Trolls R Us: How Fox News Sock Puppets Spam Comment Threads

October 22, 2013

Most unsurprising new fact of the year.  Everyone has observed how for each new report of legitimate concerns on climate change, waves of trolls flood media comment threads with tired, shopworn talking points of denialism.
We’ve already seen (above) how Koch backed Tea Party thugs routinely game internet comment threads. Now, new reports of how this is done at Fox News as well. (and, doubtless at countless boiler rooms in the lower levels of right wing think tanks across the country…)

Daily Kos:

In the newest instance by Rupert Murdoch and Fox New’s PR campaign, they employed sockpuppet accounts and internet anonymity tools to spread their propaganda on blogs and comment sections, even those with little traffic.

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:

Just one more bit of information and I encourage you to read up further on the revelations:

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.


22 Responses to “Trolls R Us: How Fox News Sock Puppets Spam Comment Threads”

  1. kingdube Says:

    It’s pathetic to see a conservative promote liberal tactics.

  2. redskylite Says:

    This latest thread both sickens and saddens me that political organisations would connive and train people to have so many on-line ids to try and convince others by the (often talked about by Judith Curry) so called “band wagon” effect. What sort of world do we live in where children are deliberately starting wildfires in Australia for their own amusement, child sex slavery is rampant, organisations try and manipulate truth such as denying cigarette smoking health damage, or even worse denying the science of mankind’s effect on Earth’s climate (and risking the lives of countless populations), for the sake of either politics or financial gain or both. My firm belief (and hope) is most people can see through this type of deceitful tactics and recognise the truth.

  3. climatebob Says:

    There is a massive amount of money and strategic advantage being used by the business and far right community to influence the people of America and the World.
    The USA is not top of my favourite countries but I am pleased to say that two of my forecasts have been proved wrong. I forecast that the USA would never elect a black president and then I forecast that he would be killed before he finished his term.
    I am very pleased to say that I was wrong and that the Americans are not as stupid as they appear.

  4. andrewfez Says:

    The most extreme cases I’ve come across are not volunteer or paid trolls, but hobbyists who get into the habit of showing up at the same blog or YT video everyday to push points of view they acquire from following other, pseudoscientific blogs. They’re often motivated by arrogance: -they- know something -everybody else- does not; or they’re watching -a flock of sheep- be lead around as a function of its own ignorance, and are have a good laugh at such. Sometimes they just enjoy arguing and taking -the underdog’s- or -the maverick’s- side. There is a political or ideological component as well, injected into the strata of motivations.

    What’s interesting is that there is a significant probability that their ‘side’ or ‘camp’ is wrong, so indeed, some of these folks will have wasted countless years of months of days of hours of minutes of their lives being Neptunists* on these media outlets.

    *Neptunism is something that got going around the early 1800’s, where folks believed all the rocks on the earth were formed solely in a sedimentary or precipitous process from an ocean that originally covered the entire globe, whilst rejecting volcanism or crystallization from molten matter.

    • andrewfez Says:

      My favorite troll is the guy in the comments section harassing the video poster:

      I won’t use his handle here because he sometimes does google searches in attempts to assassinate opponent’s characters (finds their real names and such), as he did to a young climate PhD candidate, a while back before greenman kicked him of the ‘climate crocks’ YT channel.

      But he’s the guy arguing that CO2 cannot cause the ocean to heat up. He’s been arguing this same subject for most of 2013, if not longer, on probably close to a daily basis (based on my sampling of his activity).

      I gather he’s retired and has no spouse, as he posts at all hours of the day, relentlessly, and that he is some sort of engineer; however his statistical abilities are limited (he can calculate a straight regression line, but that’s about it).

      He’ll feed you low quality disinformation until you offer valid arguments against the generalizations, then he’ll step up his game with minute details from specific journal articles (often cherry picking, Monckton style). He has hundreds of citations from the IPCC and journals in his repertoire, is knowledgeable about climate science on multiple disciplinary fronts, and is skilled at presenting his information.

      One of his main motivations is to confirm that his opponents on YT do not know enough science to fully understand the technical details of climate change, and he is pleased to find a weakness of understanding and cheer ‘zealot!’. His thesis is that if everybody understood science and were credible at reasoning they’d see how ‘weak’ the CO2 theory is.

      • redskylite Says:

        Interesting video and point, interesting that you are (wisely and carefully) avoiding his handle as it is amazing how much information a simple google search can reveal and how vulnerable our identity is. This is a site about honest climate science and the sinister aspects of denial, and we can (justifiably) feel intimidated and vulnerable against some of those elements, those who search emails and try and destroy good people’s reputations for the sake of profit or political gains. Jeez what a sorry species we can be !

        • andrewfez Says:

          Yeah, my youtube channel features pieces of classical music that i’ve written. The last thing I need is that guy showing up and spoiling fun, though i suppose i could always just block him. I noticed Rob Honeycutt’s comment sections on his channel were turned off; more than likely a preemptive strike against folks like this engineer guy.

      • j4zonian Says:

        Sorry, I don’t understand the difference in his/her reaction between saying what you said and revealing his or her handle. Is there any guarantee s/he won’t go after you for saying what you said? Is there any good evidence that s/he will go after you for revealing his/her handle here when s/he uses it in public all the time? The information you’ve provided is hearsay and useless; it does nothing to prove or stop the trolling. Only pointing to specific people, with specific handles (multiple ones if that’s what they have) and revealing their names and occupations and affiliations can this be turned from rumor to fact.

        • andrewfez Says:

          My evidence is that he used Google to figure out the identity of one of the grad students that used to argue with him on YT during a several month period. The student tried to ‘troll’ him back, by assuming an identity of a former professor. The original troll claimed he wrote a letter to the dean of the physics/geophysics/science dept. in which the student was enrolled, claiming he was falsely using a professor’s identity online. The student then closed their YT account and hasn’t been back under a new name. I would attach a 50% probability that the troll actually did what he said he did.

