26 October 2007

Invasion of the sock puppets

Telegram media blogger Geoff Meeker has been on a thread lately about local talk shows and the organized partisan callers.

His latest post includes some comments from people who worked inside the system.

One in particular is worth quoting since it fairly and accurately describes the current state of affairs:

Political operatives organize and coordinate it. Government-side in-house political operatives, voluntary political operatives and key 'lay' party members are all given direction (and often talking points, generated by communications people and other public servants for ministers' use) to call on particular topics.

Communications personnel in Communications Branch are and were public service employees. They were required to monitor, analyze and advise on response to talk radio, but not to call…. Making partisan calls would undermine their professional reputation for balance and fairness in doing their core jobs.

Line department new or junior communications personnel have occasionally been asked to call, by both administrations, especially if they are politically connected. When they (and their voices) became/become better known to media, they were no longer asked to do so.

I never worked in the opposition office, but had I had friends there and my sense is that there is (and was) less if any line-stacking directed out of there. This may be due to lack of resources - fewer communications staff to draft the talking points, fewer political staff to rally the volunteer troops, fewer volunteer troops, etc... This is yet another area where her majesty's loyal opposition is out-gunned by Her Majesty's government.

Of course, there are still callers challenging government on a partisan basis, but that is usually self-directed, except during election time.

This is a fascinating and very useful bit of public discussion. I think it really helps for people to understand how this particular talk radio environment works.

Meeker links to Bond Papers that nets him a big thanks for the traffic.  To make it easier for his readers, here's a link to the first of a three part series from August and September 2006 on the whole business of astroturfing that the current administration has raised to an art form. One of the big changes from the system employed before October 2003 is that the current administration co-opts public servants into an essentially partisan process.

Of course, readers can also site search Bond Papers for the words "pitcher plant" and find a bunch of other posts.

Tony the SockAstroturfing is an old political idea. It shows up in newspaper letters, radio call-back lines and on the Internet through web sites or news (discussion) groups. Some of the anonymous and pseudonymous commenters are also well-known open line callers or partisan political operatives.

"Kirwin Nicholson", for example, is just one sock puppet created for the recent campaign.  He or she made several posts before accidentally revealing himself in a partisan attack on one Liberal candidate by posting using his or her more common identity.

Since there is no way of knowing who is actually posting, a great many of the people posting to nf.general on political topics could be sock puppets, Internet slang for "the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies or company."