There are daily attempts to control and influence content in the interests of the state and corporations: attempts in which money talks.
They are the online equivalent of enclosure riots: the rick-burning, fence-toppling protests by English peasants losing their rights to the land. When MasterCard, Visa, Paypal and Amazon tried to shut WikiLeaks out of the cyber-commons, an army of hackers responded by trying to smash their way into these great estates and pull down their fences.
In the Wikileaks punch-up the commoners appear to have the upper hand. But it’s just one battle. There’s a wider cyberwar being fought, of which you hear much less. And in most cases the landlords, with the help of a mercenary army, are winning.
I’m not talking here about threats to net neutrality and the danger of a two-tier internet developing, though these are real. I’m talking about the daily attempts to control and influence content in the interests of the state and corporations: attempts in which money talks.
The weapon used by both state and corporate players is a technique known as astroturfing. An astroturf campaign is one that mimics spontaneous grassroots mobilizations, but which has in reality been organized. Anyone writing a comment piece in Mandarin critical of the Chinese government, for example, is likely to be bombarded with abuse by people purporting to be ordinary citizens, upset by the slurs against their country.
But many of them aren’t upset: they are members of the 50 Cent Party, so-called because one Chinese government agency pays 5 mao (half a yuan) for every post its tame commenters write. Teams of these sock-puppets are hired by party leaders to drown out critical voices and derail intelligent debates. More…
- Are Right-Wing Libertarian Internet Trolls Getting Paid to Dumb Down Online Conversations? (alternet.org)
- These astroturf libertarians are the real threat to internet democracy | George Monbiot (guardian.co.uk)
- Persuasion and media – Dec 15 (energybulletin.net)
- Can Trolls Be Green? The Role of Debate in the Green Movement, Pt. II (treehugger.com)
- What Internet Trolls Look Like (webupon.com)
- Ethics in the corporate world (psychologytoday.com)