Tea Party Imposters Undermining Internet Discourse

October 25, 2012

When I brought up this topic for Environmental Journalists last week, many seemed surprised, and unfamiliar with the idea. Here, the Center of American Progress’ Lee Fang discusses his investigation of phony internet “boiler rooms” where “fake online personas” are created to distort online discussion threads, and create the illusion of mass movements and “spontaneous” public sentiment that does not exist.

Most of us in the climate blogging community have a strong sense that this is going on, but so far have been unable to pin it down specific to the climate issue.  Clearly evidence exists that this is a real phenomenon for right wing activists in general – it seems like we are getting closer to the bottom of this cesspool.

Regular readers will have seen the Tea Party Troll Training below:


16 Responses to “Tea Party Imposters Undermining Internet Discourse”

  1. omnologos Says:

    Could the general distrust in internet ‘personas’ have been behind the spectacular failure of all those signatures in their attempt at making climate change a presidential debate topic?

    • Martin Lack Says:

      What are you asking us for, MM? You should know, you seem to be one! Actually, no, I am more than satisfied you are a real person; I just don’t understand why you spend so much time on this site repeating the same old stuff and dodging the same old bullets…

      Climate change has not surfaced in the POTUS campaign (as you would know if you had watched Climate of Doubt or Greedy Lying Bastards…), because it has been turned into a ‘toxic’ issue by those who reject any science that questions the sensibility of their ‘business as usual’ paradigm…

      What I would like to know is whether people like Myron Ebell and Fred Singer consider conservationists to be “Communists in disguise” as well… I am thinking here of a place like Madagascar: Humans only reached it 2000 years ago and, since then, numerous species have gone extinct because 80% of the forests have been cut down. It is, quite literally, another Easter Island unfolding before our eyes…

      • omnologos Says:

        Whatever I ask, it’s never what you understand. I am still puzzled why tens of thousands of signatures were not considered at all especially in a campaign that is going ‘down to the wire’.

        • Martin Lack Says:

          OK, sorry MM, I presume you are referring to the televised debates? Is it possible that both candidates agreed they did not want to answer the question? They clearly both have their (very different) reasons for not wanting to do so…

        • The reason petitions about the debate are mostly ignored is the fact that debate content is controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties, not the people.

          See: Commission on Presidential Debates – Wikipedia http://bit.ly/R1PNMs

          If the two parties don’t want to debate something, they won’t. I would require tens of millions of signatures and rioting in the streets to sway this process. The Presidential debates are political theatre, not information. The goal is to position the candidates at an emotional level, not to discuss what the real issues have become.

          • skeptictmac57 Says:

            Sadly,I have to agree with you here.At my present age (I first voted 1972) I have seen many of these debates,and have become increasingly disappointed with the actions versus the rhetoric of the participants.Old news… I know.

    • The term you’re looking for is “sock puppets”. A significant percentage of forum traffic has been sourced from sock puppet accounts over the last 5 years. For what it’s worth, the term used by the military is “persona management”.

      This RFP, released by the US Air Force caused a fairly significant rucus with the LulzSec hacktivist group: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/personamanagementcontract.pdf

      Section 1 calls for “Online Persona Management Service. 50 User Licenses, 10 Personas per user.”

      Software will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent. Individual applications will enable an operator to
      exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries. 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. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user’s situational awareness by displaying real-time local information.

      I doubt that this directly influence or failed to influence the Presidential Debate Commission’s decision to skip Climate as a discussion, but the possibility that a petition of this sort may have been about as valid as the petition from the Oregon Institute could have had some impact.


  2. jbowers2 Says:

    I recall RealClimate tracing sockpuppets back to a fossil fuel firm in its earlier days, and I’m very suprised journalists are unfamiliar with the tactic. It obviously makes denialists feel uncomfortable, judging by the vaccuous “look squirrel!” comment above.

    On some news websites it’s possible to game the Likes/Recommends in comments, and it can be hilarious when denialists forget how to use the script some have and give themselves 100 Likes in a minute or two. “Turn your script off, it’s embarrassing to watch” can be a common response. They tend to slink off for a while, but never deny they were using a script. A couple of things I’ve noticed: the use of attractive women for avatars, I suspect to make a generally male commentership more sympathetic, even when the avatar’s user is obviously a man or have even referred to himself in some way in the masculine; some who always use double spaced lines ; short lines which look like they were copied and pasted from a text doc with WordWrap switched on and don’t fit the width of the comment box; regulars who invariably get the first comment in below the line as if they were waiting for the story to go live and pounce on it; quotations without linking to the source, which usually turns out to be a quotemine after the quote is Googled.

  3. The saddest part of that training video excerpt is perhaps that it reinforces the aspect of ignorance influencing outcome. Things are being “rated” based on zero review, on zero accumulated information, merely because it’s the opposite view; therefore, it’s the wrong view and should be quashed. This would suck in other direction: liberals rating high without watching/reading or conservatives rating low without watching/reading; either way, they’d not be watching or reading. It also reinforces the echo-chamber effect of not researching issues and positions, but merely repeating talking points. Yikes.

  4. guylacrosse Says:

    I don’t think there’s any level to which some people will not sink in order to get more money and power.

    • Kiwiiano Says:

      What is a mystery is that most of these drones are not doing it for money or power, they’re just sad, lonely no-hopers living in their mother’s basement. There’s no money in it and only an illusion of any power.

  5. J. Major Says:

    Scrubbing unwanted Wiki articles and puppet commenters: the modern-day equivalent of book burnings.

  6. One of the main tactics of deceptive arguing is diversion from the original point. Instead of addressing an uncomfortable topic, the goal is to move the discussion to a different topic.

    On the ‘sock puppet’ phenomenon, one can sense it a lot on the internet, but it’s rare when one can outright prove it.

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