes real-life meetings for them to get together. On the other hand, while organizing a cyberlegion like this is iffy, there’s nothing wrong with making use of social media tools to reach a wider audience. The Malaysian Prime Minister’s new Facebook is apparently quite media savvy.

I would see something like an active/informative facebook/twitter as a positive use of it - or something like this where an actual employed spinner responds at length to someone’s blog on the internet. Even if (as pointed out in the second last comment on that link) it contains absolutely enormous self contradictory lies - actually especially if it does that, because then that’s actually engaging on some provable issue.

But the top post stuff seems like something different to me. Also seems like it has a potential to end up in some arms race of bullshit that steadily reduces the usefulness of online discussions the more people use it/feel they need to use it to compete. I mean - I think it is generally an uncontroversial stance that if you have a thing that needs an army of disingenuous liars/fake people/bots to sell it to people - possibly that is not a good thing.

Do people consider this type of thing all that novel? I am not sure if it really fits into the existing model of trolling or spam or even conventional ‘freeping’ or whatever of polls. Seems like something that combines elements of the above to make something new and even more obnoxious.

Anyhow - is there any good writeup of this shit? Who makes these systems, why they made it, who pays for it as a service, what discussions have been discovered to be part of it so far, writing samples from bots, etc?

I suspect the underlying theory is that of political advertising: quantity matters.

OK, guardian put up some more info on the Nashi case:

The mass of data appears to show evidence of the sinister tactics used by Nashi, and includes:

• Price lists for pro-Putin bloggers and commenters which indicate that some are paid as much as 600,000 roubles (£12,500) for leaving hundreds of comments on negative stories about Putin.

• Plans to pay more than 10m roubles to buy a series of articles about Nashi’s annual Seliger summer camp in two popular Russian tabloids.

• Calls for paid Nashi activists to “dislike” anti-regime videos posted on YouTube.

• Ideas for smear campaigns against what one activist calls the “fascist” Russian opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, such as a cartoon video likening him to Hitler and a suggestion someone dress up like the blogger to beg for alms in front of the US embassy.

For one thing, that’s like, easily about 100x as much money as I thought would be involved.