Can you recognize genuine "Grass Roots" from "Astroturf" Trickery?
There's a lot of "astroturf" around at the moment.
"Real" astroturf (or it's equivalent) that is used as a fake substitute for natural grass that won't grow due to extreme weather (or is used for convenience) - is, generally speaking, a great invention.
But any way you blow it (you would be very unwise to mow it) - astroturf is an imitation of genuine grass. Astroturf may be lovely on the surface, but it lacks real roots (and all other "real" attributes). It may look great - but it's purpose is to create an illusion of realness.
"Spin", Impression Management and Propaganda
The astro-turfing that I am referring to today is not about landscaping. It's about a particularly devious form of "Spin". As a reminder, "Spin" (in the context of deception) refers to:
"A form of propaganda, achieved through providing an interpretation of an event or campaign to persuade public opinion in favor or against a certain organization or public figure.
While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, "spin" often, though not always, implies disingenuous [hypocritical], deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics. Politicians are often accused by their opponents of claiming to be honest and seek the truth while using spin tactics to manipulate public opinion.
Because of the frequent association between spin and press conferences (especially government press conferences), the room in which these take place is sometimes described as a spin room. A group of people who develop spin may be referred to as "spin doctors" who engage in "spin doctoring" for the person or group that hired them." (Wikipedia)
started to become used by governments and businesses on their own civilian populations - the name propaganda was changed to: public relations. Whether it is called propaganda or public relations, the underlying principles are the same. It involves "Spin."
"Spin" involves the use of various methods of lies, half-truths, deception, secrets and denial to create misleading impressions - for the purpose of controlling the minds and actions of the public.
Some of the common reasons for the use of "Spin" by government, industry and business etc are:
- to manage the impressions of the public regarding things they have done, are doing, or plan to do; and/or,
- to white wash "bad news" in order to reduce reactions from the public that the spin-doctors (and their employers) want to avoid; and/or,
- to hide information that might cause a negative impression on the public (anger, disgust etc) because the resulting reaction from the public might prevent the perpetrators from continuing their activities or result in them being punished or lose power, prestige or money etc.
We are exposed to advertising spin multiple times each day. With advertising we are subjected to various spin techniques in order to persuade us to buy items, whether we "need" them or not.
The importance of being able to detect "spin" in order to avoid being tricked by deceitful, manipulative spin-doctors and their employers cannot be understated. We've already done an introductory post on spotting spin that describes the signs of a number of types of spin. But there are many other tricks to the trade of spin-doctoring.
Spotting Spin - The Lies Before Your Eyes
Astroturfing as a form of Spin
This post is about a particularly deceitful form of spin called "Astroturfing."
"Astroturfing refers to political, advertising, or public relations campaigns that are designed to mask the sponsors of the message to give the appearance of coming from a disinterested, grassroots participant. Astroturfing is intended to give the statements the credibility of an independent entity by withholding information about the source's financial connection. The term is a derivation of AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to look like natural grass." Wikipedia
Grass Roots and Grass Root Movements
In the context of gardening, the roots are essential for grass to survive. Grass roots in the context of this discussion are not related to gardening; but to the core of democratic society.
The "grass roots" of a democratic society are generally individual, ordinary members of the public (not those in positions of power or governance). The "grass roots" includes the vast majority of the voting public. In a democratic society, through voting and other forms of influence, the grass roots determine what happens on top (in terms of governance).
"Grass root movements" refers to non-profit advocacy causes or political ideas actively driven by; or supported or rejected by the "grass roots" (ordinary people vs those in power). Members of grass root movements participate on a voluntary basis - either individually, or as multiple individuals with a common goal, or as members of a larger group of ordinary people with a common goal. "Grass root movements" may either support or reject the actions, policies or procedures of government, institutions or business etc.
Grass Root Movements vs the Power Elite
For those who desire to obtain or maintain power (which, for the purpose of this post we will call the "power elite") - control over the opinion of the "grass roots" (the voters) is important.
The reason grass root movements are important is because studies have shown that the public generally trusts opinions coming from the "grass roots" and "grass root movements" more so than opinions coming from those in the power elite.
