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Trolls and Polls

Updated at bottom
Racism and ignorance are obviously alive and thriving in Canada today.
I can’t help feeling overwhelmed by it.  Saddened.  Discouraged.
But I have this doubt in my mind, based on stories that have surfaced over the last few years.  We all know that Stephen Harper is extremely controlling in his media appearances towards the (Post information age)Media and of his Cabinet and staff, as well as the Police, Military and other civil servants.
But what has happened to the comments pages of the mainstream media?  I refuse to believe that Canadians are overwhelmingly so ignorant of the truth as the recent commentary on the stories about Idle No More and Theresa Spence in particular.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I have this suspicion that the flame of racism is actually being fanned by contractors paid for with our tax dollars.  I’m not okay with that.
In an article from Nov. 2011, Andy Radia points out…

“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

The Gazetteer shows us how alive and well this practice is, as mentioned by the powellriverpersuader in the comments below.

12 comments to Trolls and Polls

  • anonymous

    I have assumed for many years that paid Harperites are haunting the media and blog comment sections. There also appears to be an organised effort to coordinate Harperite comments on topics they think relevant e.g. guns, Chief Spence etcetera.

    It would be interesting if a disgruntled former ‘communicator’ came forward to explain what’s going on.

    Kim Reply:

    Indeed anon, they would be doing the public a great service.

  • Grant G

    Yes indeed, fakery abound..

    cknw had a poll today(Friday 25th) the question was ..If a provincial election was held today who would you vote for..

    At 10:00 am…The numbers reflected almost exactly what the recent Angus Reid poll numbers suggested..

    Bill Good announce at 10:30 am what the pll question was, 1 hour later the numbers were..BC Liberals 55%..NDP 32%..

    I have seen this before, the BC Liberals 200 person public relations team, PAB hijacked the polls, this can be done easily by clearing cookies and voting over and over again..

    However, this blogger not only blogged, and posted the early results, I guaranteed my readers that once PAB got wind of the poll the numbers would swing around 180 degrees..And they did..

    During the BC 2009 election, the Delta times had a poll up, who would you vote for..Vicki Huntington or Wally Oppal…Oppal`s numbers were off the chart..

    2 days later, the Delta times ran a short article titled, PLEASE DON`T HIJACK OUR POLLS…The article said they normally get a few hundred votes, this question/poll, had 3800 votes..


    Kim Reply:

    Grant, yes, I saw that poll. Last week there was a Chek6 online poll that trended at 70% support for the IdleNoMore movement for hours, then suddenly, half hour before Air time, the numbers completely reversed. This disturbing trend is definately being used against us at all levels of communications, in all levels of Government.

    Thanks for the link, I read your articles regularly, one of my favourites!

  • Okie

    Interesting link here;

    I Was a Paid Internet Shill: How Shadowy Groups Manipulate Internet Opinion and Debate

    Kim Reply:

    Okie, thank you! The evidence is mounting. Keep those links coming. It would be great if this story actually made it into the mainstream.

    Okie Reply:

    Moderates and progressives are going to have to learn to fight the right with the means available to them. The right has a compliant Corporate media and is now manipulating social media wherever they can. This issue needs far more attention and effort as it is the perfect tool for ongoing mass right wing propaganda. Mods and progs need to stop looking for the messiah to lead them back to the promised land and take up the fight for themselves. It’s a pig wrestle and they need to understand they will have to get dirty.

    Those with a public presence need to get on this and bring the topic to the fore on social media sites, blogs etc. There is an opportunity for a new ally too, and they even have their own TV network. What better cause than to fight against racism, bigotry and hate speech, to speak the truth and to use the Kelowna accord that Harper cast aside a rallying point?

    Education and accounting being two of the main planks to address moving forward, both being realistic and measurable goals to achieve benefits for all concerned. Some say many Chiefs won’t go along, but those Chiefs are the few, the Idle no more and the FN overall are the many.

  • Grant G

    Hey Kim..From the urban dictionary..The word is FREEP..or FREEPING

    (freep) 246 up, 42 down

    To slew or cheat an online poll by repeatedly voting (clearing cookies, using proxies) or to make a blog appear to be commented by numerous posters by the same means. (From the practices of the Free Republic or “freepers”)
    The results of the CNN question of the day were running 70:30 in favor until an hour ago when it got freeped.
    buy freep mugs & shirts

  • G.J.W.

    During Chief Spence and her fight to be heard, for her people? There was very little difference than, Goebbels propaganda machine and his hate speech towards the Jewish people. Never have I been so ashamed of this country as I am since, Harper’s majority government reign of terror.

    There was a comment made on the CBC’s web site. This was from a F.N. lady or, perhaps a young girl. Her post was full of pain. I tried to comment back to her, four times. I wanted her to know, there are those of us, who care about the F.N. CBC refused to publish my comment. National Post comments and the CBC, I sent to friends and relatives overseas. They were horrified. The new face of Canada is very similar to, the days in Germany during the thirties.

    If you read: Harper was Policy Chief of his, Northern Foundation Party in 1989. He was linked with some very dubious characters. Harper’s bizarre behavior, was now more clear to me.

    Dictators number one to control first, is the media. Then they grab control of every thing, they get their hands on. There is no longer any such thing as, good honest journalism and reporting. I canceled my newspapers long ago, they so sickened me.

    Kim Reply:


    I also made a comment recently on the CBC website. It was posted about the story where Michaelle Jean urged Chief Spence to end her hunger strike. My comment was directed at the Mods, urging them to investigate the origins of all the hate speech posted and allowed to stand. It was never published. Not even posted and pulled with the disclaimer left in place.

    The CBC website is hit hard by these trolls, I think because it is the last bastion in the mainstream media with no paywall and also because Harper hates the CBC and wants to see them discredited and defunded.

  • kootcoot

    “when the government seeks to demonise a segment of the population in the public eye, then they lose the moral authority to govern.”

    In my humble opinion, the Harper Putch never, ever, had the moral authority to govern, neither does the Christy government in BeeCee. In Harper’s case thanks to the skullduggery in Saanich – Gulf Islands two elections ago, the in and out scam back then and the robo-calls crap last time I question the Harper Government’s LEGAL authority to govern!

    Kim Reply:

    I wish somebody had the balls to test that legal authority in court.