June 02, 2009

On Astroturfing--Or How Not To Make Friends On The Internet

Earlier in the week, good friend and fellow blogger Rocky Mountain Right brought forward evidence that demonstrated a bad-faith, astroturfing campaign by or on behalf of the Cleve Tidwell for US Senate campaign.

Ben DeGrow provides additional examples of what appears to either be a hijacking of Tidwell's personal email address (unlikely) or a concerted effort to astroturf under a variety of fake names known as sockpuppetry. Numerous conservative/libertarian/GOP blogs have been pounded by "swarms" of purported Tidwell supporters, including the People's Press Collective.

Of course, this was bound to hit the media at some point, and today Lynn Bartels of the Post covered the brewing controversy:

A conservative blog this week accused Republican U.S. Senate candidate Cleve Tidwell of anonymously posting flattering comments about himself.

Tidwell said he had nothing to do with the posts, adding "as important as I'm sure these blogs are I don't get involved with them. I don't even read them."

The retired Denver businessman said today that when he questioned his campaign about the posts, an "enthusiastic" volunteer with access to his e-mail addresses admitted she "might have stepped over the line."

He declined to identify the volunteer, but said she has since quit the campaign.

The accusation against Tidwell was posted Monday by Anthony Surace, a 22-year-old student at Metropolitan State College who operates Rocky Mountain Right.
Gotta love the "rogue staffer" defense.

Tidwell earns himself no plaudits either for his backhanded dismissal of blogs in the Post story above even as he is scheduled to appear on the Rocky Mountain Alliance 2.0 Blog Talk Radio Show tonight, and has attempted to cultivate relationships with bloggers for the past few months as the campaign began to swing into gear.

Look, campaigns and their surrogates--whether paid staffers or overzealous volunteers--are always welcome and indeed encouraged to promote their candidates in a friendly manner, without reverting to the use of astroturfing and sockpuppetry to give a veneer of widespread support online when in fact there may be little more than a handful of real supporters at this point in the primary. Not only does the concerted effort to deluge online straw polls and spam comment sections and email inboxes with regurgitated and misspelled testimonials shed a bad light on the campaign itself--and by extension, the candidate, whether or not he is directly involved or even knows that this type of behavior is taking place on his behalf--but betrays a basic lack of Internet-savvy that currently plagues many in the GOP.

Simply having a Twitter feed or a Facebook account does not constitute a campaign with "Web 2.0" capabilities. Those are merely tools for messaging and developing relationships with potential volunteers and fundraisers.

The gross misuse, however, of blogs and other Internet forums to "plant" support for a candidate while then accusing a blog of being "in the bag" for another candidate when that information comes to light is absurd. True grassroots movements rely on the activism of individuals who share a common goal or support a worthwhile candidate, and their efforts will show in the amount of money raised, the turnout for events hosted, and the number of votes cast in the primary. Faking such a grassroots movement--hence the term astroturfing--reveals the paucity of support for this or any other candidate relying on such tactics.

Ken Buck, Cleve Tidwell, and Ryan Frazier all have campaigns and will be afforded plenty of opportunities to make their strongest case for their own candidacies. For his part, Frazier has extended multiple opportunities to this blogger to chat, conduct interviews, and attend events. Tidwell has agreed to appear on the RMA Radio Show this evening to make his case. Buck will be given similar opportunities, and is indeed welcome to contact this blog or any other in the RMA/PPC community for an interview or an appearance on the radio show as well.

The bottom line? No one likes to be played for fools, or have their own forum abused by even well-intentioned staffers or volunteers, rogue or otherwise.

You want to shout from the rooftops all day about Buck, Tidwell, or Frazier?

Good for you!

Now get your own damn blog and stop crapping on someone else's carpet.

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