In a democratic country - there is a large imbalance of power between the "power elite" versus "grass root movements". Grass root movements are voluntary and have limited funding; whereas the power elite (which includes, though is not limited to government) has a lot of money to buy the resources to "sell" their ideas to the public.
Nevertheless, owing to democratic rights and principles, in democratic countries, members of grass root movements are allowed freedom of expression and association. It is often substantially through grass root movements that the public in democratic countries is kept informed of the truth.
Some governments are lacking in integrity. They operate in secret. They misinform the public with the intention to mislead them - so they can do things the public would not approve of. By knowing the truth - the public is able to insure that the elected representatives who govern them are actually acting fairly and honestly (not just saying they are doing so); and that those who govern actually are respecting the democratic and human rights etc of the people.
Genuine grass root movements are an important component of democratic societies.
In autocratic countries or dictatorships - the power elite do not take a chance on grass root movements informing the public of the truth and letting the public know what is really going on; and/or influencing the public's opinion in any way that is contrary to what the power elite wants.
Opinions critical of those in power distributed in any media in autocratic countries or dictatorships tend to be censored. Members of grass roots movements who are political critics may be imprisoned on account of publicly pointing out wrong-doing by the power elite to the "grass roots" public. (Trumped up charges are commonly made against those imprisoned by countries under autocratic or dictatorship rule in order to justify gagging political critics by imprisonment).
Astroturfing - a method of of faking "grass root movements" and tricking the "grass roots" public.
Astroturfing refers to fake "grass roots" - individuals, groups or "front" organizations - that are actually primarily conceived, created and funded by corporations, industry, trade associations, political interests, the military or spy organizations or contractors and public relations firms; or funded by those with a financial interest in these organizations. These fake grass root individuals, movements and front organizations are used as a tool to trick the public into thinking that a large number of grass root members of the public or an apparent "expert" organization supports the idea or product being astroturfed.
The following includes an excellent in depth discussion of astroturfing:http://herinst.org/BusinessManagedDemocracy/environment/fronts/astroturf.html
A front organization is any entity set up by and controlled by another organization, such as a political group, industry, corporation, religious group, lobby group, intelligence agency, banned organization or organized crime group etc.
Front organizations appear to be independent - but act for the parent group without the actions being readily recognized as attributed to the parent group.
Some front organizations are set up to appear as if they have a number of independent experts who provide opinions and advice - but the opinions and advice are not independent, and sometimes the expertise of the experts is questionable. Such front organizations are often referred to as "centres", "institutes" or "think tanks" - adding to the illusion of independence and expertise.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Front_organization
Traditionally astroturfing has involved letters or phone calls generated by heavily funded power-elite driven groups, coalitions or organizations being sent out to the public. The intent of such drives has been to influence the public to agree with the actions or policies of a specific power elite organization (which could include any political party, or industry or big business etc). The communication is often designed to appear as if it has come from an independent "grass roots" organization or a "front organization".
This has progressed to crafted "opinion polls" as another method of astroturfing in the interest of "impression management" of the public. These polls may be put forward as if independent, but the wording of the questions and selection of the people polled is specifically crafted - to favor a preferred result. These misleading results are then publicized. Without knowing that the poll is slanted, the publicized results serves to contribute to a "Bandwagon" effect - another form of "Spin".
For more on the "Bandwagon effect" see Spin technique #12 here:http://www.truthliesdeceptioncoverups.info/2013/05/spotting-spin-some-tricks-of-trade.html
The times and technology have changed. Nowadays, astroturfing is even more devious. The power elite of incumbent governments, various political parties, industry and big business etc are into "gaming the system" through astroturfing by the deceptive use of digital internet and social media.
"Sock-puppets" involves the creation of one or more fraudulent identities operated by one (or more) individuals on line as if they were all different real people.
These fake people are portrayed to represent the thoughts and opinions of independent "grass roots" members of the general public. But they are commonly paid, and usually under the direction of a power elite group.
"A sockpuppet [sock-puppet] is an online identity used for purposes of deception. The term—a reference to the manipulation of a simple hand puppet made from a sock—originally referred to a false identity assumed by a member of an internet community who spoke to, or about, himself while pretending to be another person. The term now includes other misleading uses of online identities, such as those created to praise, defend or support a third party or organization, or to circumvent a suspension or ban from a website. A significant difference between the use of a pseudonym and the creation of a sock-puppet is that the sock-puppet poses as an independent third-party unaffiliated with the puppeteer."
