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November 3, 2006

Make Way for Sockpuppets
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:29 AM * 43 comments

How is the Pentagon responding to the fact that Rumsfeld and his cronies have lost the war they started in Iraq? By trying to change the news. After all, if we don’t hear about it, it never happened, right? From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2 — The Pentagon is reorganizing its public affairs operation in an attempt to influence news coverage, amid internal frustration at the tone and substance of reporting on Iraq and on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The expanded office, which was first described by department officials in an informal press briefing on Monday, features a “rapid response unit” to react to news reports. It is also stepping up efforts to arrange appearances by department officials on talk radio and cable television, and to recruit “surrogates” who are not on the department’s payroll to defend its policies.

“Surrogates.” Oh, joy. We know what they mean. Sockpuppets. Astroturfers. Trolls.

And where will these sockpuppets appear?

Officials involved say the new effort, which was conceived by Assistant Secretary of Defense Dorrance Smith, is not primarily a response to negative coverage but rather is aimed at more aggressively challenging articles and broadcasts deemed inaccurate and at making better use of podcasts, blogs and other new outlets.

Blogs. Yeah. “Inaccurate,” like reporting that Rumsfeld dismissed the folks who told him the truth about Iraq? “Inaccurate” like recording the lies Rumsfeld has told over the years? Notice, please, that “deemed inaccurate” isn’t the same thing as actually “inaccurate.”

Unfortunately for the paid trolls, the role Rumsfeld played in setting Iraq policy is only too clear — he trumpeted it while he was doing it — and the content of his speeches is public record.

Mr. Rumsfeld has long been critical of the government’s efforts to respond to information disseminated by people sympathetic to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, who make use of the Internet and other technology networks and, as Mr. Rumsfeld often says, are not bound by rules of accuracy.

Since by Rummie’s definitions anyone who criticises him or Bush is an al Qaeda sympathizer, that leaves him lots of room to play.

Hot tip for Rummie: Reality always wins. Always.

And to our new sockpuppet friends: Welcome. You won’t last long here, though. We’re a reality-based community.

Comments on Make Way for Sockpuppets:
#1 ::: amysue ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 08:25 AM:

Can't argue with a single word there. All I can say is Vote as if your lives depend on it Tuesday because I really believe they do. I'm not naive enough to believe that it wil fix things instantly or even quickly or even all the injustices that should be fixed, but it will be a start.

#2 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 08:36 AM:

I already voted. On a paper ballot, thank you very much. I live in a traditionally Democratic ward, so I'm not too worried about our brand-new electronic machines, but better safe than sorry.

#3 ::: Jamie Bowden ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 08:38 AM:

Better watch out Jim, piss off too many of the trolls and you might find yourself designated as an enemy combatant.

(I say this in jest, but I wonder who exactly I'm kidding).

#4 ::: Martyn Drake ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 08:50 AM:

I rather like this Guardian article which cites that according to a survey of British voters, Bush is more dangerous than Kim Jong-Il and the president of Iran.

Sub-headline: US allies think Washington threat to world peace.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,1938434,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=12

M.

#5 ::: Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 08:57 AM:

Three cheers for minitrue!

#6 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 09:02 AM:

I'm confident that our Beloved Leader will use his mandate to protect us from ourselves by whatever means necessary.

#7 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 09:11 AM:

TTTO "Dear Abby"


Sockpuppet socketpuppet
Don Rumsfeld wants you,
You write screed for hire
And spam quite untrue
You earn quite a living spreading your lies,
Oh, sockpuppet.

Sockpuppet socketpuppet
On blogs you're a pest,
You post all your lies
And derail all the rest,
You show up unpresaged and rant and you rave,
Oh sockpuppet.

Sockpuppet socketpuppet
Go back to you hole,
We don't want your lies and we despise you goals,
We don't like your masters we don't want your knife,
Sockpuppet socketpuppet find some other life!

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 09:42 AM:

Good post, Jim, but I think it's possible (or even probable) that for campaigns originating at that level, some or all of the "surrogates" will be real people.

The effect is the same: looks like a human, functions as a walking press release.

#9 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 09:50 AM:

vote
vote vote
vote vote vote
vote vote vote vote
vote vote vote vote vote
vote vote vote vote vote vote

VOTE!!!!!

#10 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 10:04 AM:

Lambchop... Tell me you haven't joined the Pentagon's sockpuppet brigade. Nooooo!!!

#11 ::: Lamb Chop ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 10:56 AM:

No, Serge. I haven't been as politically active since Shari died. I love Mallory, don't get me wrong, but I just don't feel the same. Inside, you know?

Besides, I'm a Democrat. I realize most sheep are Republicans, and vice versa, but I'm the...do I need to finish?

Thought not.

#12 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 11:01 AM:

Isn't it interesting to see what the "Ads by Google" block chooses to throw at us.

I wonder if they react to comments?

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall see this day and live old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispin's:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day.
Then shall our names,
Familiar in their mouths as household words,
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

#13 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 11:04 AM:

Glad to hear you have forsaken your Democrat credentials, Lambchop.

