A Piece of the Action

There have been a few reports here and there suggesting that the Conservative Party or someone with Conservative Party interests might be paying individuals to comment on blogs and media websites, targeting posts critical of the Conservative government and responding with the Conservative party line. Or, to shorthand the whole thing, the Conservatives are paying people to troll opponents’ websites.

Right now, the evidence is pretty circumstantial. There is hard evidence of a pilot project out there for government officials to monitor social media and, if necessary, comment on social networking websites to answer questions or correct the record. The money that is spoken of here is, at most $75,000. This might sound sketchy, but let’s put this another way: the government here is considering paying individuals to pay attention to what is being said about its policies by people online and, in some cases, responding to questions and clarifying government positions.

Put that way, you have a government that is taking a proactive course of getting out into the public and actually listening to what the public thinks. Done properly, it turns the Internet’s social networking sites into online town hall meetings. If the government were to open an honest dialogue online, it could certainly improve the access people have in getting their views out to the government and, in some cases, making changes. As we get further into the Internet age, this is what democratic governments are going to have to do, more and more, in order to reach out to its citizens.

But that’s just the pilot project that we can tie to this government. It’s still in the early stages, and isn’t being used to influence the outcome of this election. This, on the other hand (h/t Warren Kinsella and Greg Bester) is a different matter entirely: Craigslist advertisements appearing in Calgary and Toronto suggest that someone is hiring people not to engage voters online and listen to them, but to push propaganda at them, and choke discussion on social networking sites.

We are a social media company working for a political organization, hired to help balance the left-wing bias of the major media outlets by supplying a team of writers who will post to newspaper comments, media forums, Facebook pages, etc.

Your writing must be strong, right-wing and use the supplied talking points without being bogged down in too much detail. You are creating an online persona with a consistent tone. Ideally you can find or construct facts and statistics to stir controversey. Where suited humour is welcome.

You are a news junky who is able to log on to news forums and Facebook pages several times a day. You are able to write comments tailored to new topics while repating key talking points.

Compensation: TBD, hourly rate and volume of online activity. Bonuses for controversial postings that heat up a topic or forums thread.

How to apply: We are more interesting in your writing than your resume. To apply submit a 100 word post based on the headline “Ignatieff Promises No Coallitions after Election”. Show us that you can write from a right wing character voice, score points, stir outrage and use humour.

Right now, nothing ties this particular Craigslist posting to the Conservative Party. It is entirely possible that the post is a hoax set up by interests trying to make Conservatives look bad. Either way, as Greg notes, this should be investigated, as if there are actually trolls pushing political propaganda on Internet sites during an election, it almost certainly breaks Elections Canada’s campaign spending rules, and in the most annoying way possible. I have more than enough spam on my blog to deal with, and the comments sections of most of the mainstream media sites are already trolled enough as to be totally inhospitable venues for positive discussion.

And, really, if you have to pay so much money to get the appearance of a grassroots movement, how much, really, do you care about the little people who actually make up a real grassroots movement?

Even if this Craigslist post is a hoax set up by people trying to make the Conservatives look bad, we should come down on it hard. This sort of dishonesty simply isn’t helpful in maintaining a healthy democracy.

That being said, I do wonder how much these posters are going to be paid. With that in mind, I would like to say that if any troll wants to post their paid propaganda on my web site, given that this web site is my personal property and you intend to deface it… well, I think that I deserve some compensation for this activity. So… what say you? Fifty percent of your per-comment fee, with a minimum charge of twenty bucks per troll per blog?

You know where to contact me.

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