Sockpuppets may be created during an online poll to submit multiple votes in favor of the puppeteer. A related usage is creating multiple identities, each supporting the puppeteer's views in an argument, attempting to position the puppeteer as representing majority opinion and sideline opposition voices.
A sockpuppet-like use of deceptive fake identities is used in stealth marketing. The stealth marketer creates one or more pseudonymous accounts, each one claiming to be owned by a different enthusiastic supporter of the sponsor's product or book or ideology.
A strawman sockpuppet is a false flag pseudonym created to make a particular point of view look foolish or unwholesome in order to generate negative sentiment against it. Strawman sockpuppets typically behave in an unintelligent, uninformed, or bigoted manner and advance "straw man" arguments that their puppeteers can easily refute. The intended effect is to discredit more rational arguments made for the same position.
A meatpuppet is a real human being recruited (and commonly paid) who publishes comments on blogs, wikis and other public venues about some phenomenon or product in order to generate public interest and buzz" for or against a person, organization or government. A meat puppet is analogous to a propaganda commentator - 50 Cent Party style.
Shills, Plants and Stooges
"A "Shill", also called a "Plant" or a "Stooge", is a person who publicly helps a person or organization without disclosing that they have a close relationship with the person or organization.
A "Shill" typically refers to someone who purposely gives onlookers the impression that they are an enthusiastic independent customer of a seller (or marketer of ideas) for whom they are secretly working.
The person or group who hires the shill is using crowd psychology (and bandwagon spin) to encourage other onlookers or audience members to purchase the goods or services (or accept the ideas being marketed). Shills are often employed by professional marketing campaigns.
"Plant" and "Stooge" more commonly refer to any person who is secretly in league with another person or organization while pretending to be neutral or actually a part of the organization he is planted in, such as a magician's audience, a political party, or an intelligence organization"
"Persona Management" is a highly manipulative form of surveillance and propaganda / disinformation. "Persona Management" entails the use of software to create multiple fake online personas, or "sockpuppets," operated by one individual. Unlike pseudonyms used for personal anonymity - the objective of persona management is to mislead, deceive and undermine the target(s). Persona management is used by some unscrupulous government agencies to spy on and undermine critics, dissenters or competitors of the incumbent government and to underhandedly trick the public into thinking that large numbers of grass roots public agree with the government's position. It is also used in marketing to sell products (using the fake personas as part of a "bandwagon" spin program. Fake persons are also used to "stuff ballots" in on-line competitions or opinion polls.
In 2010 the U.S. Air Force solicited "Persona Management" services from contractors. The US Air Force eventual contract with Ntrepid stipulated that each fake online persona (often referred to as a "sockpuppet" or "sock puppet") must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and be capable of allowing 50 US-based controllers to each operate at least 10 false identities from their workstations "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries". http://wiki.echelon2.org/wiki/Persona_Management
Each persona would have a background, history, supporting details, and cyber presence that is consistent from a technical, cultural, and geographic standpoint. The user would be able to use his different online personas from the same PC, and make them appear to be coming from almost anywhere in the world, without his true location being determined. The service would also communicate to the user real-time local information, so that he could appear to be socially aware of the weather, news etc.
The software could allow US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with any number of co-ordinated messages, blogposts, chatroom posts and other interventions. It also calls for "traffic mixing", blending the persona controllers' internet usage with the usage of people outside Ntrepid/Centcom in a manner that must offer "excellent cover and powerful deniability".
The multiple persona contract is thought to have been awarded as part of a program called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which was first developed in Iraq as a psychological warfare weapon against the online presence of al-Qaida supporters and others ranged against coalition forces. In Iraq, OEV was managed by the multinational forces rather than Centcom.
The US and it's allies involved in Operation Earnest Voice are not alone in the use of "persona management" as a manipulative form of impression management / propaganda.
50 Cent Party
Since 2004, China has hired internet propaganda "commentators" (government paid propagandist commentators) to analyze public opinion, monitor for signs of dissent and shift public opinion that is critical of local authorities.
