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Journal PopeRatzo's Journal: Are Right-Wing Trolls Being Paid to Disrupt Slashdot? 8

An under-reported story from 2010 was the apparent proliferation of paid political trolls. Some of us have suspected this was going on, but some recent leaks coming out of Right-Wing political action committees confirms that this is happening on a bigger scale than thought.

This phenomena goes back at least as far as 2002, when it was discovered that an internet lobbying outfit called the "Bivings Group" was found to have created at least two false identities, "Mary Murphy" and "Andura Smetacek", that were used to post a prodigious number of posts attacking research showing widespread contamination of corn by genetically-modified bee pollen. Bivings was working for Monsanto at the time. It was widely reported that the McCain campaign did this during the 2008 campaign, but the new paid trolling is taking on new forms and attacking more than the regular political online communities.

A very interesting film, (Astro)Turf Wars, a documentary by Taki Oldham, has a scene that was secretly videotaped during a training session organized by a right-wing libertarian outfit called "American Majority". During this session, the trainer instructed Tea Party members as follows:

âoeHereâ(TM)s what I do. I get on Amazon; I type in âoeLiberal Booksâ. I go through and I say âoeone star, one star, one starâ. The flipside is you go to a conservative/ libertarian whatever, go to their products and give them five stars. ⦠This is where your kids get information: Rotten Tomatoes, Flixster. These are places where you can rate movies. So when you type in âoeMovies on Healthcareâ, I donâ(TM)t want Michael Mooreâ(TM)s to come up, so I always give it bad ratings. I spend about 30 minutes a day, just click, click, click, click. ⦠If thereâ(TM)s a place to comment, a place to rate, a place to share information, you have to do it. Thatâ(TM)s how you control the online dialogue and give our ideas a fighting chance.â

From some of the clips I've seen, this (Astro) Turf Wars film seems like it might be interesting to anyone who has been suspicious of the seemingly organized commenting/moderating activity here on Slashdot.

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Are Right-Wing Trolls Being Paid to Disrupt Slashdot?

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  • But what makes you think that this is limited to right-wing politics... or even to politics?

    I have certainly run into both "right wing" and "left wing" groups explicitly doing this. Hundreds of emails go out each day to "vote in this poll" from one site or another. These emails are sent regarding all kinds of issues form all ranges of the political spectrum and it is very hard to determine where the line is between enthusiasm and fraud. I think we all know web-mercenaries-for-hire have been digital-astro-turfing corporate image for some time. I have, myself, received fairly blatant requests from publishers to create spurious reviews of newly-released books to increase their visibility. Corps do the same thing to manufacture buzz for a new product and it really is no more than an evolution of the forum spam my wife and I spend regular effort deleting from various sites we operate.

    Willful manipulation is wrong in all its forms. I think that in politics it is particularly vile, but it is a problem we need to put some effort into solving across the board. I think that there are two basic prongs to the online solution:

    1. Realize that anonymous speech, especially in bulk, is unreliable. Anonymous reviews/posts/polls are an important outlet for political speech and can be useful for rough gauging of public sympathies but it has never been accurate and should not be expected to be. People have been paid to work crowds for millennia. Always take it with a hefty grain of salt.
    2. Put a lot (more) work into multi-level online communities and comment systems with checks against this sort of thing. Slashdot's moderation system, with karma and meta-moderation, obviously, works loads better than the typical thumbs-up, thumbs-down system but it is still not immune to manipulation. I think that openID is a step in the right direction in that it makes it easier for people to connect up identities across multiple fora, lending more weight potentially to comments and reviews from sources you can identify. I have always liked the fact that Slashdot allows a registered user to post anonymously but penalizes the post for doing so. It is a good combination and one I would like to see implemented more often in off-the-shelf tools.

    Politically, this is one of the best reasons for limited government and voting systems which depend on clear majorities. This not a new phenomenon, it is just more visible because of particularly egregious excesses right now, *on all sides*. But a system which depends on winner-takes-all measurement of opinion has always been worthless. Look at the voting fraud which we know is occurring, especially with electronic systems, and just imagine how much routine fraud we probably don't know about. A weak majority should never be able to shut out a strong minority (thus checks and balances). The results of an election should never depend on a few hundred votes (thus Instant Run-Off Ballots). A voting system should never require an honest person to consider whether they should game their vote (thus multi-select or approval voting).

    We have gone too far down the road of my-party's-in-so-we-can-screw-everyone-else. That is what is making the fraud so common now. We need to back down on the partisanship which makes fraud not just possible but necessary just to not get mowed down by "the other side".

    • But what makes you think that this is limited to right-wing politics... or even to politics?

      Exactly. It's not. It's everything. And the only thing that's happened is the noise level has gone way up. Everybody has a megaphone, and by god, they're gonna use it.

    • But what makes you think that this is limited to right-wing politics

      Because I'm the best Left-wing troll on the internet and nobody's offered me a cent.

  • The site itself already has a conservative voice; they might as well try bombing the drudge report next. The only thing they could possibly gain would be if their goal was to try to get people to think that there are no liberals whatsoever on this site.
    • Whether or not spamming slashdot pays off is not necessarily a calculation done by humans. The real, professional astroturf (quite unlike what the first sibling comment talks about) uses software.

      It is an antique, it is crufty, but slashdot is still ranked by this sort of software as a hub that "influencers" hang out on (I just threw up in my mouth a little).

      Regardless of your feelings about whether this is a good strategy, it's a fact. I hesitate to describe their tells, but suffice to say it's obvious whe

    • The site itself already has a conservative voice

      To you and me, maybe, but to the people trying to move the window, Slashdot is a coven of commies.

      • Of course there are some who are so far to the extreme right that they can't tell the difference between center-right and full-on never-actually-implemented only-theoretical Marxist Communism. However even for those, why would they feel that slashdot is worth their while to disrupt? Its not like there are that many readers left here, or that it is a greatly influential site. They would probably get more bang for their buck my trolling or disrupting 4chan.
        • Its not like there are that many readers left here, or that it is a greatly influential site.

          I think you're wrong about how much influence Slashdot has.

          They would probably get more bang for their buck my trolling or disrupting 4chan.

          They don't want kids, they want opinion leaders. I shudder to say this, but that's us.

Make it myself? But I'm a physical organic chemist!