Fox News Engaged In Institutionalized Astroturfing Of The Internet

from the shocking dept

While we all know that the internet is a lawless place where you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy, there is still an etiquette. You should always back-link to stories you’re commenting upon, rule #34 is always assumed, pics or it didn’t happen, and thou shalt not engage in astroturfing or your cause will be subjected to discredit and laughter. Astroturfing is the practice of faking a popular response by falsifying that response through anonymous internet comments, stories, etc. It is typically used by dastardly, horrible organizations with no thought for accuracy, civility, or common decency.

You know, like cable news organizations, which I remind you once again are awful organizations that you should never patronize. One of those cable news cartels, Fox News, was recently the subject of a new book by NPR’s David Folkenflik who details Roger Ailes’ institutionalized program of internet astroturfing.

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.

The book goes on to state that it is unclear if these practices are still currently in place, but perhaps our own comments section will give us a clue. But, see, that’s the really stupid part of these kinds of astroturfing campaigns. Think about it logically. First, anyone engaging in this kind of uncouth behavior had better learn quickly that they’re more likely to get caught than get away with it. And, thanks to the Streisand Effect, such as the fact that now blogs like Gawker are propelling this story into the headlines, it’s going to make the astroturfing organization look bad. But the negative reaction doesn’t end there.

As I mentioned, it’s overwhelmingly likely that in the comments of this very piece, someone is going to come out and defend Fox News to some degree. The really damning effect of being caught astroturfing is that comments like what might appear below are no longer taken seriously by anyone. There may be very real and very earnest commentors that want to stick up for Fox, but they will find zero purchase because the wider public is going to assume that there’s a real chance the comment could part of the astroturfing campaign. Bingo, Fox has now nullified their own real support. Way to go, guys!

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Comments on “Fox News Engaged In Institutionalized Astroturfing Of The Internet”

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81 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Oct 21st, 2013 @ 2:47pm

You know, I’m a truck driver from [insert impossibly named countriside town] and my life would be miserable if I couldn’t get all those great undeniable truths from their stuff. Also, Jesus came by these days saying He was representing Fox News and gave me 3 cows (take that you puppy lovers) and cured my grandma from her elephantiasis. How could anybody say such horrible thing about then when the Messiah is their employee?

Signed,

Old MacDonnald

On a side note, some jokes never get old it seems ๐Ÿ˜‰

Robert says:

Re: Re:

Fox not-News is not alone in this. Every major advertising agency, every PR agency, most of the major manufacturers, specialist troll companies are all involved in this.
The only saving grace is they are cheap and greedy and can afford only the worst commentators and the efforts stand out. Some are better than others at it especially Apple but they still ultimately fail when they come under a concerted negative response, of very imaginative and articulate comments.
How about those people that work for Fox, how low can you sink, how worthless do you consider you honour and integrity, it’s become the collection point of the shallowest most worthless liars on the planet.

bob (profile) says:

is this npr fluff or is there proof?

so.. are there back-links, pictures, or what?
or do I have to buy the book and it’s proven there by “I talked to someone who said” by a guy from NPR?
I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if fox did that, I’d think using TOR would be more anonymous and cheaper, or payed proxy servers more so than AOL accounts and mobile data thumb drives of some sort.
So, on the one hand, I’m willing to believe it, but I haven’t seen the proof yet.
at the same time, not sure I care that much.. if it’s fox defending itself, I don’t really care.
if it’s fox drumming up astro-turf pro or con a particular political point, then I care and would like more info on that, specifically.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: is this npr fluff or is there proof?

Said in another way, you trust the news on FOX more than anonymous information you find on the internet…

The political point in their editorializing and their hosts political stances has been covered to infinity. If you refuse to believe they are coloured politically by now you will never be convinced under any circumstances, making a discussion redundant.

Fox Sock Puppet says:

Re: is this npr fluff or is there proof?

Bob has some very good points there. Fox always has back links and reputable sources for their information, like their multitude of well informed experts. So until someone can prove these allegations I will continue to be very skeptical of these highly biased reports.

At least Fox is Fair and Balanced, they report – you decide.