The 50 Cent Party commentators are hired by the government of the People's Republic of China (both local and central) or the Communist Party to post comments favorable towards party policies in an attempt to shape and sway public opinion on various Internet message boards.The commentators are said to originally have been paid fifty cent of Renminbi (.5 yuan) for every post that either steers a discussion away from anti-party or sensitive content on domestic websites, bulletin board systems, and chatrooms, or that advances the Communist party line.
There are estimated to be 280,000-300,000 paid propagandist commentators in China.
Amnesty International secretary-general Salil Shetty in March 2011 warned that countries, like China and Iran, were investing "considerable resources into pro-government blogs" in an effort to cement state power.
Internet Water Army
This is another propaganda method used in China.
The Internet Water Army (Wungluo shijun) work parallel to the 50 Cent Party propaganda commentators.
This is another paid group of online posters. This group engages in "persona management" tactics and use fake identities (as well as other tricks) to write online comments appearing to support a product (or government program) or undermine the opposition (or both).
The Web Brigades phenomenon was first reported in RuNet in 2003 by French journalist Anna Polyanskaya, French journalist Andrey Krivov and US programmer Ivan Lamako - claiming there were suspect brigades of anti-democratic identities operating in the liberal and pro-democracy Russian internet forums and the internet newspapers of RuNet. This was disputed.
However, in January 2012, a group representing themselves as the Russian wing of Anonymous published a massive collection of what they claimed to be emails of former and present leaders of the pro-Kremlin youth organization - Nashi which had numous rferences to an army of paid commentators. The members of the "brigades" were paid 85 rubles or more per comment, depending on whether the comment received relies - and some were presented with ipads.
Counter to this, a former candidate to the Deputy of the State Duma (Tatyana Korchevnaya) claimed she had been part of a mass internet campaign to discredit the authorities and that the participants used multiple nicknames to combat their opponents. No evidence has been presented to support her claims. (But clearly sockpuppets can operate in favor or against any ideology, person, plan or product).
Astroturfing, Sockpuppetry and the various other forms of persona management are forms of fraud. The activity is intended to mislead. It should be illegal for this to occur - whether as a method of government propaganda, or for financial gain or as a means to abuse or undermine others anonymously.
- Astroturfing is so deceptive and misleading, that there needs to be clear laws against it.
- There also need to be significant penalties for any elected or unelected persons in publicly funded positions who engage in such fraudulent activities.
- The "grass roots" (we, ordinary members of the public who vote) demand change.
- Honesty, transparency and integrity are essential qualities for the public to trust its elected and unelected representatives.
- The "grass roots" wants and needs transparent and trustworthy governance.
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The information we are provided may be "truthiness" (which is not the truth, and involves all manner of deception), not truth. Lies and deception are often used to put a positive spin on matters we would not agree to, or would disgust us if we knew the truth. Secrecy is another tool of "impression management" to cover up wrong-doing, or shameful or corrupt acts.
Freedom of information is a cornerstone of democracy and justice. Without it, the risk of a decline into an authoritarian form of government is virtually inevitable.
Are we "sheep-les" or mere puppets who can be led to believe and do whatever our masters say; or are we thinking people who want to be truthfully informed?
Are we willing to speak up and insist on the truth? Are we prepared to take action to guard our democratic rights and our rights to justice and fair treatment?
The people generally trust their government, law-makers and the publicly funded bureaucrats who are responsible for representing their interests. But the "people" are being deceived in many instances. We feel this is wrong. The "people" - ordinary folk like you and me have great power in democratic countries. We can and should do something about this.
Lies, deception, cover-ups and corrupt practices must be "out"-ed if they are to end. This is necessary for democracy and justice to survive.
The "people" are like a sleeping tiger.
If you pull the tail of the tiger; it is to be expected that the tiger will wake up, take notice of it's tormenters and give chase.
In the interests of democracy, justice, world peace and a stable economy for ordinary people - the tiger must run wrong-doers to the ground.
Original 3 Monkeys
All that is required for evil to take hold and grow is to: close your eyes, block your ears, shut your mouth - and do nothing.
If we do nothing - then nothing will improve.
One person can achieve little or nothing.
Thank you from
3 Monkeys & me