Posts Tagged ‘online community’
After I last 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 that 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.
But it now seems that these operations are more widespread, more sophisticated and more automated than most of us had guessed. Emails obtained by political hackers from a US cyber-security firm called HB Gary Federal suggest that a remarkable technological armoury is being deployed to drown out the voices of real people.
The piece goes on to describe the process by which “persona management” companies provide “pre-aged” fake personae, which have built-in histories of social media use, various profiles and accounts, etc. Apparently the Air Force has just signed a big contract for these types of sophisticated sockpuppets, which is seems have “the potential to destroy the internet as a forum for constructive debate.” Really? I kind of can’t imagine that anyone of note takes newspaper site comments that seriously. If the past several years have taught us anything, it’s that online discourse is a powerful tool for political organization, but probably not much in the way of a discursive public sphere. Has there ever been an instance of public policy deriving from the balance of blog posts favoring one side or another? Of sentiment analysis driving legislation? No matter how many sockpuppets elite organizations deploy — even if that number were zero — we have better ways of measuring public opinion than looking at what people are saying online. And if our concern is providing a productive environment for learning about policy issues, well, online discussion already doesn’t do that.
Filed: aka Syscrusher || 22:51, February 23 || No Comments »
One of the key factors in the evolution of the blog into something that can’t be easily stripped down to a primitive form is the parallel rise of group and institution-sponsored blogging. If blogs were originally records of what one person found interesting online, with maybe a bit of their own commentary, reader communities didn’t matter, and thus the ability to comment didn’t matter. Group blogs, such as Daily Kos, changed that by emphasizing community, discussion and organization, much of which hinged on the ability of readers to interact via comments (both with each other and with the bloggers). Similarly, institutional bloggers, such as those employed by major media outlets, have an incentive to use comment sections to build and retain site traffic.
Predictably, active comment sections have proven difficult to utilize to their maximum effectiveness. The more open comment sections are, the more likely they are to attract trolls and other malcontents, driving away potential community members who just don’t want to deal with it. Registration can help, as can techno-organizational factors like discussion-threading and comment-rating, but the risk of somebody pissing in the punch bowl will always be there. A couple days ago, Ezra Klein relayed some other bloggers’ hesitant feelings toward their commenters and would-be commenters, and suggested that he’s interested in moving toward the most highly controlled form of commenting, which is already employed by the likes of Talking Points Memo and Andrew Sullivan — e-mails to him that he would post if he felt like it.
I don’t think there’s anything majorly impactful or important about these specific developments, but I do think they’re worth noting as milemarkers on the road away from “the blog” and toward a broader theory of online publishing.