Feeds

“Replicant” theory emerges in US Astroturf scandal

Robots or men?

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Security for virtualized datacentres

A new theory emerged today to rebuff the "Astroturf" scandal that's the talk of the web. A week ago a weblogger who calls himself Atrios discovered that identical letters praising "the leadership of President Bush" had appeared in dozens of local American newspapers.

Before Christmas, Mr.Atrios - whoever he is - had done much enterprising research to discomfort, and eventually help depose the Republican Senate Leader Trent Lott, after Lott's wistful, pro-segregation remarks at a birthday dinner for centenarian racist Strom Thurmond went unnoticed by the poodle mainstream press, here.

The identical letters appeared in 29 publications - including, oops - The Financial Times of London, England - and clearly suggested that a co-ordinated but entirely phony "grassroots" expression of support was swelling behind the President.

However Declan McCullagh has a brillant alternative, and surely satirical explanation.

Notified of these occurrences, McClunker very wisely warned us not to jump to conclusions. Rather than it being an organized campaign, he wrote on his Politech mailing list, the possibility remained that the phrases could have emanated from Republican mailing literature.

"I don't think we have nearly enough facts here to make a reasoned conclusion," he noted.

Upon receiving these mailings, he posits, dozens of Republicans could have individually made the decision at that very moment, to all walk over to their computers and write a letter to their local newspaper praising "the leadership of President Bush:.

Or as he put it:-

"An explanation could be as simple as Republican direct mail efforts using this phrase, which the recipients echo in letters to the editor."

McClunker's right: this isn't impossible. However it is exceedingly unusual, and it is a form of behavior - this synchronized groupthink - that is usually attributed to Zombies, or replicant armies in sci-fi movies.

Older readers may remember how in The Manchurian Candidate the Laurence Harvey (not Frank Sinatra) assassin was "woken" to his mission by the use of subliminal code-words. So in McClunker's witty satire (we charitably assume he's being satirical), the direct mail recipients simply parroted what they'd read in that morning's instructional campaign mail, and responded to the subliminal signal.

Now, who's foolin' who here here isn't clear.

One important contextual point to note about American politics (for you overseas readers) is that back in 1995 when Gingrich routed the Congress, the libertarian talk-radio right thought of itself as "guerillas", and using imaginative tactics, and wit, to scored easy points against a complacent and inert centre-right exemplified by the venal President Pantsdown. Only now, the "guerillas" have their very own man in charge. So instead of choosing to remain witty or anarchic, they've dropped the guerilla chic, and now rally around in patterns of extreme predictability, making it easy for wittier and much more playful and anarchic writers such as Atrios (or Bob Somerby) to run rings around them.

You don't really have to be clever to shoot down groupthink, but you have to have balls to call it when you see it, and Sommersby and Atrios are more than up to task. There's nothing easier than herding sheep.

Not all former guerillas have turned into blogsphere mutton, though. There's a libertarian writer I respect very much, a contrarian called Gene Callahan, who's allied with the far-right Mises Institute but who's stayed consistently funny and fair. (And his social satire is hilarious). But Callahan's an exception to the groupthink rule.

McCullagh has alerted us to the power of co-ordinated groupthink, for which, he has our thanks. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Apple CEO Tim Cook: My well-known gayness is 'a gift from GOD'
'I have benefited from the sacrifice of others'
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
Now: The REAL APPLE NEWS you need to know
OMG! Gravity's totes amazeballs. Calm down, George Clooney, not your film
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
Let's make an app that POSTS your POO to APPLE HQ
Plus: It's OPEN WARFARE in the Linux greybeard world
Adorkable overshare of words like photobomb in this year's dictionaries
And hipsters are finally defined as self-loathing. Sort of
Not a loyal follower of @BritishMonarchy? You missed The QUEEN*'s first Tweet
Her Maj opens 'Information Age' at the Science Museum
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.
Mitigating web security risk with SSL certificates
Web-based systems are essential tools for running business processes and delivering services to customers.