I’m really surprised that this disturbing article in the Guardian hasn’t been picked up more around the Net. It deals with the use of clandestine Internet lobbying companies like The Bivings Group who apparently specialise in secretly spreading opinions on forums and list-servers to benefit their clients. The article quotes an apparently suspicious set of links between this PR group and biotech company Monsanto in relation to a controversial paper in Nature magazine.
The point is that this kind of hidden persuasion, where, to quote the article ‘…messages purporting to come from disinterested punters are planted on listservers at critical moments, disseminating misleading information in the hope of recruiting real people to the cause…’ is almost certainly going on all the time, and it strikes at the core of the Net community.
OK, so you need to reserve a little bit of judgement when dealing with any online characters in forums etc, but still, this kind of thing is definitely not healthy, and maybe folks ought to take a more detailed look at the perpetrators and their tactics to see if there is some way it can be combated. Just my 2c worth.
Update: Here’s a copy of the company’s report on viral Internet marketing. [Courtesy of Metafilter.com]