Today a campaign on behalf of a public relations firm to skew online debate about the Canadian election was caught using Craigslist to recruit new writers to their cause.
The series of job postings  appeared in major cities across the country, and invited prospective writers to apply for jobs to post on newspaper comment sections, media forums, facebook pages, and other online outlets. The goal? To “help balance the left-wing bias of the major media outlets”.
Though the ads were promptly flagged and removed from Craigslist, we scored a screen cap .
With Canada early on into an election campaign, one can only wonder on just what scale this type of organized astroturf online trolling exists.
The public relations firm charged on behalf of a political organization to recruit young trolls ennumerated the ideal skillsets of desireable candidates. Successful saboteurs of honest conversation were to be chosen based on strong writing skills, consistent tone, ability to find or make up facts and statistics to rouse controversy. The ability to use humour, sarcasm and personal insults was considered an asset, and bonuses were offered for particularly biting and provocative commentary that caused a stir.
Bloggers and commentators across the country have been scratching their heads wondering if the ads are bogus  or not. Assuming this is real and not a hoax, Canada is not alone in a growing trend of online astroturf. There is growing evidence  of the existence of sophisticated “denier-bot” networks that are used to distort public debate and discussion.
Recently, Happy Rockefeller over at Daily Kos  broke the story of a leaked document  from a private security firm that demonstrated the sophisticated technology that enables public relations firms to create a Justin Beiber flashmob  online with only a few voices.
The report prompted others to wonder  about the state of online democracy when online debate becomes a “bonanza for corporate lobbyists, viral marketers and government spin doctors, who can operate in cyberspace without regulation, accountability or fear of detection.” ClimateProgress  has similarly noted “the same arguments and phrasings keep cropping up in the comments’ section of the many unmoderated news sites on the web,” particuarly when that discussion is about climate change.
George Monbiot  is one of the most eloquent commentators on the subject of online astroturf. As he so potently phrases it, online astroturf “has the potential to destroy the internet as a forum for constructive debate. It makes a mockery of online democracy.”
Monbiot closes with the burning question that’s on all our minds: How do we fight back?
Image Credit: Icanhazcheeseburger