W A R N I N G!!! See the end of this post!
Pamela D. Hart and I have been investigating dozens more of what we've come to believe are astroturf blogs-- phoney sites that have been set up and most of which are abandoned soon after their appearance in the blogsphere. What is curious is that many of these blogs crop up like crabgrass and immediately have dozens of followers. I remember when I started blogging how I waited months before anyone commented on my blog, and I believe that is the normal experience. It is awfully suspicious to see these new blogs get an immediate following, especially by the same group of people we have found on other astroturf blogs. One blogger who shows up consistently as a follower on almost all of these blogs is someone who calls himself "Nickie Goomba," who, according to his blog has over 1100 followers. [Notice the title of NG's blog, then look at the title of this one--and its followers--does this make sense?] NG is a follower on the majority of these astroturf blogs but seldom if ever leaves a comment on them. When I follow a blog, I actually visit it, read its posts, and comment. Not NG. But that phenomenon is for another post.
Why these blogs have been established and then abandoned is anyone's guess. I think that the people who set them up are paid hacks and have been instructed to make their particular political-leaning area of the blogsphere appear to be larger than it actually is.
Last winter I began to track many of these astroturf blogs and found dozens of them with URLs that contain 101 and 113 in their addresses. It doesn't take a Miss Marple to realize that THAT is very strange, and would suggest that perhaps these blogs are not being randomly generated, but are set up by one or two paid hacks who keep track of them through a numbering system.
The other phenomenon Pam and others have observed is that the style, voice, and tone of the author of the posts are the same on many of these blogs. "Style, voice, and tone in writing express the attitude of a writer at that moment and in relation to a particular subject and audience...style is a technical term for the effect a writer can create through attitude and language. Voice and tone reflect your attitude about your subject and your readers."*
We've also noticed a certain consistency in work that is plagiarized on many of these blogs. Text is often lifted from news sites on the web and/or comment sections of those news sites and passed off as the blogger's own. A perfect example that Pam found is here. This blog was set up in February of this year with only one post--which was plagiarized--and with material on its sidebar plagiarized as well.
The worst of these astroturf blogs are the ones that steal people's photo identity, make-up lies about the person in the photo and allow the blog to be associated with that image, without the person who belongs to the image having any knowledge of his/her photo identity theft. This is rampant on these astroturf blogs. I've found photos of famous and near famous people from this country and abroad used as the astroturf bloggers' photo IDs. As I stated previously, no one really believes the celebrity is actually the owner of that blog. But some of these blogs attach private citizens' photos they found on the internet to the profile section of the fake blogs.
The most egregious example of this was the photo Pam and I found on the blog "The Thin Blue Line." The hack who set that blog up stole a photo of a police officer from Oakland, California, who was killed in the line of duty. The officer's photo was placed on the blog in the profile section, stating that the blogger was from New York, and that he had a son who was serving in Iraq. (The deceased officer's oldest child, a son, was 15 years old at the time of his tragic death.) Unlike many of the blogs Pam and I have discovered, this shameful blog is still up and running as of 9:00 AM, Sept. 17, and, curiously, this blog has a 113 in its URL address.
As Pam and I expose these astroturf blogs, many of them have started to collapse and fold, like a house of cards. Pam is doing a terrific job of tracking this activity. Please go here and read her comments in the post below this one to learn more. Also I appreciate the help from another blogger, The JMopper, whose suggestions have been quite useful.
So what does this all mean? Setting up astroturf blogs is not illegal, and pretending to be someone on a blog isn't either. But in the case of the fallen police officer, it certainly is unethical, dishonorable, and heartless. Why did the hacks who set up these blogs do it? Only those who have engaged in this chicanery and deceitful practice know the real reason.
What we've learned is that the astroturf blogs we've uncovered are, for the most part, all trumpery, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing. What is written on them is either plagiarized or so full of mindless, repetitive invective and vitriol--stuff and nonsense--that it is a waste of one's time to read them. Therefore they're useless as a means of spreading any sort of message--if that was the original purpose in the first place.
And who would give any credence to any operation that uses deceit and stolen material to make a point?
In the end, I thought of what Alice said as she was being pursued by the Red Queen's minions:
"Who cares for you?' said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) `You're nothing but a pack of cards!'
NOTE TO READERS: The hack who set up the "Just Sue" astroturf blog shut it down to "invited readers only" just after I posted about the fraud. The blog has, as of today, been completely deleted.
A few liberal bloggers have noticed a new follower on their blog "fearthedragon." This persona showed up last week when I began research on astroturf blogs. TheJMopper is being followed by this persona as well and discovered this:
"The J Mopper said...
Fearthedragon is following me too and I haven't posted anything in months.
I clicked on the blank photo and was warned by FireFox's NoScript that this was a potential hijacking!!!
DO NOT click on this photo!!!