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Monday, October 21, 2013

Fox and Socks

I apologize for drawing your attention to a post on the Daily Cheeto -- but this piece is really good, and it comes to us by way of LieparDestin, who has been a friendly presence on this very blog in times past.

We've known for a while that sockpuppetry -- i.e., bogus internet commentary -- has been a covert methodology for driving the national online conversation. In other words, socks (as they are called for short) are a psywar tool. What I didn't know was Fox News has devoted quite a few man hours to perfecting the arcane art of sockpuppetry.

(Side note: Is the term "man hours" acceptable, feminism-wise? "Person hours" sounds stupid.)
NPR media reporter David Folkenflik writes in his forthcoming book Murdoch's World that Fox News' public relations staffers used an elaborate series of dummy accounts to fill the comments sections of critical blog posts with pro-Fox arguments.

In a chapter focusing on how Fox utilized its notoriously ruthless public relations department in the mid-to-late 00's, Folkenflik reports that Fox's PR staffers would "post pro-Fox rants" in the comments sections of "negative and even neutral" blog posts written about the network. According to Folkenflik, the staffers used various tactics to cover their tracks, including setting up wireless broadband connections that "could not be traced back" to the network.

A former staffer told Folkenflik that they had personally used "one hundred" fake accounts to plant Fox-friendly commentary...
On the blogs, the fight was particularly fierce. Fox PR staffers were expected to counter not just negative and even neutral blog postings but the anti-Fox comments beneath them. One former staffer recalled using twenty different aliases to post pro-Fox rants. Another had one hundred. Several employees had to acquire a cell phone thumb drive to provide a wireless broadband connection that could not be traced back to a Fox News or News Corp account. Another used an AOL dial-up connection, even in the age of widespread broadband access, on the rationale it would be harder to pinpoint its origins. Old laptops were distributed for these cyber operations. Even blogs with minor followings were reviewed to ensure no claim went unchecked.
(Also see here.)

That last bit about "blogs with minor followings" hit home with me. Although Cannonfire is fairly well-known, I'm not a first-string or even second-string blogger, and I don't try to improve my site's ranking. Any blogger who gets more than a certain number of readers per day comes under pressure to keep things mainstream and dull. Where's the fun in that?

Nevertheless, on a few occasions -- the Weiner thing, the 2008 election, Israel's invasion of Lebanon -- this site has attracted sockpuppets. Dozens of 'em. Hundreds. Day and night. The attention was confounding, especially during the primary elections of 2008. I kept thinking: "If these guys are paid shills, why don't they concentrate their fire on the big sites?"

And then I heard from a couple of fellows who ran sites with substantially smaller readerships than my own site had. Even those guys were getting "socked" -- and socked hard.

Socks also make themselves felt in the world of commerce, especially on Amazon.
Then the controversy roared into the U.S. when New York Times writer David Streitfeld – writing about a man name Todd Rutherford who built a cottage industry out of accepting money to write reviews – got mega-seller John Locke to admit to paying for over three hundred reviews of his books. Locke pointed out that he paid for honest reviews by “verified purchasers,” trying to make the distinction that paying for reviews is not dishonest unless the reviews themselves are dishonest. Which would have been a more effective argument had Rutherford himself not admitted that he compensated the reviewers on a sliding scale, paying only half as much for four-star and below reviews as for five star accolades.
There's a political dimension to "socked" Amazon book reviews, since any book pushing political disinformation will probably receive mucho paid-for praise from the shills.

What to do about "dirty socks"? Not sure. The only strategy that seems to work is heavy-handed comment moderation.
Joe.....Socks,Ratfuckers isn't it all the same thing?

Like you, I've known for a long time that I was reading and often times arguing with people who were paid to blog or to maintain blogs to perpetuate the propaganda of the right. They are very deceptive, particularly in the beginning, even sharing some of your views or concerns. After they've hooked you their approach slowly begins to change as they slip the current vernacular and propaganda of the right into their comments. If you take the time to watch Fox News you can easily contrast their comments to the Fox News bullshit story of the day/week. The language is nearly identical. I haven't read the story you linked yet, but I'm not surprised by it.
Say "hours" or "work hours" because you are not contrasting man hours with woman or child hours. Generally, most places you would say "man" you can say "human" but in this case you are not contrasting with robot or machine or animal hours, so there is no need for a modifier.

Yes, it is sexist to use language that excludes women when you are referring to both sexes, who do after all work.
Socks also make themselves felt in the world of commerce...

Yes, I've become aware of this when checking reviews of motels in particular; and even in reviews of fashion items on a retailers' websites I've suspected funny business. There's no political connection, of course, but it's still nasty manipulation, possibly also paid for, or instructed to be carried out, by corporation overlords. :-/
It happens to me, Joe, whenever I wrote a movie review about something political or present-tense. My hate mail is dominated by pseudonymous snipers, who never bother to mention where they are from or whether they are subscribers to my newspaper.

If I could have three wishes, the second or third would be that schoolkids were taught critical thinking, including how to sniff out propaganda. But as anyone who follows Texas politics knows, the rich villains even control the textbooks now!
Critical thinking is indeed vital today, Joe, and it's a shame that most people think that "critical thinking" means responding to an idea you find inconvenient with straw man and ad hominem attacks, red herrings, false dichotomies, and outright lies.
I do a lot of internet debate. I encounter certain stereotyped strategies often enough that I suspect there's a manual somewhere.

One is called "flipping". If your adversary is going to lie, he'll first accuse you of lying. That way when you point out that he's lying, it'll just be a "You're the liar! No you're the liar!" argument that will repel and confuse readers.

One is to play dumb, asking the same questions again and again as if they hadn't already been answered.

A variation is to play dumb while mischaracterizing your argument: "So what you're really saying is . . . (something real dumb)."

When you have them on the ropes, for instance you've asked a question they can't answer, there are a variety of "show-stopper" tactics.
One is to focus on a peripheral element of the discussion--the red herring. One is to simply declare victory and leave. One is to start a fight by lying about something that you said in the past. This will generate a lot of back and forth that will bury the offending question under a lot of spam. Often when they're unable to answer a question they will just disappear, and a team-mate will immediately show up to change the subject.

And of course they lie and lie and lie, and they substitute attitude for argument.

Anon 4:29, that's why I run a blog.

Online debate is often inane. You can spend hours researching a given point -- you can have your facts solid -- but the other guy will never concede even an inch of territory, the way real people do in face to face situations.
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