Astroturf is the plastic grass that was created by Monsanto, the company that has created a number of poisonous chemicals that have been used in wars, high technology and agriculture.
It’s only fitting that astroturfing has become the term that’s used to describe an artificial information campaign that’s been created to hide its sponsors behind the façade of what appears to be a popular, or grassroots, movement. Large organizations and governments anonymously use astroturfing to promote ideas as if they have widespread support.
One of the best examples is that of Working Families for Wal-Mart, an advocacy group started by Walmart and the Edelman public relations firm in 2005. Walmart and a number of the world’s largest companies such as Microsoft and the tobacco industry have been caught in the act.
While many countries prohibit astroturfing, some of those same nations are guilty of the practice. The US military in 2010 awarded a contract to Ntrepid Corporation for astroturfing software that the military would use to spread pro-American propaganda in the Middle East while disrupting extremist propaganda and recruitment. Because enforcement is lax, it’s impossible to tell how widespread the practice is today, especially on social media.
It should come as no surprise that China employs hundreds of thousands of people to post propaganda and drown out voices of dissent. It’s more surprising when the news media provide a partial view of the extent of astroturfing around the world, making China seem as if it is the only offending nation.
Data mining expert Bing Liu of the University of Illinois has estimated that one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake. Astroturfing has been used to fulfill corporate agendas, manipulate public opinion and refute scientific research.
It’s no wonder that with all the false information intentionally published on the internet and the news media, most people are bewildered about even simple matters such as how to maintain health through a proper diet or how their choices as consumers are affecting the environment. Despite the advanced stage that science has reached today, astroturfing has undermined the credibility of science and medicine, threatening to plunge the world into a new dark age.
May 20 (Boomsurge News) – The United Nations will send delegations to the United States to monitor the fairness of the presidential elections in November this year following requests from several civil rights groups.
Desmond Tutu, the South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop who rose to worldwide fame during the 1980s as an opponent of apartheid, will head the UN delegation. US groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights made a joint request to the UN for assistance.
“Now that former US President Jimmy Carter has observed elections in 39 nations around the world, it is only fitting that we return the favor in this time of need,” Tutu said speaking to reporters outside UN headquarters in New York City. “Freedom and democracy are at risk in the world’s most powerful nation.”
The concept of one vote per person in the US has become ever more fleeting. Many US citizens have not forgotten that the US Supreme Court decided the winner of the 2000 elections. In recent years, the US federal government has repeatedly failed to count votes fairly and accurately.
The voting system in the world’s most technologically advanced nation is an inconsistent hodgepodge. Some states use machines to tally votes, while others use punch ballots. People with prison records are not allowed to vote in some states, while other states require a driver’s license for voter validation.
The elections are organized at the local level, where state office holders or county level election supervisors often abuse the power of their office to favor one party over another.
At this time when election victories are so narrow that they come down to a single state (Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004) civil rights groups have called for independent observers to oversee state-level electoral practices.
“The issue of fairness is very broad,” Tutu said. “Unfortunately, our delegation will only be observing the elections from the ground level. We will do what we can.”
Few people are aware that the news is often written before it happens.
Imagine the scene from Minority Report where a group of precogs lie in a vat of liquid with electrodes attached to their heads while they peer into the future. That’s not what happens in a big city newsroom. At least, not yet.
Every news organization worth its salt aims to break a big story ahead of the competition. This is especially so in the case of financial news.
In major equity exchanges around the world — New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Milan, London – brokers are watching news headlines as they scroll across huge displays above the trading floor.
A headline like “US Invades Iraq” can start a frenzy of buying or selling depending on how traders interpret the impact of a breaking story on a commodity such as oil. Billions of dollars can be made or lost in the few seconds after a headline appears above a trading floor.
After the news has moved the price of a stock, bond or commodity in those few seconds, the opportunity to make big money has probably already passed, and the scraps are left to the retail investors.
The news service that is first with a big story wins prestige and more clients. Major investors are willing to pay a higher fee to a news source that’s always on the money.
That’s why the world’s leading news services aim to write the news before it happens.
It’s not as hard as it seems. Most news is based on scheduled events, such as an announcement of quarterly earnings by Disney or Coca-Cola. There are also inevitable events such as the deaths of famous people.
Enterprising journalists and their editors anticipate these events by writing templates for the stories in advance. Once the event occurs, a few key facts and numbers are added to blank portions of the template, and a complete 800-word story is ready to go out on the newswire in seconds, almost as if by magic.
Writing the news before it happens depends to a great extent on expectations. In other words, a journalist will survey ten industry analysts on their expectations for Coca-Cola’s second-quarter net income.
Those expectations are used to derive an average expectation, and once the actual net income is announced, it is possible to say the result was better, worse or in line with expectations. Meeting or beating expectations is very important for a share price. If, for example, shipments of Apple’s flagship iPhone unexpectedly fall, you can bet the share price will plunge.
Publicly listed companies are no schmucks, and they do something called managing expectations. In other words, they’ll often provide financial analysts a forecast of their own expectations that are easily achievable in order to keep up the appearance of good results.
Managing expectations and writing the news before it happens may seem quite a bit like prestidigitation, and with good reason. But there are times when it can all go horribly wrong, and we get a glimpse behind the curtain.
One major news service announced the death of Steve Jobs while he was still alive. Someone inadvertently pressed the wrong button, and the template of Jobs’ obituary went out on the wire. The story, including quotes from Microsoft founder Bill Gates was quickly retracted, and one can only imagine how much money was lost on the premature news that the founder and boss of the world’s biggest company had passed away.