Astroturfing The Astronomical Rise of Astroturfing

If the word “astroturfing” isn’t already a part of your vocabulary, insert it, highlight it and underline it in red biro.

Astroturfing
— n

A PR tactic used in politics and advertising in which actors are paid to display overt and apparently spontaneous grassroots support for a particular product, policy, or event.

[C21: from Astroturf , the artificial grass, as this is artificalgrassroots support]

‘astroturfer

Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition

Last year the US Government publicly tendered for a company to supply it with viruses and worms that would allow a few agents to take over PC’s and impersonate hundreds of humans on social networks for the purposes of artificially creating grass roots movements, the contract was won by blackhat security firm HBGary. It’s unknown whether the “Online Persona Management Service” has been put in to action yet but the there are countless examples of private companies currently conducting their own astroturfing efforts and there is little doubt that these companies are developing their own astroturfing software.

(SCREENSHOT)

Solicitation Number: RTB220610
Notice Type: Sources Sought
Added: Jun 22, 2010 1:42 pm Modified: Jun 22, 2010 2:07 pm
0001- Online Persona Management Service. 50 User Licenses, 10 Personas per user.
Software will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent. Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries. Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user’s situational awareness by displaying real-time local information.

0002- Secure Virtual Private Network (VPN). 1 each
VPN provides the ability for users to daily and automatically obtain randomly selected IP addresses through which they can access the internet. The daily rotation ofthe user s IP address prevents compromise during observation of likely or targeted web sites or services, while hiding the existence of the operation. In addition, may provide traffic mixing, blending the users traffic with traffic from multitudes of users from outside the organization. This traffic blending provides excellent cover and powerful deniability. Anonymizer Enterprise Chameleon or equal

0003- Static IP Address Management. 50 each. Licence protects the identity of government agencies and enterpriseorganizations. Enables organizations to manage their persistent online personas by assigning static IP addresses to each persona. Individuals can perform static impersonations, which allow them to look like the same person over time. Also allows organizations that frequent same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like ordinary users as opposed to one organization. Anonymizer IP Mapper License or equal.

0004- Virtual Private Servers, CONUS. 1 each
Provides CONUS or OCONUS points of presence locations that are setup for each customer based on the geographic area of operations the customer is operating within and which allow a customer?s online persona(s) to appear to originate from. Ability to provide virtual private servers that are procured using commercial hosting centers around the world and which are established anonymously. Once procured, the geosite is incorporated into the network and integrated within the customers environment and ready for use by the customer. Unless specifically designated as shared, locations are dedicated for use by each customer and never shared among other customers. Anonymizer Annual Dedicated CONUS Light Geosite or equal.

0005- Virtual Private Servers, OCONUS. 8 Each
Provides CONUS or OCONUS points of presence locations that are setup for each customer based on the geographic area of operations the customer is operating within and which allow a customers online persona(s) to appear to originate from. Ability to provide virtual private servers that are procured using commercial hosting centers around the world and which are established anonymously. Once procured, the geosite is incorporated into the network and integrated within the customers environment and ready for use by the customer. Unless specifically designated as shared, locations are dedicated for use by each customer and never shared among other customers. Anonymizer Annual Dedicated OCONUS Light Geosite or equal.

0006- Remote Access Secure Virtual Private Network. 1 each
Secure Operating Environment provides a reliable and protected computing environment from which to stage and conduct operations. Every session uses a clean Virtual Machine (VM) image. The solution is accessed through sets of Virtual Private Network (VPN) devices located at each Customer facility. The fully-managed VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) is an environment that allows users remote access from their desktop into a VM. Upon session termination, the VM is deleted and any virus, worm, or malicious software that the user inadvertently downloaded is destroyed. Anonymizer Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) Solution or equal.

