Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

A Tale of Two Facebooks

With the evolution of social networking websites comes a whole new set of awkward social situations.

My latest has to do with two gentlemen who are both candidates for Lubbock County Sheriff in the Republican Primary: Don Carter and Kelly Rowe. Both are capable, professional people with whom I have worked in the past. Because we were already facebook friends, I have been invited to join each campaign’s facebook presence.

What’s a well-meaning dude to do? I won’t be voting for either of them because I don’t vote in the Republican Primary. However, I don’t want to offend either person — each group I join will show up in my news feed, which all of my friends, including Don and Kelly, can see. However, if I ignore an invitation, I risk being rude.

Further complicating things is the issue of support. Does joining a group or becoming a friend/fan on facebook imply support? For example, I’m Randy Neugebauer’s facebook friend not because I support his re-election, but because I want to participate in the discussion accompanying my Congressman’s remarks on facebook. (If you’re reading this and are on facebook, you should do the same.) So, I honestly don’t think that facebook association implies support, but I can already imagine future-Rove running attack ads against future-Obama for facebook friending future-Ayers.

I’m probably overthinking this stuff, but it’s only a matter of time before online drama becomes mainstream political drama. In fact, we might be at that point already, given the Young Republicans President’s offensive facebook comments becoming news a few months back, not to mention the whole Sarah Palin “death panels” smear that began on her facebook page. Celebrity twitters and IM chats are already fodder for the 24-hour news cycle as well.

For my immediate situation, I will accept the invitation to both groups and hope that Don and Kelly don’t hold it against me. Good luck fellas; I hope you both run campaigns that you can be proud of.

Revolution in a Box

If you found yourself buying into the “spontaneous” statement made by Rick Santelli on the trading floor of the mercantile, looking at a “chicago tea party” flyer, or following CPAC — congratulations — you’ve just participated in the latest marketing campaign brought to you by Neoconservatism, Inc.

This style of marketing is called “astroturfing,” since the goal is to create the illusion of a grassroots movement where there is none. It’s propaganda, pure and simple.

Examining the astroturfing process of the Santelli — tea party — CPAC event sequence reveals a carefully orchestrated, pre-planned, top-down, marketing-driven stunt to make the far right look (1) like they can organize, and (2) that people actually care what they think any more.

A Playboy.com article *ahem* nails it:*

A nationwide “tea party” grassroots Internet protest movement has sprung up seemingly spontaneously, all inspired by Santelli, with rallies planned today in cities from coast to coast to protest against Obama’s economic policies.

But was Santelli’s rant really so spontaneous? How did a minor-league TV figure, whose contract with CNBC is due this summer, get so quickly launched into a nationwide rightwing blog sensation? Why were there so many sites and organizations online and live within minutes or hours after his rant, leading to a nationwide protest just a week after his rant?

What hasn’t been reported until now is evidence linking Santelli’s “tea party” rant with some very familiar names in the Republican rightwing machine, from PR operatives who specialize in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns (called “astroturfing”) to bigwig politicians and notorious billionaire funders. As veteran Russia reporters, both of us spent years watching the Kremlin use fake grassroots movements to influence and control the political landscape. To us, the uncanny speed and direction the movement took and the players involved in promoting it had a strangely forced quality to it. If it seemed scripted, that’s because it was.

(emphasis mine)

It’s no secret that the right is playing catch-up when it comes to netroots and online organizing. I have no problem with anyone anywhere on the political spectrum making use of these new technologies, but I am concerned by how the far right is going about it: through fakery and deception. Front websites, fake facebook accounts, fake twitter accounts, 501(c)(3) organizations, and top-down decision-making characterize much of the online efforts of the political right.

I say chap, as a fellow non-billionaire, I am outraged!

The top 1 or 2 percent of the wealthiest Americans are fighting back against economic policy that they see as harmful to their interests. These aren’t men or women that you would meet in your neighborhood. They are people like billionaire Charles G. Koch, owner of the largest private corporation in America and the man behind such organizations as the so-called Institute for Humane Studies, the Sam Adams Alliance, FreedomWorks, right.org, the Club For Growth, Reason Magazine, and the Cato Institute (founder).**

We are witnessing the continued propaganda offensive of big business and the mega-rich, and they do not suffer any blemish to their power or status quietly.

So today’s protests show that the corporate war is on, and this is how they’ll fight it: hiding behind “objective” journalists and “grassroots” new media movements. Because in these times, if you want to push for policies that help the super-wealthy, you better do everything you can to make it seem like it’s “the people” who are “spontaneously” fighting your fight. As a 19th century slave management manual wrote, “The master should make it his business to show his slaves, that the advancement of his individual interest, is at the same time an advancement of theirs. Once they feel this, it will require little compulsion to make them act as becomes them.” (Southern Agriculturalist IX, 1836.) The question now is, will they get away with it, and will the rest of America advance the interests of Koch, Santelli, and the rest of the masters?

(From the same article as above; emphasis mine. See? People do read Playboy for the articles.)

As with any form of media throughout the ages, the internet now faces the challenge of whether it will survive as a medium uncorrupted by the powerful. I believe that there is great promise for the online world to resist such corruption, but these neocon jokers are really putting it to the test.

* This playboy article was taken down sometime on the afternoon of 3/2/2009.

** Correction: I erroneously posted that Charles Koch was a founder of the John Birch Society. It was actually his father, Fred Koch, who was a founding member of the JBS. I apologize for the error.

Trolling becomes a mainstream political tool

I suppose it was inevitable.

One of the worst habits on the internet — trolling — is gaining momentum as a mainstream political tactic. From the more benign forms like, “Hey everybody! Let’s all vote in this online poll!” to the lame-but-tolerable “I’m going to post my opposing viewpoint all over the other side’s blog/forum/whatever!” we now have officially sanctioned Chinese pro-government trolls:

Comments, rumours and opinions can be quickly spread between internet groups in a way that makes it hard for the government to censor.

So instead of just trying to prevent people from having their say, the government is also attempting to change they way they think.

To do this, they use specially trained - and ideologically sound - internet commentators.

They have been dubbed the “50-cent party” because of how much they are reputed to be paid for each positive posting (50 Chinese cents; $0.07; £0.05).

No, not that 50 Cent Party. What was once the domain of sleazy advertisers is now the technique of choice for the Chinese authoritarian government. I look forward to the Chinese government’s inevitable next step of stimulating their business sector through the factory-efficient spamming of gullible citizens of Western nations. (”I won the Chinese lottery? Hooray! Let me get that routing number…”)

One other item of trolling in the news that I want to mention is the recent organized trolling of Team Sarah, a website based around the ridiculous notion that Sarah Palin could run in 2012. The trolls’ goal was basically to act like ignorant racists in support of Palin by posting ignorant, racist remarks. This is, without a doubt, a terrible thing to do to any website, and I would never condone it.

But.

The trolls made their point, because the comments were not policed until it became obvious that the site was being trolled. In other words, the trolls succeeded in demonstrating a tolerance for a certain level of ignorance and racism at the Team Sarah website. To the credit of the Team Sarah website, they have since put in stricter controls and prominent statements affirming that courtesy, respect, and decency are required.

What an age we live in.


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