Meanwhile... Back in 1992, remember when the Republicans would refer to Bill & Al as Bozo & Ozone? That drew the ire of Bozo the Clown himself partly because he didn't like his name being used as an insult, but also because Bozo IS a Democrat.

#14 ::: Lamb Chop ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 11:11 AM:

I don't think I have forsaken them, Serge. Not sure what you're talking about, unless you mean that I, who have neither hands nor pockets, can't actually carry the card, and therefore "forsake" it on my desktop when out at my infrequent interviews and speaking engagements.

And of course I remember. Bozo is a friend of mine. Bill, likeable as he is, is no Bozo.

I would say more, but as you have undoubtedly realized, typing is difficult for me, and I think my nose has taken about all it can for now.

#15 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 12:05 PM:

TNH, #8: The effect is the same: looks like a human, functions as a walking press release.

I believe the colloquial term for a human press release is "meat puppet." It's not a very nice term, but then, I'm growing incredibly tired of the phenomenon it describes.

It's sad, really. In Stross's Iron Sunrise, meat puppets were created by sophisticated neural tampering. In the real world, it seems to be much easier--just offer up a bag of cash, or some power.

We've all known plenty of people who might as well be under the control of an alien brain slug, at least when their corporate or political interests are involved.

#16 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 01:20 PM:
�Surrogates.� Oh, joy. We know what they mean. Sockpuppets. Astroturfers. Trolls.
I'm reminded of George Senior's surrogate in Arrested Development (who communicates with him through an audio-visual link, allowing him to get around the inconvenient fact of his house arrest), who wears a baseball cap with the word "Surrogate" on it. Perhaps the Pentagon's surrogates should be similarly dressed.
#17 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 01:21 PM:

Actually, I don't think that most meat puppets need either cash or power to motivate their attacks- most of them are fueled by fear and/or anger, and addicted to the rush they feel when channeling their fear and/or anger into lots of words.

#18 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 01:47 PM:

I mailed in my voter registration form (so that they know that I'd moved) right before VP. I just received my confirmation yesterday. Apparently, I mailed it to the wrong place. *blush*

As for meat puppets, the whole idea didn't really hit home for me until the run up to the 2004 Presidential election. I was talking to a co-worker friend of mine after the VP candidate debates. He was one of the most intelligent people I knew. So it was freaky to hear Cheney's talking points coming out of his mouth, completely bypassing his highly developed reasoning and fact-checking abilities.

#19 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 01:56 PM:

Sorry, Lambchop. I had meant to express relief at your NOT having forsaken your Democratic credentials. I hate it when I drop nuts.

#20 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 01:57 PM:

The DoD is posting the administration's blogging points online, so you may just want to check there to see what the sock puppets are going to be saying, and work up some preemptive counter-arguments.

#21 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 02:33 PM:

They get talking points.

We need mocking points.

For one thing, we need a better term than "sock puppet."

Rumsfeld's In-Continental Army?

Ogilvys? (From the fictional officer Winston Smith invents for the purpose of a replacement news story.)

#22 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 02:35 PM:

Avram -- Wow! After looking through the DoD site, I wanted to take out my eyeballs and scrub them with lye... After all, one lie desreves another...

Seriously... everyone should read those blogging points. Bush's Bubble is growing, and has already encompassed the whole Pentagon. While we always knew that to be the case, to see such hideous, ignorant bilge in print on an offical site just sends cold chills down my spine. Thanks for the link!

#23 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 03:39 PM:

It's all so clear to me now. The Pentagon has to have a line shitter (to go along with their line eater), or the words will all just back up in the E-ring, and they'll die of linguistic constipation.

#24 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 03:58 PM:

While driving around at lunch (ran an errand, it's so nice out and I have had a week of hell and being inside) I heard a bit of a Bush speech at one of his jaunts through the hinterlands to support his minyons.

He sounds terrified and trying to encourage others to be terrified. "Vote Republican, we'll keep you safe from those terrorists!"

Terrified creatures are capable of just about anything.

We'll see. sigh.

#25 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 04:04 PM:

JESR, #17: ...most of them are fueled by fear and/or anger, and addicted to the rush they feel when channeling their fear and/or anger into lots of words.

I wasn't so much complaining about the blind believers in disinformation, but the professional purveyors. The believers are scary enough, and no small number of them appear to have an alien brain slug (ABS?). But I hold out hope for the believers--with a good 3-to-5 years of deprogramming, they can recover.

But what about the people who pump out the propaganda and the astroturf--the creators of all the specialized content designed to open up a root exploit on the human brain? I mean, there's no need for super-human AIs, fancy fractals or old-fashioned brain slugs. Madison Avenue already controls the bit of our brain that tells the difference between friendly apes and the ones we're supposed to hit with sticks. What else do they need?

The professional purveyors of disinformation--they're the ones who've (quite literally) sold their souls. And most of them can only be saved by something like real repentance.

