Astroturf® - for the Greater Good™

Interesting moral dilemma in the comments to the preceding post. Let me explain.

First off, there's a word you should know, if you don't already. It's Astroturfing. Astroturfing (internet venacular) is defined by Wikipedia as "a neologism for formal public relations campaigns in politics and advertising that seek to create the impression of being spontaneous, grassroots behavior, hence the reference to the artificial grass AstroTurf, initially developed for the Houston Astrodome."

Like most people engaged in honest open debate the usual internet muckslinging, I hate astroturfing. I hate it with a cold fury most people reserve for Adolf Hitler or their income tax returns*. These people are the scum of the Earth and they are wrecking the public sphere for all of us hard-working, honest debaters.

So astroturfing happens quite a lot on the net. Typical astroturfing is when somebody creates a website or a discussion forum of some kind trying to create the impression that a whole lot of people are really interested and excited about Brand A or Movie B or Politician McC. One commonly used technique is to have somebody just dropping by a large number of blogs, leaving behind anonymous comments that usually start off with some unusually flattering compliment about your blog (because we should never underestimate the power of vanity). If you’re lucky, you get a sentence or two about the topic you have posted on. Then the post goes off the rails and starts talking about something completely different.

So in this case, I post on economic studies of organised crime and prostitution. Somebody comes in, compliments me, and then starts talking about climate change and linking to sites about climate change and tries to get a discussion going (to help the buzz, natch).

So the unique moral dilemma here is: I actually agree with this astroturfer. I think climate change is a huge issue that everyone – especially the Republicans – should get taken to the cleaners about. Agreeing with astroturfers has, in fact, never happened to me before. I have never encountered astroturfing that was not conservative, right-wing propaganda or commercial pap about some obscure product.

So here is my self-serving and evasive response:
See, now you're placing me in a difficult situation. You're obviously astroturfing, you're obviously just somebody clicking through blogs and leaving links - and btw you'd think you'd know how to make link tags, dude - but on the other hand, you're obviously doing it for one of the best causes there are. So do I

a. tolerate your comment, thus making me a hypocrite for accepting bad faith rhetoric (I am guessing you've never read my blog before) when I am in political agreement with the person making the statement.

b. delete your comment, thus infitesimally lowering necessary media exposure for one of the defining political issues of our time, and therefore possibly have cause to feel guilty about it.


c. make a long metaargument explaining how I actually thought this through, but decided to keep your comment after showing that I was aware that you made those links while in bad faith, said metaargument established only in order to reflect well on myself while also feebly trying to draw attention to the cause, despite the fact that I have also damaged the credibility of the followers of that cause. [I should have added: but leave you up under the pretense of having made an informative ”case” out of you.]

I think C. But see? See what you made me do? Couldn't you just behave like a real person and not leave those astroturfing comments with their habitual opening compliments about what a great blog this is and bla bla bla. It hurts the cause more than it helps it. Get in the fray and make some honest debate and spread the links properly, the way they should be spread.
* Note: not the income tax itself. We pay our taxes with Joy and Pride, citizen.

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Anonymous S said...

errr... I do not think that astroturfer will ever read your response. I'm quite sure that was a robot who's never read your blog. But thanks for introducing a term for an annoying problem.

February 02, 2008 3:35 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

You're quite right, except it had to be a person - somebody completed the optical character recognition form below. I was replying to the platonic idea of Astroturfing-which-agree with. The astrotufs an sich if you will. Howling at the silence of the non-hissing summer lawns of astroturf.

February 02, 2008 5:39 pm  
Anonymous S said...

I should have thought of that, considering that I filled the thing out myself. Except, I've filled out so many of those buggers now that I forget what they're for.

This is not entirely dissimilar to the old problem of stupid people enjoying the same music as oneself. Should one stop listening to artist X, because, say, Siv Jensen has expressed a liking to him/her? Not veru likely, I hope, but still.

February 03, 2008 5:15 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

I have an excellent visualisation of that problem.

Actually, just the other day I availed myself of the fact that I live minutes away from the seat of government and went to see Parliament debate. There were like 5 people in there. Two cabinet members. At one point, Siv Jensen walked in, and I swear, the room temperature instantly dropped ten degrees. She loudly got a glass of water from the back benches and then left again.

February 03, 2008 6:09 pm  
Anonymous S said...

Lordy, what a joyless discussion of a good joke (the Venn diagram)!

Ding dong, the witch has demonstratively drunk water.

February 04, 2008 10:35 am  

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