Anonymous Coward says:

Fox is full of ridiculous liars looking to take some weird, obscure, unpopular story and sensationalize it so that they can get the scoop while rewriting history for some other supporter.

then they get their “userbase” brainwashed and support their crazy ideas as if it is fact.

just kidding. fox is cool – they have the Simpsons!

Keep Government out of my Medicare says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes …. ahhhh – the good old days. When men were men and women were in the kitchen – amirite?

Yup, all one needed was the one hour bullshit feed from the propaganda machine of your choice. How things have changed since then huh. Now-a-days ya got yer intarwebs full a commie pinko crappola. Who are these people anyways? the aren’t American Patriots that’s fer shure.

Beech says:

I would like to believe this story, but I find that I cannot since it didn’t come from a reputable news source, like Fox News. To rap with y’all f’real, Fox News wouldn’t engage in such uncouth behaviors because they don’t need to. Who could possibly disagree with Fox’s Fair and Balanced (TM) reporting on the most important issues to YOU? The real test of accuracy for this story is to go watch Fox News right now and see if they report it. If not, it’s probably not true since “We report you decide” (TM) because if they don’t report on it, then you can’t decide on it, then it didn’t happen. Simple.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Pix or it didn't happen

The one (only) thing I like about Fox News is that they don’t pretend to be objective or balanced. Just like MSNBC, they have an opinion and are pleased to shove it down your throat.

IMHO, that’s way better than “objective” sources like CNN or the New York Times, that also have opinions they want to shove down your throat, but pretend they don’t.

Oh, and Fox News’s cameras have sharp focus, too.

roarshock44 says:

this stuff gives me a headache.

i have kept tabs with a japanese english-language news site since the tsunami and nuclear accident.? some months ago there was an article about the energy company having ordered some of its employees to pretend to be casual citizens in favor of doing what the power company wanted to do and emailing that support to a public response forum.

like you say, the worst of that is that now no one there is likely to be taken seriously if they write in to support the power company.

stupid, short-sighted thing to do.? fox gives foxy a new name.

Anonymous Coward says:

So how is this really news? I mean that most of the main stream media that claim to be news, is no longer putting out honest to goodness news. They are putting out their bias, government propaganda now that it’s legal to do so, syndicated news feeds, and internet feeds from great news sources like Facebook and Twitter. What they are not doing is real honest investigative news.

I could care less about human interest stories, even less about stuff like dumb crook news, starlett news, nor what is on the internet they don’t have to get off their ass to go get.

This is one of the reasons I’ve dropped most mainstream media feeds as news; simply the majority isn’t. So whey they go to bitching about how much less advertisers want to pay them for the lack of eyeballs on their news, maybe one day after everyone leaves, they’ll figure it out.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Not Following the Money

Last I checked my wallet, I haven’t “donated” a dime to Fox News.

Yes you have, in so far as Fox News consistently uses loopholes and shell companies to avoid paying any income tax. (See e.g. these articles from The Economist or the New York Times. You can dig up more if you try.)

In the meantime, NPR gets just 4.6% of its funding from state or local governments.

So, yeah, you’re “donating” more to Fox News.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not Following the Money

By this reasoning you contribute to every religion in the US

Believe me, I don’t want to. If I had a choice, all religions would be taxed to the fullest extent of the law.

But, regardless, that’s a distraction. The plain fact is that Fox News gets more of the taxpayers’ money (in the form of tax breaks) than NPR does. So, criticizing NPR for taking money out of the taxpayers’ pockets is misguided, to say the least.

Joe Dirt says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Not Following the Money

“The plain fact is that Fox News gets more of the taxpayers’ money (in the form of tax breaks) than NPR does.”

Correction, Fox News pays less taxes by doing these nefarious (if legal)things. They do not get more of my taxes.

What you said equates to saving $250 by buying a $500 dress for $250.

Maybe if there were a simpler tax code, we wouldn’t have these issues. The plain truth is that the Government Establishment doesn’t want a simpler tax code. They want it as complex as possible so they can continue to provide favors to those that donate. Or more likely, to shake down companies for donations.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Not Following the Money

Correction, Fox News pays less taxes by doing these nefarious (if legal)things. They do not get more of my taxes.

