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[liberationtech] Fwd: [APC Forum] Online 'astroturfing': comment threads and forums are being hijacked and manipulated

Katrin Verclas katrin at mobileactive.org
Sun Mar 20 08:57:04 PDT 2011


Why the people who think circumvention is enough (i.e. the American Senate) are delusional. 


Begin forwarded message:

> From: Cedric Knight <cedric at gn.apc.org>
> Date: March 20, 2011 9:50:34 AM EDT
> To: "A general information sharing space for thlibere APC Community." <apc.forum at lists.apc.org>
> Subject: Re: [APC Forum] Online 'astroturfing': comment threads and forums are being hijacked and manipulated
> Reply-To: "A general information sharing space for the APC Community." <apc.forum at lists.apc.org>
> 
> Following on from this:
> 
> On 07/03/11 21:15, Michel Lambert wrote:
>>> http://www.monbiot.com/2011/02/23/robot-wars/
>>> The Guardian, 23rd February 2011
>>> Online astroturfing is more advanced and more automated than we'd imagined.
> [...]
>>> After I last wrote about online astroturfing, in December, I was
>>> contacted by a whistleblower. He was part of a commercial team
>>> employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of
>>> corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who
>>> opposed them.
> [...]
> >> - companies now use "persona management software", which multiplies
> >> the efforts of the astroturfers working for them, creating the
> >> impression that there's major support for what a corporation or
> >> government is trying to do.
> [...]
>>> Software like this has the potential to destroy the internet as a
>>> forum for constructive debate. It makes a mockery of online
>>> democracy.
> [...]
>>> which has yet to be satisfactorily answered: what should we do to
>>> fight these tactics?
>>> 
>>> www.monbiot.com
> 
> [........]


> My obvious observations and comments on the Monbiot article:
> 
> * HB Gary is the company that was successfully targeted by Anonymous
> * Guardian recently closed their talk boards (although can still comment on articles and CiF). (probably to save money, but possibly also because they were full of odd reactionary comments)
> * The practice undermines idea of e-democracy and supports sceptical argument (like, eg, Robert Fisk who doesn't use the internet) that the net's not so great after all and we now need paid, accountable journalists more, rather than less.
> * Emphasises flaws of "the numbers game" on the net (measuring
> popularity by e-petitions etc)
> * Is an argument for a "walled garden" instead of an open internet.
> GreenNet/APC/etc used to be the walled garden.
> * Is also an argument for a correctly-constructed "web of trust" - given that identity is cheap on the internet (near enough free), you only accept communication from friends of friends; trust of a new identity starts at zero, but can go lower.  To some extent Twitter and Facebook do follow this model but are based on centralised servers, and issues/hashtags are open to all.
> * I waste a lot of time arguing with certain opinions online, often to be ignored as "liberal elite".  In some ways it's easiest to argue with clearly "wrong" opinions because you need fewer facts - meanwhile the more successful disinformation may sneak in unchallenged.
> 
> * Difficult to defend against because of the technical provisions like changing IP addresses.  Even if you could, it's an "arms race" like any other abuse issue.  One could probably detect it working on aggregate with a particular site, but not necessarily identify all the planted posts.
> * Probably breaking board/site rules (sockpuppets) and probably network connection ToS/Acceptable Use Policy.
> * Still may be possible to detect by certain sleuthing (textual analysis etc, prevalence of opinion between different sites), but promotes distrust of even literate opinions: encourages people to accuse others of being corporate sockpuppets.  If the projected opinion is deliberately biased ("poisoning the well"), then you can't reliably get back to the truth by trying to apply a sceptical reverse bias.  If someone says 2+2=4, but someone else says 2+2=6, it does not mean 2+2=5.
> 
> * General problem is with the same as with any paid PR issue: for instance, commissioning and reprinting favourable research and suppressing unfavourable findings, feeding distorted/mis- information to lazy journalists; the repeated and cumulative effect of this.
> * It's hard enough to converge on an accurate picture of the world as it is, without deliberate disinformation, which is why in my view disinformation ethically one of the worst things one can do; it may of course have a subtle effect on people's personal and political decisions and their level of trust.  And it's why none of us want any truck with PR ("scum working for scum" as a friend put it - and he works in market research).
> * Propaganda is a multi-billion (insert currency unit) business, and only the mildest restrictions on lobbying are currently considered.
> * Given the social consequences, I'm surprised that actual sanctions against deliberately selective reporting or non-financial misrepresentation are so limited -- only in academia will you lose all credibility and possibly your job.  For example, today the UK government is shown to be suppressing research showing the National Health Service (NHS) is actually doing rather well, but the discovery of the deception is unlikely to lead to resignations.  Presumably as most great apes are known to lie for their own advantage, it's just accepted that humans need to use their innate poker skills, but there's no face to read over the net.
> * Deception in order to influence for personal gain is only under certain circumstances usually regarded as fraud, usually where it directly leads to loss by the person deceived.  However, extending that legal sanction to cases where people are paid to deceive third parties would be logically consistent.
> * There remains the problem of actually detecting such an offence.
> 
> -- 
> All best wishes,
> 
> Cedric Knight
> GreenNet
> 
> 
> 
> --
> Solicitation Number:RTB220610
> Notice Type:Sources Sought
> Synopsis:
> Added: Jun 22, 2010 1:42 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 of the 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 user s 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 enterprise
> organizations. 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 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 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.
> 
> =======================================
> APC Forum is a meeting place for the APC community - people and        institutions who are or have been involved in collaboration with
> APC, and share the APC vision - a world in which all people have easy, equal and affordable access to the creative potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve their lives and create more
> democratic and egalitarian societies.
> 
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Katrin Verclas
MobileActive.org
katrin at mobileactive.org

skype/twitter: katrinskaya
(347) 281-7191

A global network of people using mobile technology for social impact
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