Every once in a while I get an email from a regular reader insisting that the troll infestation in the comment section is so bad that it can’t possibly be organic. Some of these guys have to be paid professionals who are executing a deliberate strategy. I’ve always poo-poohed this, but maybe I shouldn’t have. Via Media Matters, here’s an excerpt from David Folkenflik’s forthcoming book Murdoch’s World, about the Fox PR department’s systematic effort to counter anti-Fox criticism:
On the blogs, the fight was particularly fierce. Fox PR staffers were expected to counter not just negative and even neutral blog postings but the anti-Fox comments beneath them. One former staffer recalled using twenty different aliases to post pro-Fox rants. Another had one hundred. Several employees had to acquire a cell phone thumb drive to provide a wireless broadband connection that could not be traced back to a Fox News or News Corp account. Another used an AOL dial-up connection, even in the age of widespread broadband access, on the rationale it would be harder to pinpoint its origins. Old laptops were distributed for these cyber operations. Even blogs with minor followings were reviewed to ensure no claim went unchecked.
Do they still do this? Beats me. And obviously most trolls have wider interests than just defending Fox. Still, it shows that the idea of hordes of professional trolls isn’t quite as far-fetched as I might have thought.