          He could just as easily find out who I am: I’m not that hard to figure out through my Word Press account. He could google his handle and see everywhere that it pops up, and so on and so forth. I would assign a low probability that he would actually care or retaliate, still yet I’m emotionally uncomfortable even with that low probability. It’s just a subjective value call.

  5. topspin123 Says:

    George Monbiot did a good piece about astroturfing a while back.

    I wonder how many of the commenters at WTFUWT are, in fact, sockpuppets run by a couple of people sitting in an office at Cato or Heartland ?

  6. Fox News is great! It’s the only channel that has fair and balanced coverage and commentary. Everybody watch Fox News! :p … just kidding!

  7. Van Lynch Says:

    I would be surprised if The Koch brothers were not financing their own trolling operation.

  8. Reblogged this on Gra Machree and commented:
    Beware the Murdoch press.

  9. ohgeewhiz Says:

    If you are surprised people think well of Fox news, you need to leave the bubble…..A fish don’t know it’s wet

    • greenman3610 Says:

      it’s weird. when I tell people they need to stop getting their facts from Fox news, they get all defensive
      and huffy, like it’s some kind of insult. Which it is, of course. odd that they know Fox’s reputation, but
      watch it anyway.

  10. ohgeewhiz Says:

    For the one or two percent of people that are secure enough to listen with an open mind when its uncomfortable, ….. this might help.
    FOX news is NEWS for part of the day
    commentary for part of the day.
    A few of the anchors are Democrats.
    During the news portion, try to find bias. It may be harder than you think.
    The commentary is just that. It is straighfoward about the viewpoint—conservative.
    Their are a few who are slanted no matter what. The first, and formost is Hannity.
    The morning peeps5:00 A.m.- 8:00AM is deep on the right
    The Gal that was on with the 5-8 slot got her own one hour show…huh…go figure.
    Bill O’reilly who liberals hate the most, is the most of many things. If you “hate” Mr. O it would be VERY interesting for you to sit and listen, for at least ten different hours. You will be surprised that it is extremely difficult to find him factually wrong. He also has more people that he disagrees with, than anyone else. In order to listen. you have to put up with his style. The interrupting others, he claims is to keep them focused, and “no spin”.
    the next step is to watch 100 hours of FOX. and MSNBC. If you write down what they are saying on any of the shows, and follow individual stories, the fact becomes very apparent that FOX is by far the more intellectually honest news source. We can always watch who we want to sooth us and make us feel better, or we can honestly look at all sides, and peel away the layers to find reel truth. The last part, and the hardest for many to digest is that the MSM is slanted left. Therefor the liberal point of view looks very normal and standard way of thinking, thus FOX appears to be out of sync.
    As for the ratings FOX has been number one for 15 years. I suspect that when their is only one station has the conservative point of view, the listenership has a limited choice….and that makes FOX number one. The liberal points have many sources, so the viewers are spread out over many channels.
    Good luck, and have fun. I have been a liberal, Republican, and in between

    • Tide goes in, tide goes out, you can’t explain it.

      Can’t show bill o wrong?

      • Sandy Porter Says:

        You beat me to it Christopher – I love watching that clip. Then he does a follow-up when a ton of people contacted Fox about, you know, ‘it’s the moon, stupid.’ So he goes into ‘So it’s the moon. How did the moon get there? You can explain that…”

    • j4zonian Says:

      Only place for the conservative view? Get serious; there is virtually no liberal news or commentary anywhere in media except in documentary films and the Pacifica Radio “Network” of 4 stations. Don’t believe that? Try to find an antiwar view at the start of any war; try to find commentary supporting any left position–single payer, carbon tax and dividend, prosecuting banksters, ending corporate welfare… anything. Liberals, or more often pseudo liberals are put on as foils, outnumbered 2:1 or often 5:1 by reactionaries. This is not on a few stations; this is on every TV network, and virtually every cable channel. MSNBC used to have a liberal or 2 but I think they’re all gone now. Clear Channel, a rabidly right wing company, owns something like 800 radio stations and other media companies are not much better. Between Murdoch and other similar companies, most print outlets are the same–Forbes, WSJ, Washington Post, and on and on.

      The news is biased in what it covers and what it doesn’t cover as well as what it says about what it covers. How much bias is clear from watching Fox and the other outlets and noting what they don’t mention? Besides that, bias isn’t always obvious. For example, false balance between the stance that accepts the virtually unanimous science on global warming and the stance that denies science and reality. They get equal play most places, despite the fact that the denying delayalist position (after all, denial is only one tactic and the goal is to delay needed action on climate catastrophe) has no facts, science or reality behind it. Weather events almost certainly linked to warming? Hardly ever connected to global warming. Increasingly extreme weather? Hardly ever pointed out. Dramatic–like, amazingly dramatic–drop in the price of solar panels while nuclear reactor costs continue to explode? Never ever ever mentioned on any corporate media. A thousand examples wouldn’t even begin to cover it.

      After half a century of right wing propaganda, the conservative position is the accepted view on most things in the US, despite the fact that that view is so demonstrably wrong (contrary to fact) and has caused such immense suffering and problems. But it can be summed up in simplistic aphorisms and evoked by standard phrases without most people even being aware they’ve been steered in a direction. (see Don’t Think of an Elephant and other works by George Lakoff). Mention “population” or “7 billion” and all argument that our problem is rich people rather than our absolute numbers is useless. The progressive view on many things has to be explained at length, and even then most people’s minds are made up already–based on what they saw on the news, in many cases.

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