Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Are some people commenting in forums for $$$?

Besides the blogosphere there's the--what, threadisphere? All those comments on articles in newspapers and media websites. 

Turns out a fair number of those comments are being made either by people who are doing it for money, or who were directed there by people doing the directing for money by setting up Astroturf propaganda websites.

On Amazon.com's Science forum someone has been starting human-affected climate change denialist threads for over a year--one after another after another. I don't know if he's doing it for pay but something's seriously off here (he's also flagrantly violating Amazon.com standards, which forbid incessant posting of the same topic repeatedly).

I wrote an entry on the Amazon.com Science forum about special interest money invading supposedly "free forums,": citing investigative research by The Guardian and Greenpeace (one a leftist newspaper, the other a leftist advocacy group, to be sure).

A guy on an Amazon.com forum contested my entry, saying the accusation of doing entries for money was intrinsically illegitimate--something that just resulted in tit for tat accusations.

The short answer:

The money trails do matter because this isn't a formal debating society-it's a forum of intellectual exploration, and it does influence what we should do if it appears that certain posters are here to push propaganda for pay, or as pawns of those who direct them here.

Moreover, this is a widespread problem across all public forums that deal with science and technology-not just Amazon.com. Too widespread, and too much by people who obviously are not natural members of the forums.

I strongly suspect that this is one of those conspiracies that do exist (among the countless fake ones)-and you should care whether someone's trying to play you like a flute. (see Hamlet if you don't recall the scene where he asks Rosencranz and Gildenstern to play a flute, and when they say they can't, asks they why they're trying to play him.)

The long answer:

It is true that in the logic of formal debate, my character/motives are only relevant if I'm asking you to trust me as part of my argument..

So if an axe murderer says 2+2+4, I don't need to trust him--I can use my knowledge of arithmetic to verify it. But if he says "my former cellmate told me he killed Johnny Pell" that's more problematic, and I won't believe him without independent confirmation. And if Mrs. Jones sues her father for molesting her as a child--after he disinherited her for being a drug addict--I'm going to need a lot of independent validation before I believe her claim.

However, what I see being done by far right wing billionaires and their minions is the attempt to convince the public that many more people agree with their propaganda than actually do. This is an implicit "fact" that's very important. As are attempts to mold public opinion through propaganda amplified by vast funds used to pay "serviceable villains" who promote their patron's viewpoint for money.

After all, legislators are generally more impressed by perceived numbers of voters on one side of an issue, rather than by sweet reason alone. So this isn't a minor issue. And, humans being the social creatures they are, if you think many, many people hold a particular view, you'll be more daunted than if you think it's just a handful of loons.

Social experiments done over the past 70 years have revealed how susceptible most people are to what they perceive as public opinion.

Every single day the major broadcast news media--all of them--constantly refer to "public opinion" yet almost never talk about whether or how that "public opinion" was carefully guided by slick, well-financed psy ops. Vast applications of money to American political debate has greatly shaped it.

And Goebbels, an expert propagandist, accurately observed that if someone hears a lie repeated often enough he'll come to perceive it as truth, often as not. Even the way we think about issues. From "death taxes" to "death panels" to "tax relief" we're given a conclusion at the start of our thinking about something. See George Lakoff for information about this from a cognitive psychologist's viewpoint.

Moreover, in these forums, we're accustomed to believing that people come here with questions and issues they want to explore/debate. However, what if the person you're debating with is being payed to advance his position? Wouldn't that change your willingness to debate with him--realizing that nothing you say will change his mind, because he's not here for the same reasons as you are?

He might be here as a missionary, or perhaps as a "threadstitute" (I just made that up). But either way you're wasting your time arguing with him.

So it's the implicit propositions that "this is a widely held belief" which can be validated/invalidated by seeing whether there's a money trail.

And surely you realize that "everybody does it" is the standard fallback position of a propagandist who's been uncovered.

So of course if you turn over the rock and discover Koch and Exxon minions scuttling around under it, they're going to start chanting "Soros, Soros, Soros." Especially since they regard him (and Buffet, and perhaps Gates) as a "class traitor."

However, the Koch brothers have a financial motive: they're major polluters, major beneficiaries of corporate welfare, major promoters of government taking other people's property and handing it over to them.

Soros is a money guy who doesn't gain personally from his financial contributions. So his motive is philosophical, not pecuniary. That's a big difference. Doesn't mean he's right and the Kochs are wrong on the face of it, but it is relevant to my evaluation of their activities.

Moreover, the Kochs are deceptive/underhanded, while Soros is pretty straightforward. Soros donates money to campaigns and politicians he approves of. The Kochs are major creators of astroturf operations that try to create the impression of being grassroots affairs.

Case in point: Right wing psy ops operatives trained Tea Party volunteers to sit spaced apart at public healthcare forums, then to interrupt pro-reform speakers by shouting verbal assaults thinly disguised as questions, then shut up immediately so as to avoid being thrown out, while another trained "volunteer" sitting somewhere else would immediately shout out another phony "question." And another, and another. By not massing, by not just standing up and shouting until they were removed, by asking pseudoquestions that maintained a tiny fig leaf of respectability, they could not only destroy pro-healthcare reform people from presenting their pitch--they could also make it seem as though the whole audience was against healthcare reform.

And here you have one person--"mug wump" posting the same thread topic with minor wording variations time after time after time for over a year.

I think it's relevant to speculate on how such a major imposition on Amazon.com's Science forum came to be. This forum isn't just formal debate--a field I'm intimately familiar with--it's also psy ops--another field I've been forced to educated myself about, due to stuff like this.

Of course "mug wump" [the guy doing the serial denialist postings]  might just be a pawn--but if he 'fessed up and told us where he's getting his info from, I bet the trail of breadcrumbs would lead back to Koch Industries or one of its subsidiaries.

And that's my last point. This isn't just going on at Amazon.com. I've seen the same thing happening all over the place--Scientific American, NYTimes, Washington Post, you name it.

And in particular I'm seeing major invasions of online forums by people who don't belong there--whose illogic and poor grammar/spelling reveal that they aren't actual members of that community. The New York Times by people who clearly aren't New York Times readers; Scientific American's forums likewise, and so forth.

So how did they get there? These people aren't, for the most part, geniuses at ferreting out stuff. I'm betting they're being directed to go hither and thither by paid operatives running Astroturf websites.

So yes, the money does matter, and while adherents of both parties try to market their ideas to the public, one side has vastly more to spend on it than the other, because one side represents billionaires while the other represents wage slaves.

It's not an equal fight. We're being bullied, and having been a bright kid who went to blue-collar public schools, I became way too familiar with both bullying and with anti-intellectualism-which pervades the propaganda of the far right. Look at all the posts by the pawns and the threadstitutes-they're chock full of scorn and contempt for smart people-all them scientist types. Doesn't that get your back up?

The billionaires' bully boys storm in here and tell us how they spit on us and how they expect us to knuckle under to them-that they are the Real Americans and we're some kinda unAmericans.

And they violate Amazon.com's forum guidelines routinely. They don't play the game by the rules you and I observe, and I'm trying to get the decent people on these forums to fight back and not keep playing their game by their self-serving rules.

They can set up their own forum and run it any way they please, but here they should observe Amazon's guidelines, along with the rest of us.

They have no honor.

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