Contracting Office Address:
2606 Brown Pelican Ave.
MacDill AFB, Florida 33621-5000
United States

Place of Performance:
Performance will be at MacDIll AFB, Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad, Iraq.
MacDill AFB , Florida 33679
United States

It’s recently come to light that a huge astroturfing campaign has allegedly been operated on UK soil by US tobacco giant Phillip Morris. The campaign codenamed “Project Clarity” allegedly successfully delayed the UK government’s implementation of a ban on the display of tobacco products until 2015 (the ban will however, still affect supermarkets from April).

antismoking ad 400 The Astronomical Rise of Astroturfing

Big tobacco are the most successful known astroturfers

In China it is alleged that bloggers who are part of the 50 cent party are paid 50 cents by the state for every pro-government comment they make on blogs and message boards.

50 cent party 400 The Astronomical Rise of Astroturfing

Bloggers in china are paid 50 cents by the state for every pro-government comment they make online

This policy was mimicked by John McCain in 2008 who publicly announced that he would give reward points exchangeable for aeroplane tickets, hotel stays and restarant meals for comments on a message boards that were pro-McCain.

John Mccain Astroturf The Astronomical Rise of Astroturfing

McCain gave reward vouchers in exchange for pro McCain comments posted online

In 2006 it was reported, and a great deal of evidence has since amassed that PR firm DCI Group made the following embarrassing video on behalf of Exxon Mobil in a spectacularly desperate attempt to discredit Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”:

Last year the astroturfed group “Stop-Too-Big-to-Fail” was set up to counter the financial reform movement that evolved in to Occupy Wall Street. Stop-Too-Big-to-Fail has links to the same PR firm DCI Group, that was allegedly responsible for the shambolic Al Gore’s Penguin Army clip depicted above. The difference with Stop-Too-Big-to-Fail and Al Gore’s Penguin Army is that whilst Al Gore’s Penguin Army was clearly designed to look as if it was made by climate change deniers (and consequently looks like it’s been made by a brain damaged chimp on a copy of Windows ’95); Stop-Too-Big-to-Fail poses as a serious anti-capitalist movement yet it in fact works to prevent financial reform. The group posted columns in the Huffington Post amongst other outlets and spent $1.6 million on the advert below.

The latest astroturfing campaign “Vote 4 Energy” launched on December 29th by the “American Petroleum Institute” is a campaign in support of fossil fuels based on the argument that fossil fuels are good for jobs:

The campaign is currently being shot down by a spoof video which already has ten thousand more views than the astroturfed commercial:

So, with all the astroturfing currently going on how can you spot the astroturfers? 

A research group at the Indiana University has developed a program called Truthy that allows anyone to track cases of “astrotweeting”. Any search term can be entered into Truthy and the program will scan the Twitter API and build a model of how the search term originated. The group have even provided a selection of handy templates to help you decode the data!

Truthy The Astronomical Rise of Astroturfing

Examples of how astrotweeted content pay appear when analysed using Truthy

Truthy can even be used to build three dimensional maps of how terms are discussed over twitter through time:

The Truthy meme tracker is constantly updated and allows users to analyse the distribution of the latest memes on twitter.

Truthy meme1 The Astronomical Rise of Astroturfing

Truthy Meme Tracker

The team of four professors who developed the project have recently been awarded US$905,000 to continue to develop Truthy so it’s certainly a project worth keeping your eye on if you want to catch the next generation of astroturfers!

Ratkiewicz, J. Conover, M. Meiss, M. Gonçalves, B. Patil, S. Flammini, A. Menczer,  F. (2011). Truthy: Mapping the Spread of Astroturf in Microblog Streams. World Wide Web Conference Committee (IW3C2). (PDF)

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  • http://www.naveenjain.com/ Naveen Jain

    Astroturfing is
    just another example of why it is so necessary to know who you’re dealing with
    on the internet. What’s great about Truthy is it’s taken the idea we had with
    Intelius and being able to identify who you are dealing with to the next level.
    Being able to identify where ideas are coming from and who’s behind them allows
    us all to make more informed decisions.”

  • Kenny Daily

    Indiana University, not University of Indiana, please!

    • http://neurobonkers.com Neurobonkers

      Done

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