#26 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 04:20 PM:

Eric, it's just that the number of paid astroturfers is only a part of the hoard of commenters. They are joined by any number of volunteers who go looking for things like that list to know what to be angry at today. The self-appointed wise men show up around the net, and in that old style comments thread, the print Letters to the Editor column, and give an appearance of consensus when what exists is a set of implicit marching orders.

#27 ::: dolloch ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 06:50 PM:

I'm at a loss. If the DoD has got a disinformation engine running, what are some of the options for countering it? It's been my experience so far that government documents, true or not, tend to carry weight with the conservatives. Since the "liberal media" meme is already out there and tainting the press in conservatives minds, how do we counter propaganda with a source that they will agree is credible?

Are we really going to have to FoIA it all?

#28 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 07:21 PM:

I am sure that somewhere I can buy a T-shirt which reads: "Proud member of the reality-based community."

What Edward at #9 said.

Wednesday is either going to be a really good day or a really bad day.

#29 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 02:09 AM:

The sock-puppets job is about to get a lot harder:

Neo Culpa

"As Iraq slips further into chaos, the war's neoconservative boosters have turned sharply on the Bush administration, charging that their grand designs have been undermined by White House incompetence. In a series of exclusive interviews, Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman, David Frum, and others play the blame game with shocking frankness. Target No. 1: the president himself."

What despicable toads. Calling them rats fleeing a sinking ship is a slur on rats, who are at least warm blooded.

They deserve to drown in the Kool-Aid with everyone else who aided and abetted Bush.

#30 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 05:25 AM:

On the other hand, here's something the sockpuppets won't have to worry about any more:

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction is being closed, thanks to some sneaky language in a military spending bill.
Beeb article here

That'll stop all that pesky reporting of waste and corruption and make space for good news stories!

#32 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 07:17 PM:

Lizzy @ 28,

Yes you can. Try here. If that fails, go to cafepress.com and enter "reality based community" in the search box.

#33 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 09:47 PM:

Thanks, Linkmeister. Oh, and by the way, who the hell was Dorrance Smith before s/he was tapped to be an Assistant SecDef? Probably running a racing track or breeding thoroughbreds or whatever...

#34 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 10:32 PM:

"Mr. Smith is a former ABC News television producer who also worked in Baghdad as a media adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority."

#35 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 11:37 PM:

Repeats slowly..."a former television producer and media advisor..."

Thanks, Jim. Clearly the defense of the nation is in excellent hands. *bangs head on desk*

#36 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 07:42 AM:

Meanwhile:

(CNN) -- An editorial to be published in an independent military publication Monday calls for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to be replaced.

And the Pentagon is countering by saying the new "chorus of criticism" is "old news."

Much like "Don't Drink and Drive" is "old news" or "Seatbelts Save Lives" is "old news."

Here's the editorial itself: http://armytimes.com/story.php?f=1-292925-2333360.php

#37 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 11:31 AM:

We all need to think about this stuff. A lot of existing communications tools on the net are terribly vulnerable to attack, and we need to think about how to harden them. As the net becomes more and more politically important, techniques for shutting down or derailing discussions are going to be increasingly used, and the techniques will get better over time. Sock puppets, paid commentators, talking points to coordinate activists, those are low-tech attacks. Higher-tech attacks will come, too--selectively DOSing some discussions or some posters, tampering with posts to discredit people or derail discussions, and probably a ton of stuff nobody's thought of yet.

In some sense, this may be more important than getting voting security right, though that's clearly very important, too. I wish these tools had evolved in a more adversarial environment, so they'd have at least the right kind of structure to defend themselves.

#38 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 11:32 AM:

I wish to note here that in Jamaican Creole an 'Allibutton man' (standard English equivalent: 'Halliburton man') is a fool.

#39 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 11:39 AM:

Perhaps the Pentagon should consider verse:

We've fought this war to keep us safe from terror,
the enemy's been beaten harder than a drum,
whoever says we're wrong is clearly deep in error
for our enemies have now been blown to kingdom come.
We fought the war to bring the Iraqis liberty
not for some drummed-up imaginary cause,
we went in there not to find some deadly WMD
but to restore true peace and honest civil laws.
The terrorists have fled, surrendered as we bid
them do at once, unnerved by our great power,
so bombs went off in Bali, London, and Madrid,
and innocents died in our victorious hour;
we've still succeeded, we have won the fight.
Mankind now bows, shocked and awed by our might.

#40 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 06:46 PM:

Jim, all the [military] Times had the same editorial.

#41 ::: L M B MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 12:25 AM:

#39 Now all you need is a sufficiently terrifying patriotic hymn to put those words to. It can be played over the loudspeakers as the Democratic members of Congress are marched off to their detention as enemy combatants (TM).

#42 ::: Dave Luckett sees comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 04:05 AM:

There is no health in them.

#43 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 03:42 PM:

I'm just guessing here, but wouldn't "Wealth" be a more honest statement of the goal?

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