Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Multiple Personalities

Namisha Rakheja

The Internet: a network that has caused more controversy than anyone ever expected.

Dictionary.com defines the Internet as “the global communication network that allows almost all computers worldwide to connect and exchange information”. Typically, by the honor system, we hope to believe that the information being exchanged is true and credible, however, with this popular new term called “astroturfing”, that is getting harder to deem.

We look to the Internet to obtain news and to exchange feedback on such information. Astroturfing, “the deceptive tactic of simulating grassroots support for a product, cause, etc., undertaken by people or organizations with an interest in shaping public opinion” (Dictionary.com) has given companies and corporations the power to mislead the public, therefore, the information that we absorb through the Internet is being tainted without the public’s knowledge.

There is no doubt that the public is very opinionated; isn’t that the purpose of a comment section or even blogs? So if a company doesn’t agree with the way the public feels about them, are they allowed to create a fake persona, become one of them and sway their opinion? No, of course not. Where’s the freedom of speech? 

“The Need to Protect the Internet from Astroturfing” an article published by The Guardian highlights the key issues with astroturfing.

The Internet makes it easy to be anybody you want to be, allowing companies to do exactly that. “Companies now use ‘persona management software’, which multiplies the efforts of each astroturfer, creating the impression that there's major support for what a corporation or government is trying to do” (The Guardian).

Seriously? Like, come on, seriously?

It’s already so often that you hear, “If you read it on the Internet it must be true”, out of pure sarcasm, of course. So to hear that companies are making the Internet more incredible than already presumed is an eye-rolling phenomenon.

Nathan Fenno, a reporter for the LA Times, explains in his article how astroturfing is ruining the integrity of the Internet and the credibility of other news organizations. The way that companies or university outlets perceive their convincing news “[report] on themselves in manner that a casual observer may find difficult to differentiate from a regular media outlet” (Fenno).

If the public goes on the Internet to already assume that everything on it is false, what is the purpose of us as human beings exchanging information? The companies participating in this deception are going to publish what makes them look the best but they “also have a responsibility not to lie to [their] audience” (Fenno), essentially forcing the public to question the credibility of other journalists.

When you receive information, you tend to already have an opinion on it; however, people generally confirm their opinion with the agreement of others. If you comment on something and see that a fellow reader contends with your argument you’re going to feel stronger on your position. So when companies post the opposite opinion 64 times from 64 different personas then you’re going to question yourself or even sway your judgment; which is exactly what they want.

The public is malleable and astroturfers capitalize on that weakness.

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