I get your point about the money not flowing from the government to Fox News. But the plain fact is that if Fox News paid the same taxes as you and I, it would pay for NPR’s annual budget many times over, and NPR wouldn’t be getting your tax money at all.

So, criticizing NPR for this seems a little weak.

What you said equates to saving $250 by buying a $500 dress for $250.

More like, retailers jack up the price from $250 to $500, to pay for the dresses that they give away to their rich friends.

Or more likely, to shake down companies for donations.

I agree that the whole PAC money thing is ridiculous. But that has nothing to do with tax codes, nor with either NPR or Fox News.

erikjay (user link) says:

and it's ONLY Fox, too!

Yeah, let’s pile on! And for Pete’s sake, don’t let ANYONE even SUGGEST than anyone other than Fox News has EVER done such dastardly things. Well, okay, maybe other REPUBLICANS, but thank Dog we can trust all the fair, unbiased, clean, orderly, and yummy-good content from MSNBC, CNN, The Nation, TNR, The New York Times, Washington Post, HuffPo, Daily Kos… you know, the honest, morally upright Cognitive Elite of this great, exceptional nation that drone-kills 16-year-old citizens who have the “wrong father.”

Fox is no better, no worse, and no goddamn different than any other network, paper, fish-wrapper, or website you care to name. All are staffed by humans, so I guarantee that you will find the FULL spectrum of belief and behavior at all of them. ‘Twas ever thus, and ever will be… Reality really is a drag for ideologues, of any stripe. A Democratic State Senator got caught doing the same thing, insulting GOPers as “mouth breathers” and so on in faked postings, but the story got just about zero play. And this guy lied and manipulated as much as Murdoch’s boys and girls did. Oh, I forgot: He was lying for a good cause, so it’s okay.

Lest you incorrectly label me, too, I am not a GOPer, conservative, social con, religious right, nothing of the sort. I am a political independent who likes cross-aisle bipartisanship on the RIGHT things, like empire building, the drug war, police brutality, sentencing reform, the police surveillance state… things that bring Rand Paul and Pat Leahy together. Dennis Kucinich is working with the elder Paul, Ron Paul, on a new anti-war campaign. They don’t agree on everything and don’t have to. They are tackling a HUGE, INTRACTABLE problem that is urgent and will affect our very survival. Good for them, and BOO on all this partisan finger-pointing that keeps us from stopping war, stopping the U.S. slide into debt oblivion, and all the rest.

Our situation is NOT a left-right, GOP-Dem, liberal-conservative thing. It’s everyone’s doing, and until people get past the go-team-go BS nothing will ever change. It is BEYOND politics, immune to the cheap, dishonest band-aids that politicians offer to a public whose collective limbs are being lopped off.

I’m done.

Fox Sock Puppet says:

Re: you people make me sad...

Sketch – man you were wasted in that meeting the other day – lol, you missed a lot man. Here is a link that might catch you up
http://www.ehow.com/how_6159247_run-drive-off-cell-phone.html

Dude – talking heads talking smack bout other talking heads talking smack is not what your mission is about, now put yer head down and get to the job at hand.

Crusty the Ex-Clown says:

Whew! Now I feel better.

I’ve been bummed out for years by all the blindingly stupid crapola in comments everywhere – blogs, newspapers, opinion pieces, etc. I have feared for America’s future after reading reams of ignorant, brain-dead whining and raving across the interwebs.

But now my eyes are open and I see clearly: America isn’t as nuts as one would think from reading web comments. Astroturfers go deep into the crazy and the stupid because they have no sane, reasonable arguments and are trying to sway opinion by hook or by crook. That’s their job.

Aw, cutesy-wootsey little Foxpuppets, bless their pointy little heads. They’ve given this old clown a new lease on life.

WileyQ says:

Fox is not the only one in charge of this henhouse

I know that Fox doing this is the story here, but lest we forget, members of the armed forces and our secret “national security” forces have been doing this kind of thing for a very long time. Indeed, there are programs for sale that facilitate this kind of activity (multiple profiles on social media networks and blogging platforms, etc.) The stories break periodically, but I first read about them about 5 or 6 years ago. I’ll do the research and provide links if anyone cares.

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