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
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.