“Back during the days of Diefenbaker and Pearson, Prime Ministers essentially had only one person who handled media matters.
Today, according to the Hill Times‘ Laura Ryckewaert, there are an estimated 1,500 communications staffers working in ministers’ offices and departments, including 87 in the Prime Minister’s Office and Privy Council Office.”
1,500 people could generate alot of content online. Influence alot of those non-scientific polls that are conducted online daily and massage alot of message in their comments. Even earlier, in 2010 the Harper Government was in the news for hiring people to do exactly that…from News 1130, Sheila Scott…
OTTAWA (NEWS1130) – The Harper government has been monitoring political messages online, and even correcting what it considers misinformation. One local expert says the government is taking things too far.
Under the pilot program the Harper government paid a media company $75,000 to monitor and respond to online postings about the east coast seal hunt.
UBC Computer Science professor and President of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, Richard Rosenberg, says it seems unnecessary for the government to be going this far. “The government has a lot of power, that it feels the need to monitor public bulletin boards, or places where people express views and then to respond to that, seems to me going beyond a reasonable action the government should be taking.”
Then there is this disturbing video from CTV…
This “technique” is not unprecedented, according to George Monbiot…
Online astroturfing is more advanced and more automated than we’d imagined.
By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 23rd February 2011
Every month more evidence piles up, suggesting that online comment threads and forums are being hijacked by people who aren’t what they seem to be. The anonymity of the web gives companies and governments golden opportunities to run astroturf operations: fake grassroots campaigns, which create the impression that large numbers of people are demanding or opposing particular policies. This deception is most likely to occur where the interests of companies or governments come into conflict with the interests of the public. For example, there’s a long history of tobacco companies creating astroturf groups to fight attempts to regulate them.
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 perhaps the most disturbing revelation is this. The US Air Force has been tendering for companies to supply it with persona management software, which will perform the following tasks:
a. Create “10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent. … Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms.”
b. Automatically provide its astroturfers with “randomly selected IP addresses through which they can access the internet.” [An IP address is the number which identifies someone’s computer]. These are to be changed every day, “hiding the existence of the operation.” The software should also mix up the astroturfers’ web traffic with “traffic from multitudes of users from outside the organization. This traffic blending provides excellent cover and powerful deniability.”
c. Create “static IP addresses” for each persona, enabling different astroturfers “to look like the same person over time.” It should also allow “organizations that frequent same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like ordinary users as opposed to one organization.”
Software like this has the potential to destroy the internet as a forum for constructive debate. It makes a mockery of online democracy. Comment threads on issues with major commercial implications are already being wrecked by what look like armies of organised trolls – as you can often see on the Guardian’s sites. The internet is a wonderful gift, but it’s also a bonanza for corporate lobbyists, viral marketers and government spin doctors, who can operate in cyberspace without regulation, accountability or fear of detection. So let me repeat the question I’ve put in previous articles, and which has yet to be satisfactorily answered: what should we do to fight these tactics?
I’m not a lawyer, I am not sure whether this type of politicking is actually legal in Canada, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that it is immoral and reprehensible behaviour. How would you feel if your Government were engaging in cyber terrorism against it’s own citizens? I do not feel that my words are an exaggeration, in my view, when the government seeks to demonise a segment of the population in the public eye, then they lose the moral authority to govern.
Now, where have I heard that before?
Update; February 1st