The City of Seattle paid $17,500 to Brand.com to enhance the "online reputation" of City Light, its public utility, and Chief Executive Officer Jorge Carrasco, asking them to "lessen the prevalence of any negative or less-relevant stories" in search results for the utility or the CEO, who was the highest-paid public employee in the city, with a salary of $245,000.
It's not clear what sort of bad news about Carrasco or City Light Brand.com was trying to push off the front page of Google results, but their promised methodology included placing favorable paid articles with the Huffington Post and Examiner.com, as well as "doctorate level content" written by "influential bloggers."
The Huffington Post says that it was unaware if Damon Banks, the writer who published a favorable piece about Carrasco and his utility, was being paid by Brand.com, but if he was, they'd no longer accept work from him. Banks did not reply to a request for comment from the Seattle Times.
Here's the action plan [PDF] that the city and Brand.com drew up for City Light and Carrasco's online reputation polishing.
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Broadband For America is an anti-Net Neutrality group entirely funded by the National Cable and Telecom Association -- Big Cable's lobbying front, that has represented itself to the FCC as a broad-based coalition that demands as much Cable Company Fuckery as the Commission can deliver. It's got an impressive membership list, too, from golf clubs to scholarship organizations: only one problem, the members never joined.
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A set of documents leaked by a group identifying itself as Russian hackers purports to be training materials for Russian psyops agents who were paid to make favorable comments about Russia's position in Ukraine on western media websites. The group of fake commenters, called the Internet Research Agency, is based in Saint Petersburg, and its operatives were ordered to maintain multiple commenter identities based on certain archetypes, and to post a minimum quota of pro-Russia messages every day. Included in the documents are per-site strategy notes for preventing moderators from erasing messages (for example, on Worldnetdaily, do not use "vulgar reactions to the political work of Barack Obama.")
These tactics are familiar ones. Rebecca MacKinnon's indispensable book Consent of the Networked describes the Chinese government's "Fifty Cent Army," each paid 0.5RMB per message pro-government postings. And of course, the 2011 HB Gary leak revealed the existence of a US Air Force RFP seeking "persona management" software that would let US psyops operatives maintain up to 20 fake identities from which to post pro-US messages on Arab-world websites.
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In Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations, a scholarly article published in the current Climatic Change , Drexel University's Robert J. Brulle documents a billion-dollar-per-year climate-change denial network, underwritten by conservative billionaires operating through obfuscating networks of companies aimed at obscuring the origin of the funds.
Among the recipients of the funds are several charitable groups that are supposedly neutral on climate change, including the American Enterprise Institute (the top recipient of the funds) and the Heritage Foundation. Brulle was unable to uncover the origin of 75 percent of the funds, much of which were routed through Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.
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Wikimedia, the nonprofit that oversees the Wikipedia project, has sent a cease-and-desist letter to WikiPR, an astroturfing company that pays people to distort Wikipedia entries on behalf of clients who want to erase embarrassing history or boost their image (or both). WikiPR is thought to be behind hundreds of sockpuppet accounts that made thousands of edits over several years.
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In his new book
Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires, NPR's David Folkenflik details how Fox News employees maintain dozens (and, in at least one case, over 100) different message-board accounts that they use to flood the comments of blogs that criticize Fox.
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Syria's brutal Assad regime has damned few allies left in the world, but one of them, Russia, is governed by a dirty-tricking ruling elite who've made a science out of manipulating Internet opinion. This may explain the weird, stilted pro-Assad astroturf army who appear in any discussion of the regime's atrocities to explain that it's all a Jewish conspiracy.
And on like that. SyriaTribune maintains a YouTube channel stocked with clips from — surprise — Vladimir Putin’s Russia Today portraying Assad as the victim of a bloody-minded western conspiracy. A self-described French intellectual named Thierry Meyssan — author of 9/11 The Big Lie — reveals that TV images purporting to show Assad’s massacres of civilians were prepared by the CIA, along with White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, and “aims at demoralizing the Syrians in order to pave the way for a coup d’etat.” The #FakeRevolution hashtag on Instagram provides pictorial, meme-filled boosterism for Bashar, like a screengrab from Time’ app kindly telling user mybubb1e to stop voting for Assad for Person of the Year or Hillary Clinton with flames shooting out of her eyes and ear, courtesy of Bashar4Ever.
Meet the Assadosphere, the Online Defenders of Syria’s Butcher [Spencer Ackerman/Wired]
Homophobic chicken-slingers Chick-Fil-A are reeling in a tempest of bad publicity. First the Jim Henson company yanked its toys from its stores
, then the mayor of Boston
told it that it should set up business elsewhere, and now a mysterious stranger
has begun to astroturf on its behalf on Facebook. Chick-Fil-A says that it has no idea who the person pretending to be a teenage girl who really passionately supports the cause of discrimination against homosexuals is (though I'm sure they appreciate "her" support) -- and for the record, they say that Henson's toys were withdrawn for "safety" reasons.
@jimmy_pirat (a Twitter account with only one post) snapped a blurrycam picture of a campus employment ad that sought students to pretend to be pro-ACTA and hold up photogenic signs, paying €100 for two hours' work. The recruitment agency named in the ad disavows any involvement with it, and has threatened to sue whomever posted it. I wonder who the hoaxter was?
Copyright Lobby Hires Pro-ACTA Demonstrators
CreativeAmerica is an astroturf group financed by the MPAA that pretends to represent everyday folks who want to see further-reaching, stricter copyrights, and it just happens to be run by a bunch of ex-MPAA staffers. An anonymous tipster claims that the organization has now resorted to paying people to get signups for its membership rolls:
the organization I am doing work for is Creative America, which is a grassroots organization that is working to stop foreign rogue websites from illegally distributing American content such as books, music, films, etc.... These specific websites costs the U.S. and the 2.2 million middle class industry workers $5.5 billion in wages and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Your job would be just collecting signatures from whoever is interested in signing up for updates. A newsletter may come once a month and anyone can unsubscribe if they don’t want it. We don’t care if they do; all I care about is getting initial signups.
The hours are flexible and we will pay you $1/signature, so if you collect 100 signatures a week, we would pay you $100/week. We will also pay for you to go to local film festivals in the area (SXSW, Austin Film Festival, etc.). We are also taking as many people as possible, so if you have some friends who are interested in doing it we can take them as well. Let me know your thoughts....
CreativeAmerica Literally Resorts To Buying Signatures